Human skeleton found on famed Antikythera shipwreck

From Nature:

Brett Seymour, EUA/WHOI/ARGO

Divers examine human bones excavated from the Antikythera shipwreck.

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.”

Brett Seymour, EUA/WHOI/ARGO

A partial skull, with three teeth, is among the human remains found at the Antikythera wreck.

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 …

Continue Reading