1900 – 1901: The Discovery

antikythira-small

Representatives of the Hellenic government, the crew, and the sponge divers on the deck of the Hellenic Navy vessel “Mykali”, during the winter 1900-1901. Credits: National Archive of Monuments.

Kontos-D-Efoplistis

Captain Kontos and his family, around 1900.

Symiako-Kaiki

A Symian sponge diving ‘kaiki’ at Antikythera during the 1901 recovery.

In the spring of 1900, two sponge fishing boats from the island of Symi came to anchor off the east coast of Antikythera. Waiting for calm seas before proceeding to their intended fishing grounds, the sponge divers decided to dive along the island’s coast. Diver Ilias Stadiatis happened upon the wreck at depths reported between 42  and 50 m, and he brought to the surface an arm from a bronze statue.

In November that year, sponge boat captain Dimitrios Kontos alerted the authorities in Athens of the discovery. Reaction was swift: the Hellenic Royal Navy vessel Mykali was dispatched to the island to support recovery operations, followed soon by the civilian steam ship Syros and later the Navy torpedo boat Aigialeia.

Over the course of the next several months, the divers braved winter storms and dives beyond 50 m. They shared a single diving suit and helmet, taking turns of ten minutes twice per day. Despite the divers’ great skill and personal bravery, two men were severely injured and another diver lost his life. By the end of the operation in September 1901, only five men were still fit to dive.