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New finds from Antikythera

A bronze spear 2.20 meters in length, a metal anchor, a gold ring, parts from a bed, and a cluster of amphoras have been found on the sea bed approximately 250 meters away from the main site of the shipwreck off the coast of the island, Antikythera.

The artifacts are among the most important new finds uncovered by the expedition to revisit the Antikythera shipwreck. The ‘Return to Antikythera’ expedition is the first scientific survey of the wreck to be conducted since a team of divers led by Jacques Cousteau explored the site in 1976. Greek archaeologists are collaborating with a team from the Massachusetts Oceanographic Institute and employing top of the line technology to shed new light in what is unquestionably one of the most important undersea archaeological sites on the planet.

The Antikythera wreck was first discovered at the turn of the 20th century by Greek sponge divers who pulled up a number of valuable ancient artifacts including the famous Antikythera Mechanism, an extraordinary device that is believed to have been made around 100 BC. Often described as an analog computer, it is the oldest geared mechanism ever discovered and is believed to have been used to make astronomical calculations. Prior to its discovery mechanisms of similar complexity were not known to have been created until the 14th century.

The latest expedition was begun in 2012 with a new survey of the area to relocate the wreck and the team began diving operations about two weeks ago. The team of Greek-American researchers are exploiting a pressurized robotic ‘Exosuit’ to explore the wreck and surrounding area. The 1.5 million dollar state-of-the-art suit allows divers to dive to greater depths and remain for far longer than simple scuba gear would allow (the Antikythera wreck is located at a depth of 55 meters). The suit, however has yet to be deployed as weather conditions have been too rough. The hope is that further important discoveries will be made, perhaps even including a second Antikythera Mechanism.

The new finds have yet to be officially announced despite the fact that a public event was held by the researchers leading the undersea excavation over the weekend on the neighboring island of Kythera. It has been reported that the Culture Ministry intervened at the last moment and prevented the researchers from revealing the full extent of their early finds. Instead the archaeologists were restricted to making tantalizing yet vague public pronouncements.

Aggeliki Simos, the Culture Ministry’s head archaeologist for undersea excavations said that she believed the new findings are as important as the treasure trove of artifacts pulled up from the watery depths by the first explorers of the wreck.

Panos Laskaridis, the President of the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation which has provided a ship for the expedition said during his remarks at the event, “Unfortunately this event is taking place under a framework of censorship. The state is not allowing us to announce the details, and specifically the findings of the excavation. The reasons are many and diverse: from the best intentioned - which is that the excavation should first be completed, to other reasons which you can imagine given the miserable reality of today’s Greece.”

Despite the official attempt to keep a lid on the findings, some details of a video that portrays the new finds have been leaked.

According to sources familiar with the video, the bronze spear that was discovered was not part of any of the statues that have already been discovered. This has spurred hopes that a large statue will be found to which the spear once belonged.

As for the golden ring, it is speculated that it was not part of the ship’s cargo but belonged to one of its passengers. According to reports, the ring was found next to a woman’s skeleton. It has thus been speculated that perhaps it belonged to a bride who was travelling from the East to Italy together with her dowry.

The amphoras were found in a group 250 meters away from the wreck. This would add weight to the theory that there were in fact two ships that sank. However a large part of the research team believes that the amphoras and surrounding artifacts were all part of the same ship.

The new excavation is focusing on a part of the main wreck that has not been thoroughly explored before: the ship’s prow.  

Ms Simos told reporters during this weekend’s event, “From the new undersea survey that will be carried out until the 15th of October 2014, we can expect tools and artifacts that the ship was carrying and personal belongings of the ship’s crew, and of course, artworks. And without a doubt a part of the ship’s wooden keel.”

Ms Simos also noted that while the American contribution is highly significant – especially with regards to the provision of the Exosuit - Greek archaeologists will actually be conducting the dig.

The aim is that the new finds from the Antikythera wreck to go on display in 2018 at the new Museum of Undersea Antiquities currently under construction.