Marble Head of Hercules, Human Teeth Recovered from 2,000-year-old Antikythera Shipwreck

A marble head of the mythical Greek hero Hercules, human teeth, and other artifacts were recovered from a 2,000-year-old Antikythera shipwreck, according to a press release from archaeologists excavating the underwater site. The world’s oldest-known analogue computer, the Antikythera Mechanism, which was found more than a century ago, came from the same location.

The Roman-era cargo ship, ca. 60 BCE, was found off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera in 1900. Sponge divers extracted remains from the shipwreck throughout the following year. Since the initial discovery, there have been ongoing expeditions over the last century.

These previous excavations have yielded numerous artifacts, coins, and statues, as well as amphorae dating from 80–70 BCE, Hellenistic pottery from 75–50 BCE, and Roman ceramics from the mid-first century.

Corroded remnants belonging to the mysterious Antikythera Mechanism, which provides a model of the solar system, have also been found. It is believed that the mechanism would have functioned as a kind of calendar, noting key astronomical occurrences such as eclipses, and cultural events like the Olympics.

As part of an ongoing five-year research program coordinated by the University of Geneva in Switzerland that seeks to expand on the 1900–01 expedition, the team is working to “formulate a clearer and more acute understanding of the ship, its route, its cargo and the wreckage conditions.”

Archaeologists announced their initial findings on Sunday from the most recent survey, which ran from May 23 to June 15, which involved exposing a new section of the wreck.

“The 2022 field research included the relocation of selected sizeable natural boulders that had partially covered the shipwreck area during an event that is under investigation, weighing up to 8.5 tons each; their removal gave access to a formerly unexplored part of the shipwreck,” explained the release.

There, they discovered a massive marble head, likely belonging to the headless statue Hercules of Antikythera, which is housed at the National Archaeological Museum in Greece and was previously retrieved over a century ago.

Two human teeth, which will undergo further analysis, were also found among a solid agglomerate of marine deposits, along with fragments of copper, wood, and other materials.

“Genetic and isotopic analysis of the teeth might be useful to deduce information on the genome and other characteristics relevant to the origin of the individuals they belonged to,” the team noted.

Additional finds include a plinth belonging to a marble statue and equipment from the ship, such as bronze and iron nails, a lead collar for wooden anchor, and iron concretion masses.

Researchers hope that further excavations will provide a better understanding of the Antikythera Mechanism, as well as other valuable artifacts.

“Since the ship was transporting the highest quality of luxury goods,” reads the organization’s website, “there is a very real possibility of unimaginable finds, similar in importance to the Mechanism.”

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