The international team of divers and archaeologists who are investigating the site of an ancient Greek ship that sank more than 2,000 years ago off the remote island of Antikythera have not been disappointed. Not only is the site bigger than they thought, it also contains a treasure trove of artifacts.

First, an explanation for that awesome image you see above. The ship, a luxury cargo vessel carrying Greek treasures from the coast of Asia Minor west to Rome, sank in bad water around 70 to 60 BC in some rather deep water. The ship is located at a depth unsafe for human divers — 55 meters (180 feet) — so the team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) utilized a diving exosuit. It uses rebreather technology in which carbon dioxide is scrubbed from the exhaled air while oxygen is introduced and recirculated. This allowed the divers to explore the site for up to three hours at a time.

The Antikythera site is a treacherous one indeed. Back in 1900, when it was first discovered by sponge divers, the swimmers had to end their mission after one of the divers died of the bends and two were paralyzed. But not before they pulled up a spectacular haul of treasures, including bronze and marble statues, jewellery, furniture, luxury glassware, and the surprisingly complex Antikythera Mechanism.

The latest expedition, called the Return to Antikythera, is an effort to revisit the site to see what else it might hold. And wow, is there a lot of stuff down there.

Chief diver Philip Short inspects the bronze spear recovered from the Antikythera Shipwreck. (Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014)

Greek technical diver Alexandros Sotiriou discovers an intact "lagynos" ceramic table jug and a bronze rigging ring on the Antikythera Shipwreck. (Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014)

From the WHOI report:

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Components of the ship, including multiple lead anchors over a metre long and a bronze rigging ring with fragments of wood still attached, prove that much of the ship survives. The finds are also scattered over a much larger area than the sponge divers realized, covering 300 meters of the seafloor. This together with the huge size of the anchors and recovered hull planks proves that the Antikythera ship was much larger than previously thought, perhaps up to 50 meters long.

"The evidence shows this is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered," says Foley. "It's the Titanic of the ancient world."

The archaeologists also recovered a beautiful intact table jug, part of an ornate bed leg, and most impressive of all, a 2-meter-long bronze spear buried just beneath the surface of the sand. Too large and heavy to have been used as a weapon, it must have belonged to a giant statue, perhaps a warrior or the goddess Athena, says Foley. In 1901, four giant marble horses were discovered on the wreck by the sponge divers, so these could have formed part of a complex of statues involving a warrior in a chariot that was pulled by the four horses.

Fascinatingly, it appears that much of the ship's cargo is still preserved beneath the sediment. The archaeologists plan to return next year to excavate the site further and recover more of the ship's cargo.

[ WHOI ]