Greek shipwreck bones can build ancient mariner’s profile

Greek shipwreck bones can build ancient mariner’s profile

Archaeologists excavating one of the richest shipwrecks of antiquity said Monday that they have found a 2,000-year-old depth-measuring device, and human bones that could help build an ancient mariner’s genetic profile.

The 1st century BC wreck of a large freighter discovered off the southern Greek island of Antikythera more than a century ago has yielded an ancient astronomical computer, marble statues, tableware and thousands of other artifacts.

Human bones were found there before, but that was before DNA testing was available. The discovery of remains that old on the seabed is unusual.

The Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which is conducting the excavation with the Greek Culture Ministry, said that if enough viable DNA was preserved, the bones could shed light on the shipwreck victim’s ethnicity and geographic origin.

“Archaeologists study the human past through the objects our ancestors created,” said excavator Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist with Woods Hole. “With the Antikythera shipwreck, we can now connect directly with this person who sailed and died aboard the Antikythera ship.”

Archaeologists also discovered a sounding lead — a roughly bell-shaped lead object weighing 50 kilograms (110 pounds). Attached to a rope and lowered from a ship, it measured the depth of the sea and also brought up samples of the seabed that gave the ship's master useful information for anchoring.

“This humble instrument was of vital importance for safe seafaring in antiquity,” a Culture Ministry statement said. A similar device was found in the Antikythera wreck during the first excavation, in 1900-1901.

The new discoveries were made during this year’s second season of excavations, from August 28 to September 14.


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