Ancient Greek shipwreck found to be world’s largest

Much of vessel along with its luxury cargo have survived over 2,000 years underwater

diver discovers a bronze rigging

GO DEEP  Wielding a metal detector, a diver discovers a bronze rigging ring and a ceramic jug among the sunken remains of an ancient Greek ship.

Brett Seymour, ©Return to Antikythera 2014

New finds from a Greek ship that sank nearly 2,100 years ago indicate that much of the vessel and its luxury cargo have been preserved. Divers and archaeologists wearing special suits that enable flexible movement during several consecutive hours of deep-sea exploration made the discoveries this month.

scuba diver
SHARP FIND A diver wearing a special suit for deep-sea exploration inspects a bronze spear recovered from the Antikythera shipwreck. Brett Seymour, ©Return to Antikythera 2014

Items recovered at the 55-meter-deep wreck site off the Greek island of Antikythera, announced on October 9 by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, include table wear, a ceramic jug, a bronze spear probably from a warrior or goddess statue, a bronze rigging ring, lead anchors and 11-centimeter-thick hull planks. The vessel was about 50 meters long, making it the largest known ancient shipwreck, says Woods Hole underwater archaeologist and team member Brendan Foley.

Hundreds of passengers went down with the ship, Foley suspects. “It was the Titanic of the ancient world.”

Researchers think that the ancient craft was crossing a shipping route from what’s now Turkey to Rome when a storm smashed it against Antikythera’s sheer cliffs.

Men diving for natural sponges on the seafloor — a practice performed without suits of any kind — discovered the Antikythera wreck in 1900. They recovered some artifacts including a complex navigational device (SN: 12/2/06, p. 357). But the divers stopped after one man died and two suffered serious reactions to the deep dive. Limited explorations of the shipwreck occurred in the 1950s and 1970s by divers wearing far less sophisticated gear than is available for the first time to Foley and his colleagues. 

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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