Category Archives: Underwater Archaeology in Greece

Working Apace & Waiting on the Greeks

According to the latest post from John Fardoulis, up to three excavation teams are working each day on the Antikythera wreck site for a total of four and a half hours (at 90 minutes per team). The photo below is the first underwater picture from the site and shows the water dredge being worked by an archaeologist. We see fish and gravel…no artifacts. Previous reports indicate that items have been found but any pictures of this material is to be released by the Greek authorities.

Nice photo of the water dredge in action at the Antikythera site. Note the dredge hose is pinned down with a No.10 nail so the archaeologist can gently fan sand into it. Slow going but a tribute to the care that is being taken on this important site. Photo Brett Seymour
Nice photo of the water dredge in action at the Antikythera site. Note the dredge hose is pinned down with a No.10 nail so the archaeologist can gently fan sand into it. Slow going but a tribute to the care that is being taken on this important site. Photo Brett Seymour

“The underwater excavation is currently in full swing, with multiple 2-3 diver teams making the most of their bottom time each day. A very detailed map has been created for the site by an underwater robot at the beginning of summer and last year, meaning that everything retrieved from the shipwreck can be plotted on this blueprint, which helps us better understand the shipwreck by studying the spatial relationship between objects.”

Additional pictures are being posted at the Antikythera Gallery at http://wp.me/P5zmjV-38

 

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“Artifacts Have been Found”

It’s not much, but some news is coming out of the Antikythera project ahead of official announcements from the Greeks. Lead technical diver Phil Short reports: “Work on site this year has located numerous artefacts and excavation and recovery continue. Publication of artefact images is restricted by the Ephorate of Antiquities until their press release but will follow.”

In the meantime, the residents of the island are very much involved in the project. According to Short: “The Mayor of Antikythera commissioned information boards of the ‘Return to Antikythera’ project to display throughout the town including this one with the spear recovered in 2014 taken by Brett Seymour of the U.S. NPS for project sponsor Hublot.”

Phil Short and Antikythera poster. Photo: WHOI
Phil Short and Antikythera poster. Photo: WHOI

Phil Short’s wife, Gemma Smith, is the only woman tech diver on the project. She recently did a “fly over” over the site by a remotely operated vehicle. It was used to map locations of the artifacts before their removal.

Gemma Short posted this Facebook pic of her Antikythera flyover Photo: WHOI
Gemma Short posted this Facebook pic of her Antikythera flyover Photo: WHOI

From this we can infer that artifacts are being located and then mapped “in situ” (mapped ‘in place’ before removal) – indicating the very conservative excavation approach being used by the lead investigators – entirely appropriate on a wreck of this importance.

In the meantime, preparations are underway for the Anitkythera exhibit at the Antiquities Museum in Basel, Switzerland. Andrea Bignasca, at the museum, reports the arrival of the “Odysseus” statue which will be a part of the exhibit. There will be a full disclosure of the current project finds on September 25th at the Museum when the exhibit opens.

Statue of Odysseus arrives in Basel. Photo Andrea Bagniacai, Antiquities Museum
Statue of Odysseus arrives in Basel. Photo Andrea Bognasca, Antiquities Museum

Let’s hope we hear from the Greeks well before then!

When No News is Not Good News

Brendan Foley surfaces after his first dive on the Antikythera wreck. Photo: WHOI
Brendan Foley surfaces after his first dive on the Antikythera wreck. Photo: WHOI

John Fardoulis reports from the Antikythera wreck site this morning: “This is a live update from over the Antikythera shipwreck. The archaeologists in our team dived the wreck for the first time today, a major milestone. Stay tuned for more information!”

Hopefully we will hear more during the day – but it may not be what we are hoping for. Project spokesman Yanis Bitsakis tells us that major details (which will surely include the hoped for spectacular discoveries) will be controlled by the Greek Ministry of Culture and will be revealed in a joint conference at Basel, Switzerland on September 25th.

Theotokis Theodoulou right after decompression. Both leaders of the dive project made the first dives on the site.
Theotokis Theodoulou right after decompression. Both leaders of the dive project made the first dives on the site.Photo: WHOI
Tex diver Alex Tortas accompanied the archaeologists down to the site. Photo: WHOI
Tex diver Alex Tortas accompanied the archaeologists down to the site. Photo: WHOI

As this is written, materials are being shipped to the Antiquities Museum in Basel where there will be a major exhibit on the Antikythera wreck. At 11am on the 25th there will be an announcement on the current project finds.

We are still hoping that any spectacular finds will at least be immediately announced, even if details are withheld. We have also asked for a map of the site so that we could report on daily excavation progress – but again Bitsakis tells us the map is regarded as too sensitive to release. We haver also asked for photographs of artifacts as they are found – but again this will be controlled by the Ministry of Culture which currently plans to make disclosures only at the September 25th conference.

It is not hyperbole to say that the entire world is hanging on what may emerge from the sands of Antikythera. Let’s hope there will be a change of heart and more substantial information will be released on a daily basis.

What can be inferred from what we know so far? The fact that the lead archaeologists, Foley and Theodoulou have made the first dives may indicate that they have inspected the prep work on the site. This has included the laying down of the excavated grid, establishment of datum lines and points, and positioning of the excavation dredge and artifact recovery documentation and recovery system. We do know that metal doctors have found hot spots on the wreck mound so it is possible excavation may begin in these areas.

We’ll keep in touch with the project and report whatever emerges!

Antikythera: The Dig Begins

Alexander Sotiriou, lead diver, fieldwork organiser & technical diving instructor checks mixed gas breathing systems. Photo: WHOI
Alexander Sotiriou, lead diver, fieldwork organiser & technical diving instructor checks mixed gas breathing systems. Photo: WHOI


Divers are now over the site at Antikythera. They are making the last preparations before digging into the sands over the wreck – overburden that may at last reveal more of the contents of a wreck that has astonished the world with magnificent marbles and bronzes from ancient Greece.

Monday and today will see setup of excavation controls over the wreck site. On land, archaeological excavation is relatively simple. The site is squared off on a grid, usually one meter squares aligned with a north-south axis, soil is then removed with shovels, then trowels and artifacts carefully noted as to location and depth.  The soil is then carted off in a wheel barrow to be screened for smaller artifacts and organic remains such as seeds, pollen etc. It’s a simple process that can be learned in a few weeks.

But add 40-60 meters of water over the heads of the workers and everything changes. A lot. The past ten days or so have seen the Antikythera teams of Greeks and other nationals haul tons of equipment to the little island and then assembly it for one of the most technologically demanding dives ever mounted in Greek waters. Most of the gear and the preparation concerns the safety of the crew and archaeologists.

Archaeologist in mixed gas rig. Not the easiest way to wield a trowel. Photo: WHOI
Archaeologist in mixed gas rig. Not the easiest way to wield a trowel. Photo: WHOI

The underwater environment means life support – in this case mixed gas rigs that have to be assembled and checked. The original dive in 1900 killed one diver and injured two more. They were diving on air and had minutes on the bottom. This time a team of technical divers will hand-hold the archaeologists. They will have 90 minutes of bottom time but will need to decompress for another hour or more to avoid the ‘bends’ – gas bubbles in the blood. We have chosen one technical diver to follow, Gemma Smith – but it takes an entire team of such experts to keep the archaeologists safe.

Smith, with others, has now completed test dives on the site. She reports on her Face book page, “Absolutely buzzing after my first ever dive on the site of the Antikythera shipwreck. An hour’s bottom time at 60m rigging the site, ready for the archeology to begin tomorrow, and I’m so excited to see what we find!”

Technical Diver Gemma Smith over the Antikythera site. Photo: WHOI
Technical Diver Gemma Smith over the Antikythera site. Photo: WHOI

‘Rigging the site’ means setting up the control grid and bringing down the dredging equipment from the surface. On Sunday diver, photographer John Fardoulis reported, “Lead divers will set up moorings and lower dredging equipment near the wreck, which is expected to take place tomorrow and Tuesday, subject to weather. Everything’s going to plan, and a lot of preparation is required before excavating can begin.”

John Fardoulis. Photo: ARGO, Evita Simoni
John Fardoulis. Photo: ARGO, Evita Simoni

Wednesday will see the first handfuls of sand sucked into the water dredge – probably worked by archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, one of the leaders of the project alongside Dr. Theotokis Theodoulou of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. The dredge will be held above the surface of the sand. The archaeologists will fan sand up from the bottom and into the current of water being sucked into the dredge. It will obviously be a slow and meticulous process!

Theotokis Theodoulou. Photo: ARGO Evita Simoni
Theotokis Theodoulou. Photo: ARGO Evita Simoni

Excavation will take the form of trenches within the grid squares. If material is encountered, the trenches will most likely be expanded until the entire square is excavated. This is clearly not work that will be completed in one or two seasons. The Archaeology Hour will report on updates as they are received. In the meantime you can hear an interview with Foley prior to leaving for the the project at http://archaeologyhour.podomatic.com

Foley, standing left, watches as technicians assemble hoses for the dredge. Photo: WHOI
Foley, standing left, watches as technicians assemble hoses for the dredge. Photo: WHOI

Brendan Foley (bending at left) inspects progress as teaches prepare cables for the water dredge. Note essential high tech component by the cable in the foreground – Duct Tape (work in the vacuum of space and underwater!)

You can connect with the project’s own blog at http://antikythera.whoi.edu/blog/