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Hercules’ Missing Marble Head Found On 2,000-Year-Old Antikythera Shipwreck

This shipwreck famously held the world's oldest known computer, the Antikythera mechanism.

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockJun 20 2022, 14:34 UTC
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Marine archaeologist explores the Antikythera shipwreck in Greece.
Is that you, Hercules? Image credit: Nikos Giannoulakis

Just off the rocky shores of Greece, a treasure trove of artifacts has been discovered at the site of a famous ancient shipwreck. Among many finds is a marble head of Hercules, the famously strong divine hero from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, and perhaps even some human remains.

The Antikythera wreck is a Roman-era shipwreck dating from around 60 BCE that resides on the seabed northwest of Crete. It’s best known as the shipwreck that held the corroded remains of a device believed to be the world's oldest known analog computer, the Antikythera mechanism.

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The wreck was first discovered by sponge divers in 1900, but ongoing archaeological projects have continued to reveal a number of intriguing finds. 

Today, marine archaeologists announced the results of an “extremely successful” expedition that started with the removal of a large rock, allowing access to a previously unexplored part of the shipwreck.

Marble base at the Antikythera shipwreck.
The marble base being removed by the team. Image credit: Nikos Giannoulakis)


Within this new cavity, they discovered the plinth of a marble statue featuring the lower parts of the legs, caked in a thick layer of marine deposits (pictured above). They also discovered the marble statue head of a bearded man which they suspect depicts Herakles (also known as the Roman Hercules). It’s believed to have accompanied a headless statue called the “Herakles of Antikythera” that was first liberated from the water in 1900.

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They also discovered two human teeth embed into the marine deposits that have appeared on the shipwreck over the millennia. This is particularly exciting as genetic and isotopic analysis of the teeth might be able to shed some more light on the people who sailed this ship some 2,000 years ago.

Back in 2016, a 2,000-year-old human skeleton nicknamed Pamphilos was found at the shipwreck. Researchers have discovered all kinds of things at the wreck, from statues and jewelry to the Antikythera mechanism itself. This array of objects hints that it was most likely a trade ship. 

Hercules statue head at the Antikythera shipwreck.
A head of the statue, believed to depict Hercules. Image credit: Orestis Manousos


Through studying the objects found at the wreck, the team hopes to gain some understanding of the ship’s doomed voyage. Its story is not totally clear, but it appears the 40-meter-long (130-foot) vessel was probably traveling from the Eastern Mediterranean toward Rome. Unfortunately, it failed to reach its destination after a storm sent it crashing into the rocks off the coast of Antikythera.

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Of all the shipwreck’s objects, none are more intriguing than the Antikythera mechanism. Using a series of bronze gears, it was used to predict eclipses, track the movements of the Sun, Moon, and stars, and the positions of the five planets then known to the ancient Greeks: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

It remains a mystery why this incredible object was on the ill-fated ship, however.


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