An international expedition has recovered stunning new finds from one of the richest shipwrecks of antiquity, proving that a treasure trove of artifacts is still preserved beneath the seafloor.
The rescued antiquities include a beautiful intact table jug, part of an ornate bed leg, ship components, and a giant bronze spear that would have belonged to a life-sized warrior statue.
Dubbed the "Titanic of the ancient world," the vessel sank more than 2,000 years ago off the remote island of Antikythera, in southern Greece. The ship, which dates from 70-60 B.C., was probably smashed against the island's sheer cliffs during a violent storm.
‘Exosuit' Will Explore 2,000-Year-Old Shipwreck
The wreck, believed to have been a Roman commercial vessel that was carrying a luxury cargo of Greek treasures from the coast of Asia Minor west to Rome, was found by Greek sponge divers more than 100 years ago.
At that time the divers retrieved a treasure hoard which included bronze and marble statues, jewelry, furniture and the mysterious "Antikythera mechanism" - a complex, geared astronomical calculator known as the world's oldest computer.
But scouring the treacherous wreck site, 180 feet down a steep underwater slope, proved dangerous and explorations were halted.
A new project of the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has allowed divers to return to the Antikythera shipwreck using a state-of-the art exosuit that acts like a wearable submarine.
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The Iron Man-like diving suit allows divers to delve to depths of up to 1,000 feet and stay underwater for up to three hours at a time - without being at risk of decompression sickness.
During their first excavation season, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 7, 2014, the researchers were able to create a high-resolution, 3-D map of the site using stereo cameras mounted on an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).
A series of finds recovered by divers revealed promising future developments.
"Components of the ship, including multiple lead anchors over a meter long and a bronze rigging ring with fragments of wood still attached, prove that much of the ship survives," the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said in a statement.
The researchers realized the finds are scattered over a large area, covering 984 feet (300 meters) of the seafloor.
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This, together with the huge size of the anchors and hull planks, indicate the Antikythera ship was much larger than previously thought, perhaps up to 164 feet long.
"The evidence shows this is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered," marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said.
"It's the Titanic of the ancient world," he added.
Among the artifact recovered, the most promising for future discoveries is a 6 1/2 foot-long bronze spear.
Too large and heavy to have been used as a weapon, it most likely belonged to a colossal statue - perhaps a warrior or the goddess Athena.
Indeed, statues were part of the ship's luxury cargo. In 1901 the sponge divers discovered four giant marble horses. The researchers now believe they belonged to a complex of statues involving a warrior in a chariot that was pulled by the four horses.
"We have a lot of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets," said Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.
The team plans to return next year to excavate the site further.