Monday, January 14, 2013


MARINE archaeologists report they have uncovered new secrets of an ancient Roman shipwreck famed for yielding an amazingly sophisticated astronomical calculator the "Antikythera Mechanism" for casting horoscopes.

An international survey team says the ship is twice as long as originally thought and contains many more calcified objects amid the ship's lost cargo that hint at new discoveries.

At the Archaeological Institute of America meeting in Seattle, marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution, will report on the first survey of Greece's famed Antikythera island shipwreck since 1976. The ancient Roman shipwreck was lost off the Greek coast around 67 BC, filled with statues and the famed astronomical clock.

"The ship was huge for ancient times," Foley says. "Divers a century ago just couldn't conduct this kind of survey but we were surprised when we realized how big it was."

Completed in October by a small team of divers, the survey traversed the island and the wreck site, perched on a steep undersea slope some 150 to 230 feet deep in the Mediterranean Sea.

The October survey shows the ship was more than 160 feet long, twice as long as expected. Salvaged by the Greek navy and skin divers in 1901, its stern perched too deep for its original skin-diver discoverers to find.

The wreck is best known for yielding a bronze astronomical calculator, the "Antikythera Mechanism" widely seen as the most complex device known from antiquity, along with dozens of marble and bronze statues. 

The mechanism apparently used 37 gear wheels, a technology reinvented a millennium later, to create a lunar calendar and predict the motion of the planets, which was important knowledge for casting horoscopes and planning festivals in the ancient world.

A lead anchor recovered in a stowed position in the new survey shows that the ship likely sank unexpectedly when "a storm blew it against an underwater cliff," says marine archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou of Greece's Ephorate (Department) of Underwater Antiquities. "It seems to have settled facing backwards with its stern (rear) at the deepest point," he says.

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