The Antikythera shipwreck was discovered at the depth of 50-52m and was largely retrieved by sponge divers from the island of Symi in 1900 under the auspices of the Archaeological Service and the help of the Greek Royal Navy. It was the first shipwreck systematically investigated and thus it inaugurated the field of underwater archaeology. The retrieval continued in 1976 with the joint effort of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the Archaeological Service.
The ship that sunk was a freighter (holkas) about 30m long and of an estimated capacity of 300 tons. It was built in the ancient technique called “shell first”. This means that first the planking was put together with the help of pegs and wooden tenons in mortises and then once the external hull was ready to a certain extent the internal frame was added. Externally, the lower part of the hull was covered with sheets of lead for protection. A few pieces of the hull and the lead sheets have been retrieved.
The wreck can be dated to 75-50 BC. The ship was loaded with marble and bronze statues, bronze couches, glass, bronze and clay vases, gold jewelry, coins, amphorae from the Eastern Mediterranean. The port of embarkation was most probably Delos, a commercial hub of the times that enjoyed duty free status. The destination of the ship was the Italian market, if not Rome itself. The cargo was meant to embellish the villas of wealthy senators and rich merchandisers of the times that were fascinated by Greek art. Obtaining works of Greek art, by looting and later by ordering, was a sign of wealth and social status. And thus the trading of works of art is a phenomenon that starts in this period.
The most intriguing finding was a lump of copper that contained compacted gears, the so called Antikythera Mechanism. This proved to be a portable astronomical calculating machine of the movements of the Moon, Sun and five planets made around 150-100 BC. It was also an accurate calendar and could predict lunar and solar eclipses. It follows the theories of Hipparchus, father of astronomy, about the elliptic movement of the Moon. Not all the secrets of the Mechanism are uncovered and it is still being studied by an interdisciplinary group of experts and others.
The findings of the wreck are kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the biggest of Greece and one of the most important in the world. The museum inaugurated a beautiful exhibition of the shipwreck on April 5th that will stay open till August 2013.
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