Eight months ago, our blog promoted the Athens National Museum's ongoing exhibition about the Antikythera Shipwreck and its cargo of statues and other valuables, one of the key finds in Greek underwater archaeology. This month, the wreck is in the news again.
At the annual conference of the American Institute of Archaeology at Seattle, Brendan Foley from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (and yes, that's the organisation that was involved in the rediscovery of Titanic) presented the results of new research. In October 2012, the site was re-examined in an underwater survey conducted by the the Greek Ephorate for Maritime Archaeology and the WHOI. First discovered in 1900 by sponge divers and re-studied by Jacques Cousteau in 1976, the site had never been approached with the technical and methodological means that have become available in recent decades.
So, I am happy to correct a statement from the previous blog. I wrote "The Antikythera wreck appears to belong to a medium-sized trading vessel, of similar size to a large modern gulet (...)". Not any more. The new survey has found the scatter of ancient material on the sea-bottom to be considerably larger than previously estimated, expanding to length of ca. 60m and reaching a depth around 60m below sea level. The earlier expeditions were unable to explore at such depths, therefore missing part of the site.
The new evidence is difficult to interpret. Perhaps the ship was considerably larger than previously assumed. This is a baffling possibility, as its previously estimated length of about 30m is typical for a sizeable trading vessels of its time (the 1st century BC), whereas the new length of 50m or more (that's double the length of a standard gulet) would place it in a very small group of enormous ships (for example, have a look here). In turn, that would affect the interpretation of the ship's status and context: while it was clear already that its cargo is highly unusual, that distinction would now also extend to the vessel itself. Foley proposes another, no less intriguing, option, namely that there may be two wrecks.
One way or the other, the new information on the extent of the site implies that there may be more artefacts awaiting discovery below the waves off Antikythera, to be added to what is already one of the most remarkable archaeological assemblages from Greece. One example is the massive lead anchor found in 2012, but only new fieldwork, projected to start this year, can tell what else there may be.
Until April 28th, after which the finds will be reintegrated into the permanent collections, you can still visit the Antikythera exhibit at the National Museum in Athens. Perhaps in conjunction with one of our Greek trips?