Skeletal remains on Antikythera shipwreck could shed light on mysterious voyage

Skeletal remains on Antikythera shipwreck could shed light on mysterious voyage

A shipwreck present off the coast of the Mediterranean island of Antikythera in Greece is considered to be one the most mysterious shipwrecks in history. A team of international archaeologists has now come up with new information, human remains, which may shed light on the 2,000-year-old shipwreck.

The researchers from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have found a partial skeleton around 50 meters below the surface. The team thinks that the discovery may help provide information on what led the ship to sink.

Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist with WHOI, said that during the excavation, they have found a partial skull, including a jaw, three teeth, two arm bones, rib fragments and two femurs. It was not the first dive of the researchers, but the second one.

The researchers have brought the skeletal remains to the surface and would evaluate whether there is a scope to carry out DNA extraction. If they are able to conduct the extraction then they could know vital information about the mysterious voyage.

“We could look at the individual's genetic ancestry... and that will tell us something about his or her origins (and) this could be interesting because we know next to nothing about the crew, about the voyage, what kind of people were on the ship”, said Hannes Schroeder from the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

From the preliminary analysis, the researchers have suspected that remains could be of a young man who could be around 20 years old. They are expecting to yield DNA from petrous bone, a hard section of the skull present located behind the ear. The bone is surprisingly well-preserved for 2,000 years.

The study paper published in the scientific journal Nature News informed...

Hannes Schroeder snaps on two pairs of blue latex gloves, then wipes his hands with a solution of bleach. In front of him is a large Tupperware box full of plastic bags that each contain sea water and a piece of red-stained bone. He lifts one out and inspects its contents as several archaeologists hover behind, waiting for his verdict. They’re hoping he can pull off a feat never attempted before — DNA analysis on someone who has been under the sea for 2,000 years.

Through the window, sunlight sparkles on cobalt water. The researchers are on the tiny Greek island of Antikythera, a 10-minute boat ride from the wreckage of a 2,000-year-old merchant ship. Discovered by sponge divers in 1900, the wreck was the first ever investigated by archaeologists. Its most famous bounty to date has been a surprisingly sophisticated clockwork device that modelled the motions of the Sun, Moon and planets in the sky — dubbed1 the ‘Antikythera mechanism’.

But on 31 August this year, investigators made another groundbreaking discovery: a human skeleton, buried under around half a metre of pottery sherds and sand. “We’re thrilled,” says Brendan Foley, an underwater archaeologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, and co-director of the excavations team. “We don’t know of anything else like it.”

Within days of the find, Foley invited Schroeder, an expert in ancient-DNA analysis from the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, to assess whether genetic material might be extracted from the bones. On his way to Antikythera, Schroeder was doubtful. But as he removes the bones from their bags he is pleasantly surprised. The material is a little chalky, but overall looks well preserved. “It doesn’t look like bone that’s 2,000 years old.”