Thursday, June 23, 2022


MARINE archaeologists have found a marble head of Hercules, human teeth, and other artifacts at an ancient Aegean shipwreck famed for yielding an amazingly sophisticated astronomical calculator the "Antikythera Mechanism" for casting horoscopes.

The head clearly belongs to a Farnese-style marble statue of Hercules that was found without its head several years ago at the 2,000-year-old Antikythera shipwreck. 

The world's oldest-known analogue computer, the Antikythera Mechanism, which was found more than a century ago, came from the same location.

The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered in 1901 ... technically speaking ... an encrusted lump was salvaged by Greek sponge divers in clunky metal diving suits from the Mediterranean seabed ... not that anybody realized what it was at the time. 

It would take decades and advanced x-ray technology for scientists to realize that the "rock" was a wondrously advanced sophisticated analog calculator consisting of dozens of intermeshed gears.

The Mechanism could do not only basic math: 

With dozens of exquisitely worked cogwheels, it could calculate the movements of the sun and moon, predict eclipses and equinoxes, and could be used to track the solar system planets, the constellations, and much more.

We may never know how many cogwheels the original Antikythera Mechanism had. Assessments based on its functions in predicting the behavior of the cosmos range from 37 to over 70. 

For comparison, the most advanced Swiss watches have four cogwheels.

As for the ship bearing the Mechanism, it had been a huge one, laden with precious cargo. Happily, even a century of looters and incautious explorers who combed the site since the ship's original discovery didn't find everything.

The huge vessel, perhaps 50 meters from bow to stern, was sailing from Asia Minor to Rome when it foundered near the tiny island between Crete and the Peloponnese more than 2,000 years ago.

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.

The ancient Roman shipwreck was lost off the Greek coast around 67 BC, filled with statues and the famed astronomical clock.

"What we're finding is these sculptures are in among and under the boulders," said Brendan Foley, co-director of the excavations team at Lund University. "We think it means a minimum of seven, and potentially nine, bronze sculptures still waiting for us down there." 

The boulders that overlie the metal objects weigh several tons and may have tumbled onto the wreck during a massive earthquake that shook Antikythera and surrounding islands in the 4th century AD.

A bronze arm, probably from a statue of a male, was the highlight of the team's 2017 excavation season

Among other objects the divers recovered are a patterned slab of red marble the size of a tea tray, a silver tankard, sections of joined wood from the ship’s frame, and a human bone. 

In 2016, the team found the skull, teeth, ribs and other bones of an individual who perished on the wreck. They have since extracted DNA from the skull and from it learned the individual's sex and where they came from. 

Until those results are published, the person is known as Pamphilos after divers found the name, meaning “friend of all”, carved on a buried cup that had been decorated with an erotic scene.

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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