The so-called Antikythera Mechanism, recovered from the wreck of an ancient cargo ship off the coast of Antikythera Island in Greece, may be the world’s oldest analog computer. The mystery surrounding its purpose and origin continues to fascinate scientists and enthusiasts alike today. But it’s not the only treasure left from the rubble of Antikythera. An ongoing underwater archaeological project recently recovered a large marble head of a bearded male figure, believed to be part of a statue of Hercules. Divers also recovered a marble plinth with the lower leg of another statue, two human teeth, and several pieces of cargo ship equipment.
As we mentioned earlier, in 1900, a Greek sponge diver named Elias Stadiatis discovered the wreck, apparently surrounded by rotting corpses on the ocean floor. Captain Dimitrios Kondos did not believe Elias at first and felt that the nitrogen in his breathing mixture affected the diver’s senses. So Kondos dropped himself on the site, emerging from a bronze statue with an arm.
By mid-1901 Kondos and his crew had recovered all kinds of artifacts from the wreck, including 36 marble sculptures (representing Hercules, Ulysses, Diomedes, Hermes, and Apollo); a bronze statue called “The Philosopher” (circa 340 BC); a bronze song; glass work pieces; and three marble horse statues. Together with the Antikythera Mechanism, these precious artifacts are now housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Rescue operations ended that summer, however, after one diver died and two others were paralyzed from decompression sickness. No further attempts were made to excavate the Antikythera rubble treasure trove until the famous explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau visited the site in 1953. Twenty-three years later, Cousteau returned and worked with archaeologists to recover about 300 more artifacts. He dug up a chunk of rubble to reveal the artifacts that were already hidden. These included hull planks, ceramic jars, bronze and silver coins, jewelry, and more marble and bronze statues. Cousteau’s 1976 expedition also recovered scattered human bones from at least four different people.
The wreck was again left alone for almost 40 years until a marine archaeologist named Brendan Foley (now at Lund University in Sweden) of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) received a request from the Greek government for the wreck site in 2012. Permission to conduct a full diving survey was not obtained. , As a bonus, they found the wreckage of a second ancient ship a few hundred meters south of the Antikythera wreck.
Foley’s team used mixed-gas closed-circuit rebreather technology for their survey, which gave divers more than half an hour underwater each day – much longer than prior expeditions. In addition, the exosuit – described as the “Iron Man for underwater science” – allowed divers to descend to 1,000 feet (more than 300 m) and stay underwater for several hours , there was no need to decompress them when they returned to the surface.