'Exosuit' Will Explore 2,000-Year-Old Shipwreck

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A treasure trove of bronze and marble statues, gold jewelry and ancient scientific instruments may be buried in sand, hundreds of feet below the Aegean Sea, and a team of explorers is going after the 2,000-year-old hoard using the most advanced diving suit ever built.  

Later this year, scientists and divers plan to explore the so-called Antikythera shipwreck, which settled on the seafloor around 50 B.C. off the coast of Antikythera, a Greek island. The team's secret weapon is a 6.5-foot-tall (2 meters), 530-pound (240 kilograms) metal diving suit equipped with 1.6-horsepower thrusters that can reach the extreme depths where the ship came to rest.

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Aside from a brief mission in 1976 led by Jacques Cousteau, the shipwreck has remained undisturbed until now.

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The wreck spans an estimated area about 130 feet (40 m) long and 33 feet (10 m) wide, located precariously just west of  a steep vertical drop. The first exploration in 1900 almost sent the whole ship tumbling over the edge, said Foley, and some artifacts might have slipped down the trench over time. The team will use the Exosuit, made by the Vancouver-based company Nuytco Research, and other high-tech diving equipment to reach the bottom of the trench, which could be around 400 feet (120 m) deep.

Preparing for the excavation

Before they start unearthing treasures, the team will map the wreck as precisely as possible. An underwater robot with two cameras mounted side by side will roam the murky bottom for a few days and map the wreck in 3D. [The 7 Most Extreme Jobs in Science]

"This is the most important part of the project, actually," Foley said. Without a detailed map of the wreckage, the team risks disturbing delicate artifacts.

Once they have a visual of the area, divers in regular SCUBA gear will plunge down to the wreck with handheld metal detectors and a bag of tiny plastic flags. This part of the mission, Foley said, "is not so high tech." The divers will sweep the wreck site, and every time they get a hit on their metal detector, they'll plant a flag in the sediment. Then, they'll send the robot back to map the flags.

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