Major Discovery a First in Underwater Archaeology; Antikythera Shipwreck Yields Human Skeleton


The world’s most famous ancient shipwreck just got even more exciting.

Researchers from the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts have found a human skeleton at the bottom of the sea floor in the wreck where the famed Antikythera Mechanism was also found.

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

The find of human remains marks the first time since the beginning of DNA studies that such an ancient skeleton has been identified aboard a ship and remains preserved.

Ancient DNA expert Dr. Hannes Schroeder of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, rushed to Antikythera to view the remains.

Once permission is obtained from the Greek authorities, samples will be sent to his laboratory for a full suite of analyses. If enough viable DNA is preserved in the bones, it may be possible to identify the ethnicity and geographic origin of the shipwreck victim.

“Against all odds, the bones survived over 2,000 years at the bottom of the sea and they appear to be in fairly good condition, which is incredible,” said Schroeder.

The skeleton was found August 31 and includes a skull with a jaw and teeth, and bones that came from the arms, legs, and ribs. The Woods Hole statement said that other parts of the skeleton are embedded in the seafloor, but await excavation.

They believe the skeleton, which appears to be in relatively good condition, has survived more than 2,000 years at the bottom of the sea because of the way the victim died.

“We think he was trapped in the ship when it went down and he must have been buried very rapidly or the bones would have gone by now,” Foley said.

Death, when it came, was sudden and cruel. The individual, either a crew member or passenger, was trapped on board when the huge ship foundered. Dashed on the rocks, the vessel slid beneath the waves, tumbled down an undersea cliff, and swiftly became buried in sediment on the seabed, explained Ian Sample, The Guardian’s Science Editor in a story.


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