Antikythera Machine Shipwreck Re-explored

Credit: Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014

Return to Antikythera project chief diver Philip Short inspects
the bronze spear recovered from the Antikythera Shipwreck.
I remember the first I heard of this machine, perhaps as long as forty years ago, and remember being captivated by the possibilities of what this incredibly complex machine could possibly be.  It has only been in the past several years that x-ray technology advanced to the point that the internal workings of the machine could be seen, and a working model of the portion of the machine  recovered reconstructed.  

To be clear, this early computer was designed and constructed thousands of years before technology advanced to the point of building anything comparable.  That an ancient people could build something so complex and so sophisticated tells us how little we truly know about these people.

Here is the report:


Stunning finds from ancient Greek shipwreck

"The largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered."
A Greek and international team of divers and archaeologists has retrieved stunning new finds from an ancient Greek ship that sank more than 2,000 years ago off the remote island of Antikythera. The rescued antiquities include tableware, ship components, and a giant bronze spear that would have belonged to a life-sized warrior statue.

The Antikythera wreck was first discovered in 1900 by sponge divers who were blown off course by a storm. They subsequently recovered a spectacular haul of ancient treasure including bronze and marble statues, jewelery, furniture, luxury glassware, and the surprisingly complex Antikythera Mechanism. But they were forced to end their mission at the 55-meter-deep site after one diver died of the bends and two were paralyzed. Ever since, archaeologists have wondered if more treasure remains buried beneath the sea bed.

Source: dlib.nyu.edu
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The Antikythera Machine or mechanism (left) is an intricate 2,000 year old mechanical “computer” which researchers feel tracked astronomical phenomena and the cycles of the Solar System. (Click on name for a BBC video about the machine on You Tube.)

Unfortunately, more than half of it is missing, hopefully in or around the wreck near the island of Antikythera where divers of the Return to Antikythera can recover more pieces.

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A team of international archaeologists including Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities have returned to the treacherous site using state-of-the-art technology. During their first excavation season, from September 15 to October 7, 2014, the researchers have created a high-resolution, 3D map of the site using stereo cameras mounted on an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). Divers then recovered a series of finds which prove that much of the ship's cargo is indeed still preserved beneath the sediment.


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."

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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.

The shipwreck dates from 70 to 60 BC and is thought to have been carrying a luxury cargo of Greek treasures from the coast of Asia Minor west to Rome. Antikythera stands in the middle of this major shipping route and the ship probably sank when a violent storm smashed it against the island's sheer cliffs.

The wreck is too deep to dive safely using regular scuba equipment, so the divers had to use rebreather technology, in which carbon dioxide is scrubbed from the exhaled air while oxygen is introduced and recirculated. This allowed them to dive on the site for up to three hours at a time.

The archaeologists plan to return next year to excavate the site further and recover more of the ship's precious cargo. The finds, particularly the bronze spear, are "very promising," says Theodolou. "We have a lot of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets."

Related stories:
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Story Source:  Materials provided by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Stunning finds from ancient Greek shipwreck." ScienceDaily, 9 October 2014

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