A dive to the undersea cliff where a famous Roman shipwreck rests has
turned up either evidence that the wreck is enormous — or a suggestion
that, not one, but two sunken ships are resting off the Greek island of
"Either way, it's an exciting result," said study researcher Brendan
Foley, an archaeologist at Woods Hold Oceanographic Institution who
presented the findings Jan. 4 at the annual meeting of the
Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle.
The Antikythera wreck is famed for the massive number of artifacts
pulled from the site over the past century. First discovered in the
early 1900s by local sponge divers, the wreck is most famous for the Antikythera mechanism, a complex bronze gear device used to calculate astronomical positions (and perhaps the timing of the Olympic games).
Numerous bronze and marble statues, jars and figurines have also been
pulled from the wreck. The ship went down in the first century B.C.
The wreck is perched on a steep undersea cliff in water too deep for
standard scuba gear. The undersea landscape also makes deploying
led a diving expedition to the site. Since then, it has been
unexplored, thanks in part to its remote location in the strait between
Crete and Peloponnese.
"This place is absolutely unspoiled," Foley said.
Led by Aggeliki Simossi, the director of the Greek Ephorate of
Underwater Antiquities, Foley and colleagues from Greece and Woods Hole
watched footage and pored over logs from the 1976 dive. With so many
artifacts already taken from the site, they knew there would be little
evidence of the shipwreck exposed on the ocean floor. They'd have to
match the underwater geology to find the wreck.
In October, diving with technical scuba gear and diver propulsion
vehicles that look like underwater fans, the team found the sweet spot,
Intact artifacts from the wreck were spread over a huge area, about 197
feet (60 meters) long at depths ranging from 114 feet to 197 feet (35
to 60 m), Foley said. That's large for an ancient shipwreck, Foley said,
suggesting either a huge ship or perhaps more than one wreck. The
findings are preliminary, Foley said, but the team may have ultimately
been excavating 984 feet (300 m) away from the site explored by
Cousteau. If that's the case, he said, they may have found a separate
wreck — likely part of the same fleet as the original wreck that went
down in the same storm.
One reason for the researchers' uncertainty is the fact that they used
Costeau's Antikythera expedition videos to gauge where to anchor their
boat. Since some of the shots in the video were almost certainly staged,
the researchers can't be sure they weren't diving at a site hundreds of
yards away from the site explored in 1976.
Either way, the wreck site has many more artifacts
to offer, the researchers found. They pulled one jar to the surface,
which will undergo DNA testing to determine its contents. They also
recovered two components of a lead anchor, which itself was resting on
top of other artifacts, suggesting it was on deck when the ship went
"What else could be down there?" Foley said. "Are there more pieces of
the known Antikythera mechanism? Is there another mechanism down there?"
The researchers plan to return to the area next year and will use metal
detectors to check the site almost 1,000 feet away where Costeau's team
may have really been, he said. There are no artifacts visible on the
ocean floor other than the spot that Foley and his colleagues explored,
but metal detectors should pick up on any remnants under the sand at the
other site if there are in fact two wrecks. (The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds)
What's more, the technical scuba gear may also allow archaeologists to
dive deeper and more extensively in the future, Foley added. The dream,
he told LiveScience, is to find an "undisturbed Antikythera," or a
significant wreck that hasn't been disrupted for decades.
"Because the site has been so intruded upon for more than a century it
gets really hard to disambiguate what's myth and what's fact," Foley
Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.