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A shipwreck laden with jewelry, statues

The Antikythera Mechanism is the stuff of best sellers. It contains all the ingredients for an exciting plot to stimulate the reader’s imagination. Unlike «The Da Vinci Code,» it is not fiction but an actual discovery. The mechanism was constructed before the birth of Christ and no such technologically advanced device existed before the Middle Ages when similar mechanisms such as the Prague clock were encountered. It was recovered from the depths of the sea and escaped the Germans and the civil war, along with other exhibits housed in the National Archaeological Museum. In 2005 it was scanned with special digital tomography in order to reveal its interior. The story began at Easter in 1900. A fishing caique carrying sponge divers from Symi was returning to the Dodecanese from the Libyan Sea, where they had been diving when they hit a terrible storm. They were forced to take shelter in a cove on Antikythera until the storm had blown over. While waiting for the storm to subside, some of the sponge divers decided to explore the sea depths in the area. After one of these explorations, one of the divers climbed onto the caique and told the captain he had seen a dead woman’s leg. It was not in fact such a macabre find but a part of a statue. The divers had fallen upon a Roman shipwreck with a rich cargo lying at a depth of 60 meters: Jewelry, marble and bronze statues were scattered among the ruins of the sunken vessel. Salvaging the finds without technical means at that time was exceptionally difficult. A sponge diver lost his life and others were seriously injured during the process but the undertaking was finally completed in 1901. The finds salvaged from the wreck were taken to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The artifacts included a strange box measuring 20 by 30 by 8 centimeters with bronze and wooden parts, which was heavily corroded. In 1902, the archaeologist Spyridon Stais examined the find to reveal that the metal parts had wheel gears with teeth. Experts disagreed as to what its purpose was but they were all certain that the mechanism, dated a century before the birth of Christ, was the most complex ancient device unearthed until then. No one could say with certainty what it was and researchers did not have the advanced means to probe its secrets or draw a conclusion.