Antikythera Mechanism fragment courtesy of Wikimedia
The famous Roman shipwreck at Antikythera may in fact be the resting place of two wrecked vessels. The underwater site was discovered in the early 1900s and became quickly famous when nautical archaeologists discovered a device they termed the Antikythera Mechanism, a sophisticated device used to calculate astronomical positions.
The breadth of the wreck and vast array of artifacts have led researchers to question whether or not there are actually two ships at the site rather than the assumed one.
The site’s preservation is due to its remote and deep location, which protects it from curious scuba divers and would be looters. However, the attention that has been showered on the site has encouraged documentary film makers and reporters to be more… creative in how they have presented the finds and the site itself. As such, researchers are planning to return to the site to better explore it.
“Because the site has been so intruded upon for more than a century it gets really hard to disambiguate what’s myth and what’s fact,” – Brendan Foley
To learn more about the excavation and proposed return to the Antikythera wreck, see the article at Discovery News.
Nautical Archaeologists have recently discovered a Roman era shipwreck off of the coast of Albania. The wreck, which dates to the 1st century BCE was filled with amphorae used to store wine. Archaeologists believe that merchants were transporting the wine from Albania’s vineyards to be sold throughout the Mediterranean.
In spite of its age and relatively shallow depth (50 m below sea level), the wreck is remarkably well preserved and nearly all of the vessel seem to be in tact. Both American and Albanian archaeologists will work together to excavate the findings and are excited about the potential for insight it provides about this period in Roman history.
To read more about the wreck and its findings, see this article on MSNBC.
The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia is currently working to restore and reconstruct the innovative engines of the USS Monitor. The USS Monitor was one of the first ironclad naval vessels in the United States and was constructed to confront new Confederate naval technologies that were being employed to break the Union blockade. Most famously, the USS Monitor clashed with the CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack) in the first battle involving ironclad ships in Hampton Roads, Virginia. While officially the battle was a standstill, the Monitor was successful in that it prevented the CSS Virginia from breaching the Union blockade.
Nautical Archaeologists have recently discovered a shipwreck off the coast of Ireland that they believe to have belonged to the ill-fated 1588 expedition to England.
In 1588, the Spanish Armada at 130 strong set sail to England with the intent of deposing Queen Elizabeth I. At the time, the Catholic country of Spain was embroiled is an undeclared ‘war,’ termed the Anglo-Spanish War, with Protestant England.
The ill-fated Armada, considered at the time a legitimate threat to the powerful nation of England, was all but destroyed in a storm off the coast of Ireland. Of the original fleet, fewer than 50 made it back him to Spain with the invasion never having taken place.
The unfriendly waters off the coast of Ireland make discovery and excavation difficult, but this new piece is anticipated to be a source of national pride for the people of England. Read more about the discovery in this article of the Belfast Telegraph.
Underwater archaeologists have uncovered the remains of what they believe are three ships that belonged to the infamous Welsh privateer Captain Henry Morgan.
Morgan was an English privateer (a common euphemism for political pirates) that targeted the Spanish fleet during the 17th century. Henry Morgan was, arguably, the most successful and bloodthirsty of the English pirates operating in the region under the official sanction of the British monarchy.
In 1671, Morgan and his men lay siege to the Spanish Fort Castillo de San Lorenzo in Panama. While ultimately successful, he lost his flag ship and several other vessels in the process.
Archaeologists of the wrecks have uncovered a series of wooden planks, 17th century canons, and the odds and ends one would expect on a sea-faring vessel of the day (but no gold). To read more about the find, check out the video and article at MSNBC.
Medical supplies recovered from a ship that went down around 130 BCE off the coast of Tuscany. The ship was recovered in 1974 and excavated in 1989, but it wasn’t until recently that the contents of a series of sealed containers was able to be determined through DNA analysis.
136 tin-lined were revealed to contain a variety of pharmaceuticals used to treat stomach complaints have recently been identified to contain herbs and plants such as celery, onions, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa and chestnuts.
Gino Fornaciari, a paleo-pathologist from Pisa University, said: “As well as understanding how the ancient Romans treated each other, we are learning more about what illnesses they suffered from.”
Advanced sonar techniques are being employed off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina to explore Civil War era shipwrecks located in the area. The researchers are hoping that the new technology will allow them to develop 3D imagery that would permit the public to explore the sites in full without risking damaging to the wrecks themselves (a common danger to under water sites in shallow water).
Researchers hope to eventually map all “Battle of the Atlantic” shipwrecks for public consumption. Right now, they are focused on the USS Cumberland, that was sunk by the CSS Virginia off the coast of Newport News, Virginia, and the CSS Florida, also located off the coast of Virginia. Locals often feel an affinity and connection to the wrecks and are eager to see them preserved for future generations.
The Washington Post reports that the museum’s curator, Julian Raby, has formally put the exhibit on hold to further consult with professional archaeologists and organizations. The concern for displaying artifacts procured via looting is that it continues to support the illegal trade and furthers the demand for materials regardless of the legality in how the objects are obtained. To read more about the decision, check out the Washington Post article.
Recently, the American Institute of Archaeology (AIA) has issued a formal statement opposing the Smithsonian’s display of these artifacts. I have included the statement in its entirety below. You can also read it in its entirety here.
As the largest and oldest organization devoted to archaeology in North America, the Archaeological Institute of America is committed to the protection of the world’s cultural heritage. As part of this commitment we strongly oppose the commercial salvage of antiquities and any exploitation of archaeological materials obtained in this manner.
The Belitung Shipwreck was salvaged unscientifically by commercially-motivated treasure hunters. Although the excavation and disposition of these materials may be technically “legal,” it is the AIA’s position that involvement by the Smithsonian Institution in the exhibition of these artifacts will serve to blur the distinction between bona fide nautical archaeology and treasure huntng. Following this path puts the Smithsonian in the indefensible position of aiding those who believe that antiquities are a commodity to be mined for personal or corporate financial gain. They are not—they are part of the world’s cultural patrimony.
As the premier museum of the United States and the largest museum and research institution in the world, the Smithsonian is a model for others and should endorse the highest ethical standards for American archaeological and museological practice. The AIA urges the Smithsonian’s leadership to heed the voices of archaeologists worldwide—including many within its own walls—in cancelling the plans for any exhibition of the Belitung shipwreck and its artifacts. To proceed with plans to display these objects will increase the risk to other equally valuable shipwrecks that have yet to be discovered.