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‘Iron Man’ Suit Allows Divers to Reveal More of Antikythera Shipwreck

Oct 12, 2014 01:10 AM EDT

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Set at the bottom of the Aegean Sea for over 2000 years, the shipwreck off the coast of the Antikythera island of Greece is undoubtedly a diver's treasure trove. Discovered over a hundred years ago, in 1900 when a sponge diving team led by Dimitrios Kontos discovered the arm of a bronze statue when out looking for sponges, the Antikythera shipwreck has illuminated our view of the sea-ferrying world of the ancient Mediterranean, and has brought to surface priceless Roman artifacts that not only tell of the culture of the people but also the story of how they came to be on that ship. And every year few artifacts are brought to the surface and studied, though a majority of the treasures remain sunk in the sea for one reason only: it lies under 55m of water.

For many years, free divers attempted to reach the depths with little to no avail, as man fought our limitations against power of the water. And as technology has aided in aquatic exploration, advancements in scuba gear and breathing apparatuses have helped that task tremendously. But even then, precious minutes mark the divers' time at the ocean floor of the Aegean Sea, and full exploration of the shipwreck has not been achievable. That is, until now.

For years, teams once wore heavy suits and masks that allowed them to explore for a relatively short period of time in the discomfort of limited mobility. But this year scientists are made use of the newest in deep sea diving technology. Strapping on something called an "Exosuit" developed by Canadian research company HUBLOT, researchers made history in piloting the new technology which expanded their diving time by three hours and expanded their capabilities of exploration. Deployed on the final day Oct. 7, after being delayed due to poor weather conditions, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researcher Ed O'Brien operated the suit and was able to retrieve the handful of items added to the archives. While 2014 only provided an additional glimpse into what lies beneath, the researchers are eager to continue diving off Antikythera in the future for more treasures from the shipwreck and know that plenty more lies at the bottom of the Aegean Sea.

"I don't know what is there - perhaps more works of art of parts of the ship's equipment, but we really have to dig" director of Greece's Underwater Antiquities Department, Angeliki Simossi says. "It was a floating museum, carrying works from various periods; one bronze statue dates from 340 BC, andother from 240 BC, while the Antikythera Mechanism (computer) was made later. This was when the trade in works of art started."

Now, after countless explorations slowly build our understanding of the wreckage, researchers believe that they have discovered the task of the ancient vessel they date as far back as roughly 70BC. Once carrying statues made of bronze and marble amongst other treasures that were sunk to the bottom of the sea in transit between the coast of Asia Minor and Rome, it is now believed that the vessel carried a woman soon to be wed, along with her dowry. And this newest exploration has recovered even more of these treasures, revealing a wealth of antiquities. The recent expedition which lasted from Sept. 15 to Oct. 7, found everything from components of the ship, a giant bronze spear, and tableware, all the way to even a "computer" of sorts, used to calculate the positions of astronomical objects found in the sky.

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