Well-Preserved Skeleton Found on Ancient Wreck

By The Maritime Executive 09-20-2016 07:36:13

Skeletal remains from a 2,000-year-old shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera are expected to reveal more about the sinking and could shed light on ancient travel habits, a Greek culture ministry official said on Tuesday.

An international research team discovered the well-preserved human skeleton during its ongoing excavation of the wreck of the Greek trading ship lost in the Aegean Sea around 65 B.C. The team excavated a human skull including a jaw and teeth, long bones of the arms and legs, ribs and other remains. Other portions of the skeleton are still embedded in the seafloor, awaiting excavation during the next phase of operations. 

The Antikythera Shipwreck is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered, possibly a massive grain carrier. It was discovered and salvaged in 1900 by Greek sponge divers. In addition to dozens of marble statues and thousands of antiquities, their efforts produced the Antikythera Mechanism, an artifact known as the world’s first computer. 

In 1976, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the Calypso crew returned to the wreck and recovered nearly 300 more objects, including skeletal remains. 

Part of a skull and other bones found among ceramics during the latest excavations that ended last week belonged to a person who was in the ship's hold when it sank, the ministry said.

The position of the bones in relation to other findings nearby "reveal the ship's violent sinking", the ministry said.

DNA tests are expected to provide information on the drowned person's age and gender which, if female, would add to evidence that such ships carried passengers as well as cargo, said Ageliki G. Simosi, director of the ministry's department of Underwater Antiquities.

"The DNA results will (also) give us information on ... the way the person died, whether they were smashed by the ship's cargo," she said, adding the test results were expected next month.

Skeletons of five different people, including a woman, were discovered during excavations in 1900-1901 and in 1976.

A sounding lead, used to measure the sea's depth, was also found. One had also been retrieved during the 1900-1901 excavation.

Simosi said the latest excavation, conducted 52 meters (170 feet) below the surface by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the culture ministry, had a lot more still to reveal.

"The area is difficult to approach and the conditions are tough...," she said. "This shipwreck continuously reveals treasures and I believe that this is only the beginning."

The Antikythera research team generates precise three-dimensional digital models of every artifact, allowing discoveries to be shared instantly and widely even if the objects remain on the sea floor. Several 3D models of the skeletal remains are available for researchers and the public to view on the Antikythera Project webpage here.