Roman wreck off Greece yields treasures

Archaeologists armed with top-notch technology have scoured one of the richest shipwrecks of antiquity for overlooked treasures, recovering a scattering of artifacts amid indications that significant artworks may await discovery under the seabed.

Lying 164 feet down a steep underwater slope off Antikythera Island, in southern Greece, the Roman commercial vessel’s wreck was accidentally located by sponge divers more than a century ago.

Using primitive suits and assisted by the Greek navy, they raised marble and bronze statues, luxury tableware and the so-called Antikythera Mechanism, an entrancingly complex clockwork computer that tracked the cycles of the Solar system and could predict eclipses to a precise hour on a specific day.

For years too deep for proper investigation, the wreck is now accessible through modern applied science.

Over the past three weeks, a U.S. and Greek-led team comprehensively mapped the seabed, despite being hampered by strong winds that only allowed archaeologists a single day’s use of their star gadget — an Iron Man-like diving suit, likened to a wearable submarine, that can take its wearer more than 985 feet deep without the dangerous and time-consuming process of decompression.

The Greek Culture Ministry said Thursday that divers raised sample artifacts — a bronze spear probably belonged to a larger than life-sized statue, metal fittings from the 1st century B.C. wooden ship, a pottery flask that may have contained wine or oil and a metal leg from a bed.

But excavators hope much more may lie beneath the sand..

“I don’t know what there is there — perhaps more works of art or parts of the ship’s equipment, but we really have to dig,” said Angeliki Simossi, head of Greece’s underwater antiquities department who coordinated the large team that included Greek navy divers.

“(The spear) is not connected to any of the known sculptures from the wreck.” Simossi said the freighter, believed to have been sailing from a Greek island to Italy, was carrying works of art from Roman-conquered Greece that had been requested by rich or cosmopolitan Romans to decorate their villas.

“It was a floating museum, carrying works from various periods; one bronze statue dates from 340 B.C, another from 240 B.C, while the Antikythera Mechanism was made later,” she said. “This was when the trade in works of art started.”

The ship was at least 130 feet long, and sank some time in the 1st century B.C. on what is still a busy trade route between mainland Greece and the southern island of Crete.

Senior team archaeologist Brendan Foley, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said evidence from the site shows it to be “the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered.”

“It’s the Titanic of the ancient world,” he said.

A survey of the seabed with metal detectors located strong signals which could point to ancient artifacts that eluded the first divers in 1901 — or to more mundane finds like the lead sheathing of the hull. Excavators hope to resume the survey next spring, a time of year when the weather should be better.

“We have to continue, it can’t stay at this. But it’s very difficult, the sea is open,” Simossi said.

“There’s an element of bad luck. Past investigations were also plagued by bad weather. It’s as if the wreck doesn’t want to be uncovered,” she said.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Marysville
1 pedestrian dead after car crash on I-5 south of Marysville

Around 5 p.m., a car crashed into a pedestrian along I-5. Investigators believed a man had parked on the shoulder to refuel.

FILE - A person walks near the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington's redistricting commission failed to meet its deadline and on Tuesday, Nov. 16, kicked the job of creating new political maps to the state Supreme Court. The bipartisan commission had a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Do Snohomish County lawmakers want a 2020 presidential rematch?

The Herald contacted seven Republican legislators representing parts of Snohomish County about their primary choice. Five did not respond.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Photo provided by 
Economic Alliance
Economic Alliance presented one of the Washington Rising Stem Awards to Katie Larios, a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School.
Mountlake Terrace High School senior wins state STEM award

Katie Larios was honored at an Economic Alliance gathering: “A champion for other young women of color in STEM.”

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Firefighters respond to a report of a smoke alarm going off in the 100 block of West Main Street in Monroe on Monday morning. Fire officials confirmed the fire was coming from living quarters above Good Brewing Co. (Provided by Snohomish County Regional Fire and Rescue).
Fire damages apartment above Monroe brewery

Good Brewing Co. on West Main Street was listed as permanently closed Monday.

Tom Ceurvorst picks up his food order at Big Chicken on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free ice cream Wednesday for Shaq’s birthday at Big Chicken in Mukilteo

Sign a card for the NBA Hall of Famer and restaurant founder. Shaquille O’Neal turns 52 on March 6.

Flowers for slain trooper Chris Gadd begin to collect outside Washington State Patrol District 7 Headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Police: Lynnwood man consumed cannabis, beer before crash into trooper

Trooper Chris Gadd, 27, was stopped along I-5 when he was hit and killed early Saturday. Troopers suspect Raul Benitez Santana was impaired.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.