Daring new search of ancient Antikythera wreck begins today
The Antikythera wreck in the Aegean Sea is a world-famous underwater archaeological site thrown into the spotlight in 1900 when researchers discovered an incredible mechanical device, now known as the Antikythera mechanism , which dates back more than 2,000 years. The device consists of a complex combination of gears that took decades for scientists to decipher. Archaeologists suspect that there is much more to be found within the Antikythera wreck and today, a daring new mission is being launched to re-examine the wreck, which lies at an extreme diving depth of 120 metres.
The Antikythera mechanism is a metallic device which consists of at least 30 different types of gears, and on the mechanism’s door plates are about 2,000 letters that are considered to be something like a usage manual. One word stands out clearly: ΚΟΣΜΟΥ, meaning “cosmos”. The amazing device is so complex that many consider it to be the first human-made analogue computer. After decades of research, scientists were able to determine that it shows the positions of the sun, moon, and planets as they move through the zodiac, predicts solar and lunar eclipses, and even marked key events such as the Pan-Hellenic games. The discovery of this unique form of ancient technology has led researchers to wonder what else may lie within the shipwreck, which sits off the Greek island of Antikythera.
Left: The original Antikythera mechanism (Wikipedia). Right: A reconstruction of the mechanism (anthonyokeeffe.com)
Over the decades, divers have attempted to investigate the ancient shipwreck, however, the dangerous conditions of the submerged vessel have so far prevented researchers exploring the site fully. The wreck is located at an extreme depth, resulting in the death of one diver and others being paralyzed from decompression sickness. Subsequent attempts more recently have led to more discoveries, including finely carved bronze and marble statues, glassware, jewellery, and coins, but time constraints have prevented a thorough study of the wreck. However, thanks to advancements in technology, the search of the Antikythera wreck can now finally continue.
“Today an assembly of archaeologists and divers sets out with hungry hearts to finish the job,” writes the Daily Telegraph . “It won’t be an easy task. And they have only a month to do it in.”
Earlier this year, marine archaeologists with the American Museum of Natural History came up with an ingenious solution to the challenges posed by the depth of the wreck – they will use a high-tech exosuit developed by Nuytco research, which allows divers to descend to 300 metres for hours at a time without the need for decompressing upon returning to the surface. The exosuit, which is made mostly of aluminium, works like a submarine. It has 1.6 horsepower thrusters, an oxygen replenishment system, LED lights, cameras, and is tethered to the surface with a fiber optic gigabit Ethernet that allows for two-way communications, a live video feed, and monitoring of the suit and its wearer.
The newly designed exosuit, which will be used to explore the Antikythera wreck. Credit: Mat Pike / News Corp Australia
The new expedition will dig underneath the original wreck, as well as further explore the debris trail that extends up to 150 metres from the ship. Along with more of the mechanism, Dr James Hunter, a research fellow with the South Australian Maritime Museum, is hoping to find preserved traces of fabric and food. “The artefacts are important, but it’s what they tell us about the people who made and used them that matters most,” he said.
Brendan Foley, co-director of field operations at WHOI's Deep Submergence Laboratory, believes that the Antikythera shipwreck still holds many secrets and the suit will help find them. A preliminary survey last year showed artefacts scattered over an area 50 metres by 10 metres, and even revealed a previously unknown shipwreck alongside the first one.
"We have feet, arms and the crest of a warrior's helmet from statues recovered in 1900 – maybe we'll get lucky and find the rest of them," says Foley. "But for me, the mechanism is what sets this wreck apart. It's the questions it opens up about the history of science and technology that fire my imagination."
“Was it a treasure ship making a delivery to an expectant king or high priest? Was it a loot ship, carrying the spoils of a distant war? Or was it a salvage barge lugging away the discarded, unfashionable luxuries from a rich estate for recycling?” writes the Daily Telegraph in a special feature article on this incredible expedition. Hopefully, in a little more than a month, we will know the answer.
Featured image: A reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism. Credit: Steve Grice / News Corp Australia