CULTURE

The 1802 wreck of the Mentor and the Parthenon Marbles

The Mentor was sailing from Piraeus to the coast of England via Malta, carrying some 17 cases of antiquities stripped from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin, when, in the early hours of September 17, 1802, it sank just off the coast of Kythera, south of the Peloponnese.

Thankfully, most of its precious cargo — which included sections of the Parthenon frieze and the Temple of Athena Nike, parts of statuary, a marble throne and columns — were salvaged from the wreck by divers from Kalymnos hired by the British lord.

Archaeological interest in the contents of the Mentor, however, continues to flourish today in the hope that more evidence will come to light regarding the adventures of the Parthenon sculptures, but also about the early 19th-century maritime history of the eastern Mediterranean.

A recent search conducted in early July by a team from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and funded by the Australia-based Kytherian Research Group, uncovered two silver and one bronze coin dating from antiquity.

According to the project?s director, Dimitris Kourkoumelis, the team also salvaged clay, glass and porcelain tableware used by the Mentor?s crew, two pistols, a cannonball, a compass and other items, while they also cleared a section of the wreck?s shell, which is still in good condition.

Past dives, conducted by Jacques Cousteau in 1975, the Institute of Underwater Antiquities Research in 1980 and the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in 2009, failed to bring up any pieces of ancient statuary or marbles.