Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lost treasures reclaimed from 2,000-year-old Antikythera shipwreck

Antikythera (highlighted) which now has a population of only 44, was on one of antiquity's busiest trade routes, and a base for Cilician pirates, some of whom once captured and held the young Julius Caesar for ransom.
He later had them all captured and crucified.

Antikythera island with the Marine GeoGarage (NGA chart)
The new items have indicated the wreck site is much bigger than previously believed,
scattered across 300 meters of seafloor.

From CNN by Lauren Said-Moorhouse

In the azure waters off the rocky coast of Antikythera, a remote island in the Mediterranean with a population of less than 50, an international team of archaeologists has recovered new treasures from one of the most mysterious shipwrecks of all time.

 After spending the last month at the historic wreck site, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) announced that an international team of archaeologists had recovered new items from the Antikythera wreck.
Pictured, Greek technical diver Alexandros Sotiriou discovers an intact "lagynos" ceramic table jug and a bronze rigging ring.

The group of maritime archaeology experts have been at the site since mid-September and armed with the most advanced marine technology available, they have conducted the first-ever scientific excavation of the Antikythera wreck.
Despite facing fierce winds and choppy seas during the 30-day mission, the reclaimed items include tableware, anchors and other maritime components, as well as a giant spear, which they believe once belonged to a life-sized bronze warrior statue.

Sirius, the underwater robot, aka.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (Sirius AUV), from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics was used in September 2014 to produce very high resolution 3D digital maps of the Antikythera shipwreck. 

The recovered artifacts have been described as "very promising" by project co-director Theotokis Theodoulou in a press release from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI).
The U.S.-based WHOI worked with Theodoulou and the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Greece to lead the expedition.
He added: "We have a lot of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets."

 "Return to Antikythera" project chief diver Philip Short is pictured inspecting the magnificent two-meter-long bronze spear reclaimed from the shipwreck, which archaeologists say was once part of a life-size warrior statue.

World's first computer found at wreck

In 1900, sponge divers from the Greek island of Symi anchored along the eastern coastline of the island while waiting for a ferocious storm to pass.
What they would stumble upon would stun the world.
Underneath the crystalline waters, lay the incredible wreck undiscovered for thousands of years. And as the site was explored over the next year, they would uncover life-size bronze statues and remarkable artifacts.
But it was the 1902 recovery of a clump of calcified stone with mysterious inscriptions that would push the wreck into archaeological lore.

 In 1900, Greek sponge divers inadvertently stumbled upon an incredible ancient shipwreck off the coast of Antikythera.
More intriguing were the heavily corroded bronze fragments -- 82 in total, with the largest pictured -- brought to the surface in 1902.
The find would stun the world when it was revealed to be a mechanical computer from the 1st century BC.

The heavily corroded bronze fragments would turn out to be what has been described as the world's earliest known "computer," designed in the first century BC -- the Antikythera Mechanism.

 "The Antikythera Mechanism is just mind blowing. It's maybe the most important, certainly most surprising, artifact recovered from an archaeology site anywhere," said expedition co-director Brendan Foley.
"Our question is: if this ship is carrying this kind of stuff, what else is still down there? You can't even guess. The Antikythera Mechanism had no precedence. Could there be other things of that sort of culture, and technological and scientific significance still down there?"

Built to track the astronomical calendar and lunar movements, later radiographic image analysis of the mechanism revealed 30 intricate gear wheels.

 At first, the Antikythera Mechanism, as it became known, confounded archaeologists who were unsure if it was an astrolabe or an ancient astronomical clock.
Today, it is widely believed the mechanism was a complex computer tracking the astronomical calendar and lunar movements, with its manufacture dated to around 100 BC.
Radiographic image analysis on the mechanism revealed 30 intricate gear wheels.

Famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau visited the site in 1976 to film a documentary and returned from below the surface with treasures galore.
Since then, the site had remained dormant under the aegis of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture for almost 40 years.

 A reconstruction of the device now sits at the Archaeological Museum in Athens. Built out of a thin bronze sheet, the mechanism has the first known set of scientific dials and scales.
Surrounded by Greek inscriptions, the large upper dial follows the Metonic cycle -- a period of 19 years in which there are 235 lunations.
Useful for regulating calendars, there was also a four-year dial for monitoring when the well-loved Panhellenic games -- including the ancient Olympics -- should take place.

 Archaeologists are also translating findings from the reports from 1900 and 1901 operations from Ancient Greek hoping to reveal more clues to the initial find.
Foley said one of the journals revealed there were two main areas where it was reported marble and bronze lay, so technical divers will be carrying metal detectors to aid their search.
He added: "If we get a really big metal detection hit in one localized area then obviously that would be a place to test trench and see what's down there. Maybe there's another mechanism ..."

"The Antikythera shipwreck is maybe the most important, most famous shipwreck from antiquity," Brendan Foley, an archaeologist from WHOI and co-director of the expedition told CNN before the dive began in September.
"We are hardcore scientists and archaeologists. We hate to speak of treasure but in this case, it's actually a treasure ship and there are just no two ways about it."

Shrouded in mystery

Analysis of the reclaimed artifacts has dated the vessel to the first century BC, while a horde of gold coins retrieved from the water suggests the boat's origins lie east, from Asia Minor.
But no one knows for certain how big it is, what it was doing there or why it went down. Yet.

Scientists, technical divers, archaeologists and documentary filmmakers made up the 32-person team returning to the wreck site in September for the first ever scientific excavation.
Three years in the making, the experts hoped to answer some of the enigmatic questions surrounding the ship, including how big it is, why it was there, where it came from and who might have been traveling on it.
Considering all the treasure and female trinkets that have been brought up from the seafloor, one idea is that the ship was transporting a young woman and her dowry but they never made it to their final destination.

Foley said: "This not just an everyday trader. This is probably one of the largest, most expensive ships that was sailing in the first century BC. The 1901 sponge divers reported that the artifacts were spread among an area about 52 meters along the seafloor. And that corresponds nicely with what we've observed in our dives on the site."

Supported by the Hellenic Navy, Foley and his 32-man team have been provided with research vessels capable of raising artifacts weighing up to five tons straight off the seabed.
"You never want to speak about absolutes or guarantees but I've never felt more confident in a shipwreck that there is going to be something interesting on it," Foley said.
"In the 1901 and '76 operations, they were getting gemstones, gold stones and human remains. And human remains almost never come up from ancient shipwrecks. So with modern ancient DNA analysis, there are all kinds of questions that can now be posed if we recover some."

 Greek archaeologist and fellow co-director of the dive, Theotokis Theodoulou inspects the 400-pound lead anchor stock of Antikythera Wreck B, found last year at one end of the debris field during a preparatory dive. The other end of the wreck is signaled over 50 meters away by roof tiles believed to be from the galley structure at the stern of the ship. Based on this evidence, scientists estimate the vessel to be one of the largest ships from antiquity, making it bigger than some of the most colossal boats known from that time -- Caligula's pleasure barges on Italy's Lake Nemi.

With the location at around 55 meters deep, it's not particularly hard to get to.
Foley explained: "This shipwreck is close to the shore. It's only about 70 meters off the cliff face so it makes it very difficult to bring in a big ship to support any kind of robotic systems so we came up with a plan and have been putting it into practice over the last three years -- incrementally training on new technology so that we could get and do very vigorous science.
"At the most basic level, if we can come away from this important shipwreck site with a very, very good map and a much better understanding of the layout of the wreck, from that data we can begin to pose new questions to drive forward the research," explained Foley, who has worked with the Ministry of Culture in Greece for the last decade.

The AUV conducted a high-resolution survey of the wreck site to create precise 3D documentation of the expansive debris field.
Meanwhile, technical divers equipped with metal detectors scanned the seafloor to determine the extent of the wreckage under the sediment before test trench excavations were able to begin.

 Here's some raw diver footage taken at a depth of 45 metres by Phil Short while exploring the Antikythera shipwreck using a closed circuit rebreather.

Underwater "Iron Man"

The team also arrived in Greece with a next-generation diving suit that could revolutionize the future of ocean exploration.
Looking like something straight out of "Iron Man," the Exosuit is an atmospheric diving system, created by Vancover-based Nuytco Research, originally designed for offshore exploration of oil fields.
Repurposed for the expedition, Foley explained it offers the team extensive bottom time at the site.

 WHOI diving safety officer Edward O'Brien "spacewalks" in the next-gen atmospheric "Exosuit," during the 2014 Return to Antikythera project, which ran from September 15 to October 7.
The divers are planning to return to the Antikythera next year to continue excavating the site following a successful first season.

"The system itself for the Exosuit has life support for something like 40 hours if all went to hell. I mean, really, it's when you get tired and sore, and want to have a sandwich and use the toilet, that you come up," he said.

And the best part is the simplicity of the technology, revealed its creator Phil Nuytten.
"You can literally operate the Exosuit after a few hours of training. The majority of the training is spent in emergency drills. But the actual functioning of it is as simple as learning to drive a golf cart," said Nuytten, a pioneer in deep-sea exploratory technology.

 The team used next-generation diving apparatus, the "Exosuit."
It was designed and created by underwater tech pioneer Phil Nuytten of Canada's Nuytco Research.
"You can literally operate Exosuit after a few hours of training. The majority of the training is spent in emergency drills. But the actual functioning of it is as simple as learning to drive a golf cart," said Nuytten.

"The suit is controlled by footpads that can tilt forward, backwards or from side to side."
Aside from Exosuit's ease, Nuytten also highlighted how the suit negates some of the side effects of conventional saturation diving, like decompression sickness and prolonged, unnecessary dive times.
 "In the Exosuit, you jump into it and the compression time is zero. You're down to 1,000ft within 10 minutes and you can spend six to eight hours there and then come back in 10 minutes instead of 10 days."

Highlights of a test dive of the Exosuit, before heading to Antikythera.
Mr Panos Laskaridis of the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation was the diver in the Exosuit for the trial.

But for the dive team, it's the opportunity for exploration that is the biggest pull of Exosuit.
"We figure by the end of the first two days with Exosuit, we'll have more time on the Antikythera shipwreck than any other dive put together that's gone before it," said Foley.

A doomed dowry? 

It's been a mammoth undertaking and with a bill at over €2 million (over $2.5 million), the team was hoping the Mediterranean would yield some of its secrets.
Prior to this scientific dive, the archaeologists had little to go on and were left to come up with theories based on the little historical evidence at hand.

When human remains -- including a skull that was 80% intact -- were recovered in '76, a treasure trove of jewelry, perfume bottles and other female-related trinkets were found close by.
"One of our pet theories is that maybe this ship was carrying a really wealthy woman from Asia Minor, and she was going to be married and this cargo was her dowry. It's impossible to prove but it's a nice romantic notion," said Foley.

With such a long passage of time between when the ship sank and the present day, and so many unanswered questions, the scientists and archaeologists expect to be working on the project for at least the next five years.
And it's a journey Foley is excited to have embarked on.
"I like to think of shipwrecks as books, books in a library. The seafloor is a vast library and with every single shipwreck, there is a book telling us about the past and the artifact that we raise is like a page in that book.
"So if we want to try to recreate the ancient past and figure out who we are, who we came from, why we live in this modern world, then the only way to do that is to look at the physical remains of past cultures."

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