Photos: Ancient Greek Shipwreck Yields Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera Mechanism

This ancient Greek "computer" called the Antikythera mechanism continues to puzzle scientists as to what it was used for.

(Image credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Divers pulled the first fragments of what became known as the Antikythera mechanism from a shipwreck in 1901. The shipwreck was discovered off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera, and hence led to the device's name. Ever since the discovery, scientists and historians have been trying to learn more about the shoebox-sized device's purpose.

For instance, they now know it was a bronze astronomical calculator that may have helped the ancient Greeks track the positions of the sun and the moon, the lunar phases, and even cycles of Greek athletic competitions. Even so, 82 corroded metal fragments of the Antikythera mechanism contain inscriptions that aren't clearly visible to the naked eye. Here's a look at the amazing device, the shipwreck where it was found and some of the decoded inscriptions on the Antikythera mechanism.

In one piece

the Antikythera mechanism

(Image credit: Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)

The Antikythera mechanism, shown here in this computer reconstruction, was about the size of a shoebox, with dials on its exterior and an intricate system of 30 bronze gear wheels inside. Though it was found in several corroded fragments, scientists have used imaging and other technologies to piece the machine together and even decode its inscriptions. When it was in use, a user of this "computer" could have turned a hand crank and tracked the positions of the sun and the moon, the lunar phases, and even cycles of Greek athletic competitions.

Exosuit fitting

Theotokis Theodoulou is the first researcher on the team certified to use the Exosuit.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Brendan Foley)

In September 2014, scientists explored the 2,000-year-old Antikythera shipwreck, looking for sunken statues, gold jewelry and other ancient artifacts lost in the Agean Sea. For the mission, they used the Exosuit (pictured here) that allowed the operator to safely descend hundreds of feet below the surface.

exosuit fitting 2

The Exosuit recycles carbon dioxide.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Brendan Foley)

Before the 2014 expedition, divers completed preliminary scouting of the wreck site, which is located in the strait between Crete and Peloponnese.

Antikythera Exosuit

Exosuit diver at Antikythera

(Image credit: Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014)

Phil Short was only able to pilot the Exosuit near the end of the "Return to Antikythera" mission, which lasted from Sept. 15 to Oct. 7, 2014.

Ceramic jug underwater

cermaic jug and diver

(Image credit: Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014)

During the 2014 mission, divers also explored the Antikythera wreckage using rebreather technology, which recycles air. The technology let the divers stay underwater for up to three hours at a time, so they could dig up artifacts like this lagynos.

Bronze spear

Diver with spear

(Image credit: Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014)

One of the artifacts found at the wreck site was a bronze spear. The spear would have been too big and heavy to be a functional weapon, and so it likely was part of a statue.

Antikythera shipwreck diver

An archaeologist dives at the site of the Antikythera shipwreck.

(Image credit: Brett Seymour EUA/ARGO)

An archaeologist swims over artifacts at the site of the Antikythera shipwreck. The site is famed for the massive amount of artifacts discovered there. Case in point: In 2015, researchers pulled up 50 objects from the depths as part of their scientific excavation of the Antikythera wreck site.

Inscriptions Revealed

Greek astronomical calculator, Antikythera Mechanism

(Image credit: Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)

With new imaging techniques like CT scanning, researchers can finally read some of the text that had previously eluded scholars on the enigmatic Antikythera mechanism. This bronze astronomical calculator was discovered at the site of an ancient Greek ship.

Technology reveals the hidden

Greek astronomical calculator, Antikythera Mechanism

(Image credit: Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)

Techniques like CT imaging (top row) and polynomial texture mapping, or PTM, (bottom row) make it much easier to read the text of the so-called Parapegma Inscription on from Fragment C-1.

Plate fragments

Greek astronomical calculator, Antikythera Mechanism

(Image credit: Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)

Here a CT composite image of the plate fragments of the front cover inscription.