The most renowned danger area in the Mediterranean for both modern and ancient mariners is probably the entrance to the Aegean Sea, past Cape Malea. A submarine ridge between Malea, at the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese, and Grambousa, at the west end of Crete, runs for sixty miles, averaging 300 to 500 feet in depth and nowhere more than a mile wide. Both sides of the ridge slope down to the deep central sea floor half a mile below. From the ridge rise the islands of Kythera and Antikythera, Pori, several sunken reefs, and some islets, including the rock where H.M.S. Nautilus sank in the winter of 1807.
The place can be a caldron of gales in winter, and the current unpredictably treacherous. Thus Captain Palmer of the Nautilus, sailing west through the strait on a dark night, worried about a southerly current that might pile him up on Antikythera, and he drove instead on an uncharted rock north of the island. The skipper of the big Roman ship that struck on Cape Glyphada on the northeast side of Antikythera in the first century B.C. could have been set south by the same current.
Antikythera had been something of an obsession with me ever since I had written a paper on the fragments of planking in the National Museum in Athens, I had bothered the librarian at the American School of Classical Studies until, in desperation, she had translated the scanty Greek archaeological reports for me. Eventually I chased down all Lhe printed material on the Roman wreck. I learned, finally, enough Greek to read the yellowing newspaper reports in the Greek National Library, and at last found John Lyndiakos, whose father and uncles had owned the ships commanded by Dimitrios Rondos, the Greek captain who found the Roman wreck in 1900. Lyndiakos had spent a year on Antikythera as a boy, when his father was working there. He was the last surviving participant ol the expedition, but said apologetically that he had been eight years old at the time, and could remember only the things a boy would remember.
As I listened to the old man, it wasn’t hard to imagine what had happened. On the autumn day that Rondos found the wreck, he wakened in his bunk, and from the change in the rhythm of gusts rattling the rigging, he knew yesterday’s gale was dropping. Like several hundred other sponge captains in the Aegean and off Africa on that clay, he crawled out of his bunk and climbed the ladder of the stuffy little aftercabin. On deck he shivered.
Although it was still blowing, the men would be able to work on the protected north side of the island, under the cliffs. It was a difficult place to dive in, because the cliffs fell steep to great depths, but the slopes of the island would surely yield a day’s wages. Anyway, the activity would settle the crew, who were getting bored and restless after three galebound days in Potamos Bay.
The diving boat was moored alongside the schooner. She was what the sailors from Syme call an aktarma, a double-ended rowing and sailing boat, about thirty feet long, with flaring bows that threw spray outward so the decks stayed dry. Mercurio, the divers’ tender and the second man in the crew after Kondos, was already up, shouting to the sailors as they pulled in the stern mooring.
It took a big crew to work the hand-pumped compressor and to row the boat. Divers can stay for limited times under water over thirty feet deep, and so a diving boat had to carry at least four divers, more commonly six or eight, as well as men to row and crank the compressor. Since so many men could not live comfortably on a boat small enough to be a maneuverable divers’ tender, they had devised the system of the two ships working in tandem. On the big boat, the deposito, meals were cooked, sponges were cleaned, and the men slept.
It was still dark when the rowers went over the side of the schooner into the aktarma. The divers were already huddled together in their privileged territory on the loredeck, smoking cigarettes for breakfast. They never ate before diving, as they believed it brought on the bends. Mercurio took the tiller, Rondos the captains place in the tiny round forehatch, and the rowers bent to the big sweeps, which they worked facing forward, standing in the cluttered hold of the boat.
A gray dawn broke as they pulled around the big cape south of Potamos Harbor. Although the wind screamed at them from the tops of the cliffs, the water near the island was calm. Rondos knew that a slight easterly current ran along the north side of Antikythera when the south wind blew, so he decided to head for the nearest promontory, Cape Glyphada three miles away, and work back to Potamos with the current.
It was Elias Stadiatis’ turn to dive. He flipped his cigarette into the water, dipped some soft soap out of the can that always hung on the mast, and sloshed his wrists with it. Then he picked his way through the lounging divers to the dressing bench, where the ship’s boy waited with the diving dress.
The sun came over the horizon as the boy worked around Stadiatis under Mercurio’s watchful gaze. Captain Kondos, right up in the bows, legs curled crablike in the little round hatch fitted into the tiny foredeck, strained his eyes to see a ledge or the bottom through the glass-bottomed bucket. He must have been thinking as he did so that this was a godawful ugly deep place, with the pure blue of deep water to his left and the cliff on his right falling sheer without a ledge or even an easy slope where a diver could get the buoyancy of his diving dress under control after leaving the shot line. It takes no mean skill for a helmet diver to float along a sheer wall, adjusting his weight with perfect delicacy by little taps of his head on the valve in the helmet. Hands are a final control, but the weeds of the cliff offered only an insecure grip. A diver rigged too light can rocket upward, out of control. Too heavy, and he can sink, to die of squeeze caused by the difference of pressure, unless the boy on the hose and the tender are careful.
Kondos nodded to Mercurio, who handed the helmet to the boy. The boy slipped it over Stadiatis’ ears and locked it. Two sailors stood to the cranks. Air rushed into the helmet from the pump. Old Mercurio banged Stadiatis’ battered copper helmet twice. The diver swung his right leg over the side, and pushing himself outward, splashed into the water facing forward, his left hand holding the descending line. The boy, midships in the boat, began calling the depth in fathoms from the gauge on the pump:
“Five, seven, seven . . .”
The diver reached the end of the descending line and balanced his weight, releasing himself then to float under control to the bottom.
“Eight, nine, ten . . . eleven, twelve, twelve, fourteen, fourteen, fifteen, fifteen . . .”
Kondos nodded. The boy turned to a little shell on the mast and inverted the minute glass.
“Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen . . .".
The diver was well under control now, with old Mercurio holding the hard-twist lifeline. The sand ran out. The boy turned the glass again. The pressure gauge turned smoothly to 30 fathoms, 180 feet. Kondos made sure of the time, since too much time at that depth was very dangerous. The gauge settled at thirty. A steady chant came from the boy on the depth gauge: “Thirty, thirty . .
“Five minutes,” Kondos thought. “I’ll let him stay five minutes.”
Then the boy, his squeaky voice rising, shouted, “Twenty-eight, twenty-seven, twenty-six, twentyfive, twenty-four, twenty-three . . .”
Was Stadiatis blowing up? It shouldn’t happen with an experienced diver. The gleaming copper helmet broke surface in a ring of foam near the boat. Rondos slipped the loop that held the diving ladder out of the water, and lent the tender a hand on the lifeline. When they had pulled the diver to the ladder, he clambered up it far enough so that the helmet protruded over the bulwark. The boy bear-hugged it, twisted to unlock it, and straightened up with it in his arms. Kondos leaned the diver over, so that the water that had leaked into the fold of rubber under the breastplate could splash onto the bulwark.
Stadiatis’ eyes were rolling, and he was sickly pale. He was babbling, half screaming, something about women. Kondos shook him.
“What was it, man?”
The diver mumbled “Holy Virgin” over and over, as they brought him to the bench in the bow. He was trembling. They sat him down, and Kondos asked again what the trouble was. “Never mind virgins,” said Kondos very steadily. “What’s wrong?”
“Horses, women, naked women, beautiful women with syphilis . . .”
“Somebody give him a cigarette.” Mercurio reached into the pocket of his dirty shirt and fumbled out a mashed cigarette, lit it, and put it into Elias’ mouth. He took a deep drag. Kondos felt past the copper breastplate for his shoulder, and shook him. “Come on, Elias. Calm down, man. What happened? What did you see?”
“People . ..”Stadiatis tried desperately to explain that he had seen dead naked women, their obscene flesh half eaten by disease or the fish, and horses.
“Like a city, with men and horses . . His voice trailed off.
When Stadiatis had gotten out ot the diving dress, Kondos put on his own sot ks and trawled into the damp canvas dress. In five minutes he was on his way to the bottom, ignoring the oarsman who asked him to bring back the best ol the girls. Stadiatis sat crouched beside Mercurio in the bows, mumbling about the city and horses upside down while the tender, his hands very delicate on the lifeline this time, waved directions to the oarsman. At just under thirty fathoms the chant steadied: Kondos was working on whatever it was. The lifeline jerked. Mercurio let it go slack. The boat rocked, silent except for the slap of the compressor, the panting of the men turning it, and the squeak of the oars against the wooden tholepins.
It seemed longer, but after less than five turns of the minute glass, the man tending the hose felt three jerks, the signal that Kondos was on his way up. When Mercurio began to heave in the lifeline, it was stuck fast, a sign that Kondos had taken it off and tied it onto something. He was coining up on the hose.
He surfaced near the side, and when he was on deck with helmet off, he gestured toward the line. “Heave it in, boys.”
Half a dozen men gave the lifeline a final heave, and Rondos’ find came over the side to land with a thump on the foredeck. The men stared.
It was a man’s right hand, half-size, of green metal filled with sand. The first two fingers were extended as if to hold an object which had long since disappeared. Rondos laughed. “Statues, you cuckold idiots, statues. A whole shipload of statues.”
There are several versions of what happened next. The official story, published in the Greek archaeological journal Ephemeris Archaeologiki soon after the wreck was salvaged, says that Kondos found the wreck in the spring, took only the bronze arm, and went to the Greek government in the fall from motives of pure patriotism.
This version is hard to swallow for several reasons. It is extremely unlikely that any sponge boat would return from Africa in the spring ot the year. Sponge expeditions from the Dodecanese traditionally sail just after Easter to the banks off Africa. It is reasonable and normal, however, that a boat should return in October or November, which is also the right time of year for the kind of southerly gale which drove Rondos into shelter in Potamos. Such gales are rare in the spring. Furthermore, it seems equally improbable that a crew of sponge divers would abstain from looting a wreck for patriotism or sentiment of any kind. Most of the crew were shareholders in the expedition and would have forced Kondos to make whatever profit he could.
In Syme they say that Kondos and his men salvaged what they could before the weather changed, and that the small bronzes they got were sold in Alexandria between 1902 and 1910. The proceeds are supposed to have been invested in a schooner which had a lurid and highly profitable career smuggling surplus French army rifles to the natives in Cyrenaica.
Neither version can be proved definitely unless someone locates the bronzes, which, after sixty years, seems unlikely.
There is another indication that Kondos and his men “mined” the wreck. Like all Aegean sponge divers, they were familiar with ancient wrecks and generally regarded them as heaps of day jars or bits of calcined wood or piles of copper ingots. Usually, sponge divers pick the sponges oil the clay jars, search the area for lead or copper, and move on. A diver who finds a heap of clay jars on the bottom is likely to find nearby large “bars of lead"—ancient anchor stocks. The anchors’ flukes were made of hardwood, as were the shafts, but since a wooden anchor would not sink to the bottom, ancient Mediterranean seafarers cast the crossbar of the anchor in lead in order to sink the wood and cause the anchor to lie on the bottom at an angle which let the flukes dig in. There has never been a recorded find of a lead anchor stock in the Aegean, although every sponge diver has seen them. Hundreds of stocks, however, have been found in the western Mediterranean, which has not been combed by Greek divers.
The Antikythera wreck was a ship of the right size and period to have carried at least five large lead-stocked anchors, the stocks weighing from 500 to 1000 pounds apiece. Although tons of material were eventually salvaged from the Antikythera wreck, the only anchor found was a rusted iron fisherman’s anchor, undoubtedly modern. If Kondos and his men had salvaged what they could from the wreck when they first found it, they would certainly have removed the anchor stocks to sell for scrap. If other divers before Kondos had found the wreck, they would certainly have taken the lead anchor stocks and probably the portable bronzes as well, leaving none for Kondos. It follows, then, that Kondos was probably the first to find the wreck, and decided to get out of it whatever he could.
They stayed on the place for several days, making three five-minute dives per diver per day. The wreck, they found, lay parallel with the face of the rock on a sandy ledge which jutted out at the thirtyfathom level and ended at thirty-five fathoms in a steep slope leading to very deep water. If the ship had sunk fifty feet further out, it would have hit the slope and slid down it, to be lost forever.
The shape of the ship was outlined by the great oblong heap of statues which had frightened Stadiatis. This heap was cemented together by a thick layer of sea growth nearly as hard as concrete and several feet thick in places. The divers found several smaller statues and other things in the interstices of the heap and pried them out.
Then the weather changed. When it turned cold and big waves began to break on the cliffs, it was time for Kondos and his men to sail for home.
Syme, like the rest of the Dodecanese, was at that time under Ottoman rule, and the people of Syme had a fierce feeling of Greek nationalism. For the first time in history, Greek education, at least on the mainland, was out of the hands of the Orthodox Church, and Greeks were being taught to take pride in their pagan ancestors.
It seems likely that rumors of a load of statues in the sea came to the ears of A. Economou, who was from Syme, and who was a professor at the University of Athens. Perhaps the owners of the boats, the Lyndiakos brothers, and Kondos approached Economou, and he persuaded them to offer their find to the Greek government.
In any case, on the sixth of November, 1900, Professor Economou, accompanied by Captain Kondos and Elias Stadiatis, journeyed to Athens, where they called upon the then Minister of Education, Professor Spiridon Stais. As evidence of their find they brought the bronze arm. When the arm had been examined, Kondos offered to raise the remaining statues if he and the Lyndiakos brothers were paid their full value, and if the Greek Navy would provide a ship that could winch the heavy objects off the bottom. Stais, one of the best ministers of education that Greece has ever had, was fascinated. It took him only two weeks to get the KondosLyndiakos offer officially accepted, and to arrange a formal guarantee of funds and a Navy ship. He and Economou both believed that Stadiatis might have stumbled on a ship carrying Greek art back to Rome.
Kondos, his divers, and the government that employed them were not aware that they were undertaking the deepest salvage job in the history of diving up to that time. There had been only one comparable job, the recovery in 1885 of 90,000 gold pounds from the strong room of the wreck of the steamer Alphonso XII, which lay at 160 feet in the English Channel. Alexander Lambert, the diver who did the job, was struck by bends and paralyzed for life as a consequence.
But divers from Syme and Kalymnos had been going to the 300-foot theoretical limit for compressed-air diving for years, and most of the twentytwo men in the boats with which Kondos returned to Antikythera seem to have come from Syme.
The government expedition arrived off Cape Glyphada early in the morning of the twenty-fourth of November. Big swells from the north were breaking on the cliffs and a gale was brewing. The captain of the Navy transport Michaeli took one look at the place, with its sheer cliffs and steep shoreline that made anchoring almost impossible, and brought the Michaeli around the cape to Potamos Harbor.
Kondos squinted at the clouds and decided to risk a dive. With the rowers straining at the sweeps to keep the boat headed into the waves, the divers made one dive each to attach lines to small objects. At noon they ran back to Potamos with the boat’s spritsail pulling hard in the rising wind.
Professor Economou and the crew of the Michaeli gasped at the finds that were heaved over the transport’s bulwarks. There was a life-size bronze head of a bearded man. He was probably meant to he a philosopher, but his face was so overgrown with sea growth that he looked like a boxer. Even through the sea growth, Economou could see that the head had been done by a great sculptor of classical or Hellenistic times. There was the bronze arm of a boxer, broken off at the shoulder but in very good condition; a corroded bronze sword, evidently part of a statue; two badly corroded marble statues of men, one life-size, the other slightly smaller, both lacking heads; and there were a couple of boxes full of bits of other bronze and marble statues, bronze bowls, clay dishes, and a sack full of broken pottery.
By the time they had transferred the finds, the wind had increased to a gale, and it was obviously not wise to remain longer in Potamos Harbor. The Michaeli got under way to Piraeus, and the diving boat headed for the nearest good harbor, San Nikolo Bay in Kythera.
In Piraeus pandemonium broke loose at the ministry. Stais had been right. Kondos had the biggest hoard of ancient Greek bronzes found to that date. The first haul had included parts of at least ten statues, picked from what Kondos said was a huge heap on the bottom. The marble was badly pitted by marine worms, and some of the bronze was so fragile that it broke like bad pottery.
Red headlines appeared in the Athenian papers next clay: TREASURE AT KYTHERA . . . ARCHAEOLOGICAL TREASURE. Professor Economou and the officer commanding the Michaeli reported that the transport was too large for the job, and that a smaller, more maneuverable ship able to work close to the cliffs was needed. The Navy ministry assigned the steam schooner Syros, which arrived in San Nikolo, where the divers were still sheltered, on the third of December. That day the storm subsided. Now the man in charge was the director of antiquities, Professor George Byzantinos. Economou apparently stayed back in Athens. The divers made two or three dives per man each day, each lasting four or five turns of the minute glass. The weather was calm enough so that the Syros could steam close to the cliff and pass a line to the diving boat. The line could then be attached on the bottom to heavy objects, which
It took several days to free the marble statue of a boy from the mud. The first diver who saw it thought that it was a “little dog.” It took three dives just to lash the lifting cable. When it was on deck the divers and rowers crowded around. The last diver, says Byzantinos, cried, “Little devil, you didn’t want to be tied, you wanted to stay down there and eat crabs.” The Navy crew cheered.
When the weather broke at the end of the week, they had stripped a colossal marble bull from the diminishing heap of stuff on the bottom, along with bronze parts of other statues and bronze fittings, probably parts of furniture.
When Syros got to Piraeus, the statues were carried to the Ministry of Education, where they were put on public view. Long files of admirers passed through the hall to see the first major archaeological discovery made in Greece by Greeks. The wonderful wreck at Antikythera was full of Greek statues stolen by a foreign conqueror. Now it was being excavated by Greeks without foreign help.
While Athens admired the sea-grown statues and politicians made speeches about the unity of Greece, the divers at Antikythera began to suffer from exhaustion. Tempers frayed as enthusiasm waned and the work got harder on the bottom. Mr. Byzantinos soon wearied of expedition life and appointed a Mr. Kritikos, an accountant in the department, as his replacement.
Kritikos was the first of a long series of junior officials who were in charge at Antikythera, and his appointment set a disastrous pattern which was characteristic of the archaeology of the day. In 1900 most archaeological excavations tended to be salvage jobs, with gangs of hired workmen more or less unsupervised as they dug for objects of value, which the archaeologist then classified and catalogued and commented on.
The idea of a sunken ship as a slice of a day in the far past, preserved under the mud like an insect in amber, was a long intellectual step from the state of mind of archaeologists of the time. They saw the Antikythera wreck as a marvelous treasure trove, unconnected with anything that they understood. The series of officials representing the department of antiquities seem to have been sent only to make sure that nobody stole anything. None of them seems really to have talked with the divers. If they had done so, they might have learned that the lead weights on the divers’ suits had been cast from chopped-up Roman anchor stocks, and that the copper they used for repairing their compressors had been mined in Cyprus 3500 years before, and that the Aegean was full of ancient pottery.
At the end of January the divers struck for more money, and demanded that the government hire more divers. At the same time there was a wellpublicized accusation that the divers were smashing antiquities on the bottom, and that the bronzes came up in pieces because they were handled carelessly.
This was denied by the Ministry of Education. But the divers were being paid by the piece. Therefore they had to use their time on the bottom in salvaging material, not in thinking about how to salvage it. They had no means of digging into the muddy sand which overlay most of the wreck. John Lyndiakos remembers the ramrods they used to probe the bottom, “to find objects to attach ropes to,” so that die object could be pulled out of the mud by a winch from above. He says that many broke in the process.
In any case, whether or not their methods could have been improved on, their efficiency was lowered for other reasons. Recent studies carried out by a British physiologist, A. D. Baddley, show that with aqualung divers, mere immersion in the water causes efficiency to drop 28 percent, while at 100 feet a diver is 50 percent less efficient than on the surface. The Antikythera divers, at over 180 feet, were at what we could consider today the limit of practical compressed-air diving, Down there, the effect of narcosis is rather like a couple of stiff whiskies on an empty stomach. Antikythera divers would have denied that they were drunk as hoot owls on the bottom, if anyone had thought to accuse them. But there is no question that they were, on purely physiological grounds.
All the researchers have discovered that diving deep, a diver is strong and active, and can work fast and well at a familiar job. It’s the unknown and the unexpected that he can’t deal with.
At the beginning of February Stais decided to go to Antikythera himself. A group of dignitaries came with him, among them Mr. Kavvadias, the new director of antiquities, and Mr. Emmanuel Likoudis, the ministry’s lawyer, who was expected to straighten out the disagreements between the divers and the ministry concerning their salaries and advance payments. They arrived to find the clivers tired to the point of mutiny.
Stais and Economou pleaded with them, and they finally agreed to go back to work after Economou guaranteed that they would be paid for the first statues as soon as they could be evaluated.
A heap of statues still remained on the bottom. They had been made into an almost solid lump by white coralline limestone growth. While the panjandrums argued about what to direct the divers to do, the divers themselves explored the central heap and found a group oT amphoras, mostly upright, three-quarters buried in the sand. The upper parts of the amphoras were covered by sea growth. They got cables around some of them and heaved them up. The amphoras were filled with sand, and the sand in some of them was full of olive pits. They raised twenty-seven jars.
But they could not move the great stones which crushed the wreck. The solution was to tie them on the bottom with five-inch manila cables so that the knots would hold temporarily while the Michaeli’s sailors maneuvered close alongside the cliff. The men then winched up the great weight until the cable began to stretch and the ship listed ominously. The operation demanded judgment and skillful seamanship and was done with a party of sailors standing by with axes to chop the cables if the Michaeli heeled too far.
When halt a dozen boulders had been pulled off the wreck, it was possible to raise the statues which had lain under them. In a few days the Michaeli’s deck was cluttered with a collection of more than a dozen marble statues, all of them deformed by sea growth and partly destroyed by borers. Sometimes ropes broke, and knots tied at thirty fathoms failed to hold. Once the statue of a horse slipped from its sling just as it was coming out of the water and fell, irretrievably, into the abyss.
There were still several great boulders preventing statues’ being raised. At the risk of sinking the ship, Stais ordered the next one brought to the surface. It was not a boulder after all. Through the clear water everyone saw that it was a huge statue of Hercules, with club and lionskin. In fact the “great boulders” had been statues all along, so improbably big, so corroded and overgrown, that ignorant men with depth-fuddled brains did not recognize them.
After a few dozen more marbles and pieces of marbles were raised, the divers began finding other things as they explored in the mud covering the lower part of the hull. There were flat roof tiles and rough kitchen pottery; beautiful glass bowls, blue and brown, some made of glass mosaic and mostly unbroken. There was a handsome gold brooch showing Eros holding a lyre and set with seed pearls. By the time the weather changed again, the Michaeli’s deck was so full that the sailors had trouble moving around.
On the recoveries, the mollusks which had destroved the polished surfaces of the marbles rotted and stank in the winter sun. The divers were completely worn out. Before Stais had to go back to Piraeus, he and Economou persuaded them to work for one more week. When that time was up, not even Economou could persuade them to work anymore, for any amount of money, until after Easter.
By the beginning of June all visible loose objects had been removed from the wreck. All they could see now on the bottom were thousands of bits of broken pottery and smashed marble that covered the area, too feet long by 40 wide, where the deck cargo once protruded above the fine sand. It was like a scar on the bottom. When the divers dug into the sand they continued to find objects, but little of value. They had no tools to dig with except their hands. Shovels and hoes had been tried, but did not work in the sand, which floated up in clouds and then settled back again after the befuddled diver had surfaced. The divers reported seeing other statues almost hidden under layers of sea growth, but they could not be sure. In any case, the authorities had lost interest in the wreck, and so, at the end of the summer of 1901, the work was temporarily suspended.
Kondos and his divers were paid off and went home for the winter. The men received 500 gold drachmas apiece, the equivalent of about a thousand dollars in today’s drachmas, as a bonus, plus a share horn the Lyndiakos brothers, who received a total of either 150,000 or 190,000 gold drachmas (depending on the source consulted) , half of which they shared with Kondos and the divers.
The wreck was forgotten for fifty-two years, until Captain Cousteau and his crew visited the site in the spring of 1953.
In the years that followed, there was much controversy over the date and provenance of the ship. Most of the material was never systematically studied, although many archaeologists were involved in the excavation. The material was stored in the National Museum in Athens, where it was examined piecemeal by dozens of experts.
The bronzes were identified as belonging to the fourth century B.C. The corroded marble statues turned out to be later copies of classical originals. There was a heated scholarly controversy between J. N. Svoronos, who was convinced that the ship had been loaded at Argos and was on the way to Constantinople in the fourth century A.D., and K. Kourouniotes, who turned to the domestic pottery found on the wreck and maintained that it showed that the ship had gone down in the first century before Christ. He was correct, but it took more than sixty years before his thesis could be proved.
Several heaps of unidentifiable material, roughly classified into groups, had been piled up in the storerooms of the National Mucum. Nearly a year after work had ceased, Valerio Stais, a young archaeologist who was the nephew of Spiridon Stais, was going through a pile of metal which had been put aside as possibly belonging to the statues. He noticed that a calcified lump of corroded bronze had split open as it dried out, revealing fragments of what looked like clockwork. Closer inspection showed a mechanism which he decided was either a clock or a navigational instrument. Parts of the machine were inscribed in ancient Greek astronomical terms.
Some experts decided that it was an astrolabe. Others maintained it was a medieval instrument which had found its way by chance onto the wreck site. In any case, the “astrolabe” cum “clock” remained unique. Nothing like it was ever found again. In 1958 Dr. Derek de Solla Price, an English physicist and mathematician and student of the history of science, who had been fascinated by the instrument for years, got a grant from the American Philosophical Society which let him visit the National Museum in Athens to study the instrument.
Four major pieces and several fragments had survived fifty-odd years of what Dr. Price refers to as “the delicate cleaning operations being carried out by the museum’s technicians.” From these he was able to reconstruct tire instrument on paper. When new, it had looked like the working part of a small grandfather’s clock, with brass gear wheels inside a wooden case, which had dials on the outside, one in front and two on the back. The front dial had two scales: one fixed, which showed signs of the zodiac; the other on an adjustable slip ring, showing months of the year. Both scales were marked off in degrees.
The hand which was connected to the inside mechanism indicated key letters corresponding to other letters on an inscribed plate attached to one of the doors. These letters predicted the risings and settings of the major stars and constellations. Price suggests that the back dials indicated lunar phases and the setting stations and retrogradations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and possibly other planets.
The instrument was, in short, a computer. The complicated gearing inside the wooden box, when operated by a drive shaft that Price thought might have been made to run off a waterwheel, turned the hands of the dials so as to predict movements of the stars.
He argues convincingly that the computer was made in Rhodes, because the most complete inscription on the machine is like part of a surviving astronomical calendar written by an astronomer named Geminos, who lived in Rhodes at the beginning of the first century B.C. Price deduces that the machine was made about 82 B.C. and that it was repaired in 80 B.C., according to the position of the slip ring indicating the positions of the stars. It was probably set for the last time shortly before tire ship sank. The gears were cut from a sheet of bronze two millimeters thick, and the gear teeth were cut by hand at the same angle, so that any one would mesh with any other. It was a working machine. Price found that it had been repaired twice.
When he visited the museum to study the “clock,” he noticed that considerable material was still in the storerooms of the museum. Although most of it was uncatalogued, it obviously came from the sea. Some of the material mentioned in the early publications had been lost or mislaid because of the vicissitudes of the Second World War and administrative changes in the museum, but enough remained to show that it came from Antikythera. Mrs. Gladys Weinberg of the University of Missouri, for many years editor of Archaeology magazine, collected a group of specialists who undertook to study the lots of glass, amphoras, clay pots, and bits of fragile, desiccated ship’s planking, which had shrunk with the years to a fraction of their original size.
The answers that Mrs. Weinberg’s group came up with are a good demonstration of the progress made in archaeology in less than sixty years. The “junk pile” of material that had been put aside in 1901 had at last become meaningful and could be used to tell a good part of the story of the wreck.
When, after some months of negotiations, I was finally able to get into the National Museum’s storerooms to study the wood that remained, I found a box of powdery dried-out fragments that were fantastically light and broke with any pressure. The best-preserved piece was only two feet long by about six inches wide. This piece and the several others stored with it tell a great deal when they are compared with tHe wooden planking from other wrecks excavated in the 1950s.
A pattern of copper nails shows that the Antikythera ship was covered below the waterline with a layer of lead sheets, like the Mahdia ship and the big wine ship which Captain Cousteau excavated oil Marseilles. The United States Department of Agriculture analyzed a bit of the planking and concluded that it was elm wood, which is only used for planking below the waterline today because it tends to rot it it is continually soaked, then dried, but lasts well it kept either wet or dry.
Like the other big ships of the period that have been found, the Antikythera ship was copper-fastened and was built shell first—that is, the frames or ribs were put into the ship after the shell was built up, held solidly together by its tenons. Although the planks do not prove that the ship was big, I estimated roughly she was three hundred tons. She was probably decked, because I found lead scupper pipes in the bottom of the box that contained the planking.
The wood from the wreck yielded another bit of evidence which would have been inconceivable to the researchers of 1900: a radiocarbon date.
A tiny piece of wood was examined at the radiocarbon laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania Museum by Dr. Elizabeth Ralph, who concluded that the tree that formed the plank had absorbed its C-14 between 180 and 260 B.C. Miss Ralph remarked that “if large logs were used, the particular sample which was dated may have come from the center of a log and would therefore have been earlier than the cutting of the tree by an amount equal to the age of the tree.”
We can perhaps extract another hypothesis from the fact that the Antikythera ship was planked with elm below the waterline. Modern Greek ships are often constructed from Samos pine. Ancient Greek ships seem to have used either Samos or Aleppo pine. Elm is commoner in Central Italy.
If the Antikythera ship had been built in Italy, she could have traded between the Aegean and Pozzouli, near Naples, along the standard ancient sea road down the west coast of Italy to the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily, or around Sicily if the weather were favorable; then a passage reaching with the northwesterly behind them until she made a landfall at the mouth of the Aegean. The way back, in the fall, was not so easy, because the weather was erratic. Many Roman ships sailed from the Antikythera channel to near Methone, in the southwesternmost corner of the Peloponnesus, to wait for a favorable wind that would take them either up the coast to Corfu or Zakynthos, then a run across the mouth of the Adriatic to Brindisi, around Cape Santa Maria di Leuca to Taranto, then down to Messina or around Sicily. The Antikythera ship’s Tarantine jars could well have been picked up when the ship stopped at Taranto or Brindisi sometime before she teas lost.
According to Plutarch, Sulla was at Ephesus, about a hundred miles from Rhodes, in the spring of 83 B.C. The astronomer Geminos, who, says Dr. Price, probably made the “computer,” is known to have been in Rhodes in 77 B.C. The scholars who studied the pottery from the wreck are all convinced that the cups and bowls and dishes came, if not definitely from Ephesus, at least from that region. The island of Kos, where some of the commercial amphoras came from, is about midway between Ephesus and Rhodes. The fact that Koan and Rhodian jars were found on the wreck does not necessarily prove that the ship stopped at those islands. Both were big wine exporters, and one would suppose that any considerable merchant in the Aegean at that time had a stock of Rhodian and Koan jars. Still, it is agreeable to speculate.
We can go still further. Sulla landed in Italy in the summer of 83 B.C., after leaving his legate Terentius Varro in charge of a scratch fleet of warships in the Aegean. Sulla stormed the colline gates and entered Rome in the fall of 83 B.C. Dr. Price is certain that the computer was made in 82 B.C., used just long enough for repairs to be necessary, and last set in 80 B.C.
How then can the ship, if she is indeed Sulla’s, have been delayed for two years? (There is of course the freak possibility that the computer did not really stop in 80 B.C., but was set inadvertently a couple of years ahead by some curious cabin boy.) And why did she sail in the late fall?
We can only guess. The Romans, when they suppressed Rhodes, unleashed a terrific wave of piracy in the Aegean, since the Rhodian fleet was no longer able to keep piracy down as they had previously done. The pirates joined Mithridates, a bloodthirsty Asiatic warlord who was forced to sign a shaky peace treaty with Rome in 84 B.C. Varro’s fleet was enough to keep down Mithridates, but not sufficient to protect Aegean shipping effectively from pirates, especially the pirates of Cilicia, who waxed fat on the trade coming out of the Antikythera straits, as the Maniots did eighteen hundred years later. The Cilicians, like the Maniots, used small, fast rowingvessels.
It is foolish to propose that the skipper of the Antikythera ship was being chased by pirates when it smashed into the rocks under Pinakakia, but reasonable to say that during that period the straits were as dangerous as they had ever been. With a big, seaworthy ship, one sure way of avoiding the Cilicians in the first century B.C., or the Maniots in the eighteenth century A.D., would have been to wait in the garrisoned and therefore safe port of Milos for a moderate northerly gale, and then run the straits at night.
We could go on and on, but the answers to the many questions remaining about the wreck lie in the elmwood hull, 180 feet below the surface, beside a great rock with poseidonia weed growing on it, beneath about three feet of muddy sand. The obstacles to work on the site are formidable. It is exposed to the prevailing north winds of summer, and to the winter’s dangerous northerly gales. Ships can lie there safely for only two or three months each year. The depth allows bounce dives, but not the steady detailed work required for serious investigation. It can only be challenged by using advanced methods of diving, which arc still, in 1969, both too experimental and too expensive to be adapted to archaeological expedition work.
The most formidable obstacle is the Greek government’s attitude toward marine antiquities. The official policy is that the necessary work will someday be done by the Greek department of antiquities, when money and personnel become available. This is likely to be a long time from now, considering that the cost estimate for an excavation of the Antikythera wreck comes to half a million dollars, five times the Greek government’s expenditure for all archaeological research in 1965.