Archaeologists Have Discovered the "Titanic of the Ancient World" in Greece


The news: Paging Indiana Jones: Here's an archaeological treasure trove worth your time.

More than 100 years ago, a group of Greek sponge divers came upon some strange artifacts in the waters off the coast of Antikythera, a remote Mediterranean island. Since then, there have been periodic surveys of the site. Last week, divers and archaeologists wrapped up the biggest excavation yet, and the findings are incredible.

According to researchers from the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Antikythera site is a massive shipwreck from around 70-60 B.C. Although the ship's origin and destination are still a mystery, one thing is clear: It was carrying untold riches and treasures.

"The evidence shows this is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered," Woods Hole archaeologist Brendan Foley said in a news release. "It's the Titanic of the ancient world."

Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014

It's a veritable treasure hunt. For the past century, various expeditions, including one led by famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, yielded glimpses of the wealth hidden under the waters of the Mediterranean. Throughout about a 50-meter zone, researchers have found gold coins, precious gems, statues, and intricate furniture and tableware.

"The Antikythera shipwreck is maybe the most important, most famous shipwreck from antiquity," Foley told CNN. "We are hardcore scientists and archaeologists. We hate to speak of treasure but in this case, it's actually a treasure ship and there are just no two ways about it."

Aristidis Vafeiadakis/Corbis

But perhaps the most important discovery has been the Antikythera Mechanism, described as the world's oldest computer. 

The heavily corroded artifact has been revealed to be a kind of clockwork calendar, displaying "celestial information, particularly cycles such as the phases of the moon and a luni-solar calendar," researchers wrote in Nature in 2006. "The Antikythera Mechanism is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards."

Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014

There is much left to discover. The most recent excavation featured state-of-the-art technology, including a semi-robotic Exosuit that allowed divers to stay under 55 meters of water for extended amounts of time. The Iron Man-like suit can support people underwater for up to 50 hours, and researchers are already planning to go back for more.

There are already theories as to the ship's mission, including a Titanic parallel with a young bride on a doomed voyage. "One of our pet theories is that maybe this ship was carrying a really wealthy woman from Asia Minor, and she was going to be married and this cargo was her dowry. It's impossible to prove, but it's a nice romantic notion," Foley said.

"We have a lot of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets," added archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou.

Yep, sounds like a mystery ripe for professor Jones.