More than a century ago, Captain Dimitrios Kondos gave the order to wait out a violent storm on the Greek island of Antikythera. While there, the crew dived off the island's coast in search of treasure of another kind – golden sponges. After one fateful dive, a man popped back up to the surface describing a horrific scene of corpses littering the sea floor. This was not, however, a murder scene but in fact a discovery of stunning proportions.
The seabed was strewn with marble sculptures of mythological heroes and gods, bronze statues of athletes and philosophers, and the skeletal remains of the crew. More than 100 years later and the submerged shipwreck has yet to give up all her secrets, with more than 50 new discoveries uncovered from the sea’s sediment on this latest expedition. The finds include a bone flute, a pawn from an ancient “chessman” board game, and an armrest possibly from a bronze throne.
"This shipwreck is far from exhausted," said project co-director Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), in a statement. "Every single dive on it delivers fabulous finds, and reveals how the ‘1%’ lived in the time of Caesar."
An item recovered from the shipwreck. Screenshot from Antikythera - Anticythère / Youtube – the official video of the 2015 "Return to Antikythera" expedition.
In an attempt to guard the centuries-old bones and artifacts from the crumble of time, researchers began the first-ever systematic excavation of this shipwreck in 2014. Bad weather limited them to just four days of dives, but in this year's expedition, marine archaeologists have spent a total of 40 hours underwater, scavenging the shipwreck scattered over an area more than 40 by 50 meters (130 by 165 feet), with the deepest dives requiring a 55-meter (180-foot) descent.
The wealth of riches sank to the bottom of the seafloor more than 2,000 years ago, circa 65 B.C.E. The artifacts, some of which may have been looted from Greece by the Roman crew, suggest their owners may have led an opulent life. Fine glassware, luxury ceramics, and an intact amphora (a two-handled pot often used to carry wine) were among the remains.
The artifacts were recovered over 10 days and 61 dives. Screenshot from Antikythera - Anticythère / Youtube – the official video of the 2015 "Return to Antikythera" expedition.
"These artifacts show us the life of a newly emerging elite in Greece and Rome, with enormous wealth distributed among a larger elite than ever before in history," Foley told the Huffington Post. "The ship and its cargo represent the start of an economy based on consumption of products from a wide area, borne on sea lanes, and supported by new mechanisms of insurance and diversification of risk."
The archaeologists also performed autonomous robotic mapping prior to their dive efforts and made 3D reconstructions of the artifacts. DNA analysis of ceramic jars revealed the remnants of more than 2,000-year-old food, drinks, medicines, and perfumes. The researchers are hopeful that isotopic analysis of lead objects uncovered at the site will determine where the material was mined, and thus reveal the home port of the ship itself.
Other items found include a lead salvage ring, two anchor stocks, fragments from lead hull sheathing, a table jug, broken ceramics, and a chiseled stone object with 12 holes. Screenshot from Antikythera - Anticythère / Youtube – the official video of the 2015 "Return to Antikythera" expedition.
The most famous artifact from the wreck was discovered in 1900 – the Antikythera mechanism, a device that was designed to calculate the positions of the planets, phases of the moons and the event of an eclipse. It is debated as the world’s oldest analog computer. The astronomical tool is by far the most complex artifact so far discovered from the sunken treasure, with a number of gears, dials and cogs.
"We believe there may be as many as six more life-sized bronze statues of gods and heroes still on the wreck," Foley said. This is in addition to plenty more luxury goods and the bones of the ship's passengers and crew.
To see snippets of the shipwreck excavation, watch the video below.