Greek sponge divers

Return to Antikythera

By Jo Marchant - The Guardian

In 1900, Greek sponge divers stumbled across "a pile of dead, naked women" on the seabed near the tiny island of Antikythera.

It turned out the figures were not corpses but bronze and marble statues, part of a cargo of stolen Greek treasure that was lost when the Roman ship carrying them sank two thousand years ago on the island's treacherous rocks.

It was the first marine wreck to be studied by archaeologists, and yielded the greatest haul of ancient treasure that had ever been found.

Yet the salvage project – carried out in treacherous conditions with desperately crude equipment – was never completed. So this month, armed with the latest diving technology, scientists are going back.

Between 1900 and 1901, the sponge divers retrieved a string of stunning antiquities, including weapons, jewellery, furniture and some exquisite statues.

But their most famous find was a battered lump that sat unnoticed for months in the courtyard of Athens' National Archaeological Museum, before it cracked open to reveal a bundle of cogwheels, dials and inscriptions.

It has taken scientists over a hundred years to decode the inner workings of those corroded fragments, with x-ray and CT scans finally revealing a sophisticated clockwork machine used to calculate the workings of the heavens.

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