Bronze Statues, Enigmatic Disc Found in Ancient Antikythera Shipwreck

archaeologist recovering bronze arm from Antikythera shipwreck
Diver recovering bronze arm from Antikythera shipwreck. Photo credit: Brett Seymour

Sometime in the first century BCE a ship sank in waters close to the Greek island of Antikythera.   The ship’s cargo included fine jewelry, exquisite glassware, marble and bronze statues, and even an ancient computer known as the Antikythera mechanism.


Sponge divers are credited with finding the wreck in 1900.  Salvage operations began the next year and among other things, turned up parts of six different bronze statues currently housed in Greece’s National Archaeological Museum.  Today, marine archaeologists from Lund University and the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Archaeology are leading ongoing investigations of the wreckage.  The latest excavation season recently ended, and now researchers are showing the world what they found.  


Most notable among their discoveries are arms and feet from bronze and marble statues and a bronze disc.  The statue pieces go to figures initially found in 1901, filling in more gaps in the ancient works.  There are still missing pieces though, but Lund University archaeologist Brendan Foley says he’s hopeful the rest of the statue parts are with the wreck and will be recovered during future excavations.


In the meantime, the research group has turned its attention to the bronze disc.  Archaeologists  briefly hoped the disc was the Antikythera mechanism’s missing gear.  The mechanism, often referred to as the oldest computer ever found, is a geared piece of technology that displays the movements of stars and planets and even predicts eclipses among other astronomical events.  Sadly, X-rays of the disc show it’s not part of the machine, but there is an interesting bull relief on its surface.


The research team plans to resume excavating the shipwreck in May of 2018.  


If you’d like to read more about what was found, see more pictures, and/or watch a video featuring a bronze arm the group found, check out this article in Nature.

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