More than 120 years after Greece’s famous Antikythera shipwreck was discovered, scuba divers have been able to shift massive boulders to reveal the monumental head of an ancient hero – as well as being surprised to come across human teeth.
A dive-team from the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece has just completed a three-week excavation of the wreck-site that began on 23 May under the supervision of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, part of the Ministry of Culture & Sports. The second phase of a five-year programme that began last year, the undertaking was described as “rich in finds”.
Technical divers Haris Mitrou, Nikos Giannoulakis and Dimitris Romios and four Coast Guard divers were using mixed gas to spend time on the 40-50m-deep wreck.
The first part of the operation involved the removal of several tonnes of large rocks that had previously rendered part of the wreck inaccessible. The divers attached lifting bags but employed what was described as an innovative system of inflation from the surface. This was developed by Hublot Xplorations, the Swiss watchmaker Hublot being one of the main programme sponsors.
With a new area of the site exposed, the archaeologists then discovered the larger-than-life marble head of a bearded demigod that appeared to represent Heracles (Hercules) in the Farnese style of statuary. It is thought likely to belong to a colossal headless statue that had been excavated from the wreck soon after it was discovered in 1900 and displayed at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
The divers also found the marble base of another statue complete with the bare lower limbs of a person, although because of the thick concretion it has proved difficult to identify.
“The big surprise came from the discovery of two human teeth in a solid mass that also contained traces of copper,” said the archaeologists. “Analysing the genetic material will help to determine the sex and other genetic characteristics of the person to whom they belonged.”
Many other items, such as bronze and iron nails and a lead weight for a timber anchor were also found, along with shapeless masses of metal set in heavy concretion that might be identifiable using X-ray scanning.
Lying close to Antikythera Island in the Aegean Sea between Crete and the Peloponnese, the shipwreck dates to around 60BC. It is associated with the discovery among its contents of the “Antikythera Mechanism”, a type of calculator considered an early precursor of the computer, as well as marble and bronze statues and coins.
Many of these items were extracted by the Hellenic Navy in the years after sponge divers had chanced on the wreck in 1900. Jacques-Yves Cousteau dived the site under government licence in 1976, but it was only in 2012 that organised archaeological surveys began.
The Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities will arrange the conservation of the artefacts.
The archaeological team was directed by Dr Angeliki G Simossi, head of the Ephorate of Antiquities in Evia, and Prof Lorenz Baumer of Geneva University, and supported by the research ship Typhoon. The Ekaterini Laskaridis Foundation is the other main sponsor of the excavations.