“If it is from the Antikythera mechanism it is a very, very perfect find,” said Angeliki G. Simosi, director of the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Athens. “All of the world will speak about it.”
The Story from the Depths
The ship that carried the treasures of Antikythera was something like an ancient supertanker or luxury liner that carried grain and artwork for trading in the Mediterranean, including marble and bronze statues being shipped to the richest of the rich, according to Dr. Foley. The site thus provides a peek not just into the lives of the elite, but also into the blooming global and urban society at the beginning of the Roman Empire.
“We’re looking at the biggest ancient ship ever investigated by underwater archaeologists,” said Dr. Foley.
Measuring an estimated 160-feet long, the ship was like the Titanic of its time. It met its iceberg in the form of a violent storm that smashed it against the island’s cliff, scientists believe. The ship then had a turbulent trip to the bottom of the ocean where it most likely rolled several times, flinging its treasure, and goods across the seafloor. In the two millenniums since, earthquakes and landslides have rocked its remains, further breaking and burying its trove of Hellenistic and Classical pottery and artwork.
But in their latest dives, the team recovered wooden planks and pieces of the ship’s frame, which can help nail down its country of origin, which have recently come into question.
For decades people referred to it as a Roman shipwreck, like in Jacques Cousteau’s documentary “Diving for Roman Plunder,” but the team’s findings since 2012 — such as a chemical analysis of lead on the ship’s equipment that trace it back to northern Greece and the personal possessions they found with Greek names etched on them — are changing that narrative, Dr. Foley said. “It’s starting to look an awful lot like a Greek-built, Greek-crewed ship, not a Roman-Italian vessel.”
They plan to send wood samples to researchers in Tel Aviv to determine what trees were used and where they came from, according to Dr. Foley, which could help settle the debate.
And Dr. Foley says future dives in 2018 will reveal more.
“We’re setting the stage,” he said, “but the truly spectacular is out there tantalizing us.”