Ancient Skeleton discovered at the Antikythera Shipwreck


The “Return to Antikythera” international research team discovered a human skeleton during its ongoing excavation of the famous Antikythera Shipwreck (circa 65 B.C.). The shipwreck, which holds the remains of a Greek trading or cargo ship, is located off the Greek island of Antikythera in the Aegean Sea. The first skeleton recovered from the wreck site during the era of DNA analysis, this find could provide insight into the lives of people who lived 2100 years ago.

Led by archaeologists and technical experts from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the team excavated and recovered a human skull including a jaw and teeth, long bones of the arms and legs, ribs, and other remains. Other portions of the skeleton are still embedded in the seafloor, awaiting excavation during the next phase of operations.

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

The Antikythera Shipwreck is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered, possibly a massive grain carrier. It was discovered and salvaged in 1900 by Greek sponge divers. In addition to dozens of marble statues and thousands of antiquities, their efforts produced the Antikythera Mechanism —an astounding artifact known as the world’s first computer. In 1976, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the CALYPSO crew returned to the wreck and recovered nearly 300 more objects, including skeletal remains of the passengers and crew.

The skeleton discovered on August 31, 2016, is the first to be recovered from an ancient shipwreck since the advent of DNA studies. Ancient DNA expert Dr. Hannes Schroeder of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, hastened 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 Antikythera research team generates precise three-dimensional digital models of every artifact, allowing discoveries to be shared instantly and widely even if the objects remain on the sea floor. Several 3D models of the skeletal remains are available for researchers and the public to view on our devoted webpage.

Jonathan Knowles, Autodesk Explorer In Residence, said, “Our reality capture technology is not only helping share the amazing story of the Antikythera wreck with the world using digital models and 3D printed artifacts, it is enabling important preservation and furthering meaningful research.”

The project is supported by corporate partners Hublot (official diving watch and technical support), Autodesk, Cosmote (official telecommunication sponsor), Costa Navarino Resort (helicopter support) and private sponsors Swordspoint Foundation, Jane and James Orr, the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, the Domestic Property Committee of Kythera and Antikythera, the Municipality of Kythera, and private sponsors of WHOI.

The research team consists of archaeologists Dr. Theotokis Theodoulou and Dr. Dimitris Kourkoumelis (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports); Research Specialist Dr. Brendan Foley (WHOI); archaeologist Alexander Tourtas; professional technical divers Edward O’Brien (WHOI), Philip Short, Alexandros Sotiriou, Nikolas Giannoulakis, and Gemma Smith; videographer Evan Kovacs; documentary director Michalis Tsimperopoulos; supported by Michalis Kelaidis, Dimitris Romio, and Dimitris Manoliades. The robotic mapping survey was conducted by Prof. Stefan Williams, Dr. Oscar Pizarro, and Christian Lees from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, University of Sydney. U.S. National Parks Service underwater photographer Brett Seymour and archaeologist Dr. David Conlin volunteer their time and expertise.

The Return to Antikythera project is supervised by the Director of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities Dr. Aggeliki Simosi and is under the aegis of the President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopios Pavlopoulos.

A Day in the Life

To provide more insight into what it’s actually like during an expedition, the following is an example of what happens on a typical day of fieldwork during the Return to Antikythera project…

6.30am – Wake up

7am – Breakfast

Diving is physically demanding, so food is important for energy

Diving is physically demanding, so food is important for energy

Pre-dive paperwork...

Pre-dive paperwork…


7.30am – Load equipment into the vehicles & trailer, then move to the dock

Load the vehicles & trailer

Load the vehicles & trailer


8am – Load the boats
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8.15am – Dive briefing


8.45am – Arrive at the wreck site and gear up


9am  – 10am – Dive teams descend, with the sequence and timing of descents depending on the days plan

Bottom time is generally around 40 - 60 minutes on rebreathers and 20-30 minutes using open circuit SCUBA

Bottom time is generally around 40 – 60 minutes on rebreathers and 20-30 minutes using open circuit SCUBA


10am -11.30am – Decompression

Decompression time is generally 45-70 minutes, depending on bottom time

Decompression time is generally 45-70 minutes, depending on bottom time

Noon – 1pm – Ascend, then return to the harbour


1.15pm – 2.15pm – Unload the boats, take equipment up to the dive ops centre and wash


2.15pm – Lunch


3pm – 5pm showers and unwind


5pm-6.30pm prepare equipment for the next day’s diving

Post dive paperwork

Post dive paperwork


8pm – Dinner


10pm – Bed time


Then repeat the next day…

Best of the Old and New

Modern science is helping us better understand the past, with new technologies and techniques complimenting standard archaeological methods in piecing together what actually happened 2000+ years ago. Much like how modern forensics help police with investigations.

DNA testing, 3D reconstruction and isotopic analysis are three different techniques used by the Return to Antikythera Project, which we’ll talk about in more detail shortly.

Artefacts are often fragile, so where possible a 3D model is constructed both in situ underwater and after an object has been recovered from the shipwreck.

Here’s a 3D model of a hand from a marble statue found during the spring fieldwork season.

This is an example of an artefact that is badly eroded, making it difficult to say what the rest of the statue looked like, hence the development of an initiative called 3D Antiquity.

The idea is to 3D-model thousands of ancient sculptures accurately and precisely, then compare them against the eroded and unrecognizable Antikythera marble statues, in the hope of identifying them.

We’d like to thank software vendor Autodesk for assisting the project with their ReMake software for 3D reconstructions.

The latest in diving technology also allows the team to work safer and for longer periods of time, which is important in such a difficult location.

Here’s a number of images from over the last week.









Back at It!

The team is arriving in Antikythera from around the world at the moment, for the 2016 summer expedition on the shipwreck, which commences this week.

The MV Poseidon dive vessel stopped off briefly at Diakofti, Kythera en route this morning, to pick up Michel and Christine from Hublot who are spending time with the team in Antikythera.

Michel is one of the people responsible for bringing the Bubblot, underwater drone to life.

Alexander and Dimitris, having a 10 minute break in Kythera, before continuing the final leg of their maritime journey to Antikythera.

Alexander and Dimitris, having a 10 minute break in Kythera, before continuing the final leg of their maritime journey to Antikythera.

Michel, checking out another shipwreck on the way, the MV Nordland.

Michel, checking out another shipwreck on the way, the MV Nordland.

Next stop, Antikythera...

Next stop, Antikythera…

Here’s a brief video of MV Poseidon arriving at the dock.

The people from Antikythera

The following text and photos were post by Tina Tavridou on her Facebook profile. We reproduce it here with her permission, since we think that people on the island is what matter the most. Looking forward to meet them all again in August and September!

“Spend three days on an island of 20 inhabitants and you get to meet them all. This album is a way to introduce the people of Antikythera to my friends in Greece and around the world and make their voices heard. Until next time!”

Fishing, livestock, musician
Wish: “It would be nice if we had visitors all year round. We are human in January and February, too!”

Myron (one more)
Restaurant owner, livestock
Wish: “That they think of us, that there is a doctor on the island, that they remember that there are people living on Antikythera, most of them over 50 years old.”

Fisherman from Kissamos, Crete, comes to Antikythera 40-50 times a year
Wish: “That there always are nice people -as there are- and fish!”

Wish: “That beautiful women come to our island all year round!”

Fishing, builder, assists ferry mooring and ticketing
Wish: “No wish, I’m fine”

Works for the Municipality
Wish: “That the ferry ran more often”

Andreas Harhalakis
Electricity plant technician, elected representative of the Municipality
Wish: “That our island is never depopulated”

Yiannis Glitsos
President for 18 years at the Association of Antikytherians “Saint Myron”, retired, spends about half the year on the island

Manolis Harhalakis
Forest ranger of Kythira and Antikythira, lived in Australia for 15 years, speaks perfect Aussie English
Wish: “Wishes for a beautiful summer to everyone, I wish people could plant trees, especially on Kythira and Antikythera, and protect them.”

Retired, spends about half the year on the island
Wish: “To have a doctor on the island and that it does not get depopulated. That we see as much as possible that there are visitors to liven it up.”

Retired sailor, hobbies hunting and fishing
Wish: “I wish our little island is never deserted and always has people; that the people in power do not forget us, because this is one of the small islands whose population will have an expiration date if we are not careful.”

Father Antonios
“The most important things are having a doctor and the ferry”.

Nikos Politis
Retired, Physics and IT, works with the site
Wish: “Concord”

Sofia Politou
Retired public servant, hobbies ceramics and hagiography
Wish: “Some more people”

Eirini Galanaki
Wish: “That the island came alive, that we had more people”.

Spent a month on the island hunting insects for a university disseration, I didn’t ask her for a wish since she is not local, just posting her photo because she is so lovely and everyone on the island will remember her and her butterfly net!

Penelope Harhalaki
Wish: “That our land is full of people, I remember in the old days there were 70 children at school, 800 people lived here, we had two priests, today there are almost no children at all.”

Mother of 4
Wish: “That there is transportation. And that we become volunteers in our own town otherwise there is no moving forward. To clean the street, the trail, to cut a branch that is sticking out, not to sit and wait for everything to be done by the state”.

1976-2016: the journey to Antikythera continues…

The first phase of this year’s Return to Antikythera excavation produced fabulous results! More soon from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. Meanwhile, 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, and the Jacques Cousteau and Lazaros Kolonas investigation at Antikythera.

1976-2016 40 years from Cousteau Dive and establishment of Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

Left to right, 1976: Jacques Cousteau and Lazaros Kolonas with Chief Diver Albert Falco and Ivan Giacoletto. 2016: diving ops manager Phillip Short, EUA archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou, chief diver Alexandros Sotiriou, and archaeologist Brendan Foley.

In this image, they are pictured with Chief Diver Albert Falco and Ivan Giacoletto. In tribute to those great men, some of our team recreated the same image with some of the newly recovered artifacts: (left to right) diving ops manager Phillip Short, EUA archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou, chief diver Alexandros Sotiriou, and archaeologist Brendan Foley.

First week at Antikythera

Recap of our first week at Antikythera: on Wednesday, the team was completed with the last arrivals; diving operations manager Phil Short and chief diver Gemma Smith flew in via helicopter, and were warmly greeted. Thanks to our friends at Costa Navarino Resort for delivering essential personnel in such style!


On Thursday, we conducted the first dive of the season on the Antikythera shipwreck site. We recovered artifacts we left positioned from last season, set the mooring lines and conducted a general site inspection which showed no evident interference.


The good weather conditions from Friday and during the weekend allowed more dives and some targeted metal detection with a brand new device specially designed for the site. More to come, stay tuned!

2016 season starting

2016 diving season is starting. By Thursday, the whole team will be at Antikythera. The weather is improving. Check-out dives on Tuesday, dives on the wreck as soon as possible.

Stay tuned for more!


Diving support vessel MV Nikolas reaching Antikythera

Some photos from the arrival, by Michael Tsimperopoulos:

New Underwater Research at Antikythera

Before the 2016 “Return to Antikythera” season, a conference by Brendan Foley at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Date: Thursday, February 18th.
More details at the ASCSA website.

Live, Over the Shipwreck!

We’re working at maximum capacity today, the first four teams are in the water, with the fifth team dropping in now.

The ROV is keeping an eye on things, providing a live view from the surface which helps better synchronise the process.

Stay tuned!

The ROV provides a live view of operations.

The ROV provides a live view of operations.

Special guests!

Special guests! Yanis Bitsakis with Mathias Buttet and Michel Blumenthal from Hublot R&D.


Brendan Foley and Gemma Smith are the fifth team to drop in today.

Brendan Foley and Gemma Smith are the fifth team to drop in today.