Ancient Greeks

Message in a 2,400-year-old bottle

By Roger Highfield

A new DNA technique could provide a revolutionary insight into the lives of the Ancient Greeks - using jars that have lain on the seabed for millennia.

These amphoras were the cargo containers of the ancient world, used for shipping all kinds of things, from wine to olive oil.

Studying those left in shipwrecks could tell us much about the trade, agriculture and climate of historic societies - except that the contents wash away over the centuries, leaving archaeologists with glorified empty bottles.

Now a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US and Lund University in Sweden has performed the first successful extraction of DNA from the remains of a 2,400-year-old shipwreck off the Greek island of Chios.

The wooden merchant ship sank in the fourth century BC, coming to rest 70 metres down.