DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Two hundred feet below the Mediterranean Sea lies the wreck of an ancient Roman ship. Divers found it in 1900 and retrieved life-sized marble and bronze statues. And now a team has made startling new discoveries there. Here's NPR's Christopher Joyce.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: It's known as the Antikythera wreck after the island where it went down just over 2,000 years ago. Archaeologist Brendan Foley just returned from diving on that wreck.
BRENDAN FOLEY: I've looked at 40 or 50 ancient shipwrecks all around the Mediterranean, and there's nothing else like the Antikythera shipwreck.
JOYCE: In 1900, sculptures found in the wreckage stunned the world. Even more amazing was the Antikythera mechanism, a mysterious metal device the size of a wall clock. It turned out to be a sort of clockwork computer that predicted planetary movements and seasons with remarkable accuracy. The wreck wasn't explored again until 1976. Divers had scuba gear then and could search more carefully.
FOLEY: It was full of luxury items, the best stuff available in the first century B.C. - gold jewelry, glassware, perfume bottles, medicine bottles, sort of the floating bazaar of the 1 percenters of the early Roman Empire.
JOYCE: Then in 2012, the Greek government asked Foley and his colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to help Greek scientists look for more artifacts. Woods Hole brought underwater robots and sophisticated diving gear so they could dive deeper and longer. They mapped the entire site and found more stuff.
FOLEY: Beautiful stuff - a marble hand from a sculpture which had broken off emerged, and that was exciting.
JOYCE: The ship was massive, about 180 feet long with hull timbers 5 inches thick - as thick as ships built centuries later during the American Revolutionary War. Foley says the vessel probably traded grain and luxury goods between Rome and far-flung parts of its empire. On one dive, they found something in the sediment that was definitely not a luxury item. They thought at first it was ceramic.
FOLEY: But then we tried to move it and it was unbelievably heavy.
JOYCE: It was a torpedo-shaped cylinder made of lead with a hole through it. No one recognized it. So Foley went back to the literature to the Greek historian Thucydides.
FOLEY: And he writes how the biggest ships in antiquity had these defensive armaments known as dolphins.
JOYCE: Foley suspects that when an enemy ship pulled alongside to board, sailors would hoist the dolphin up to their own yardarm and drop it on the enemy ship to put a hole in its hull.
FOLEY: It would have been truly a wrecking ball. And it's the only one in existence if that's in fact what it is.
JOYCE: In September, the team returns to the site where another wreck they found nearby awaits exploration. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
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