When he fashioned his humble amphora some 2,000 years ago, the potter Minodoros could hardly have imagined that his name would be spoken by people living so many centuries later.
However, his name was inscribed on the handle of a vase retrieved from the seabed off Antikythera, the site of one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries in recent decades: a complex clockwork mechanism found in a Roman-era wreck and hailed as the world’s first analogue computer.
Minodoros’s vase may not be endowed with the beauty of the bronze statue’s arm salvaged by divers a few weeks ago, and it certainly doesn’t incite the same excitement as the mysterious disc-like object that the head of Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, Dr Angeliki Simosi, believes may be the ancient mechanism’s cover, but still, that humble handle is a deeply emotive fragment of the past, one of hundreds yielded by the wreck.
Another 37 finds made during underwater excavations at the site since 2014 are currently on display at the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation in Piraeus, one of the backers of the project. Wooden sections of the ship, utilitarian objects, jewelry, spears once held by statues, Roman glassware, nails and joints, and fragments of statuary serve as pieces of a mosaic that is gradually being put together to reveal more about the ship’s cargo, which was en route to Rome from Greece.
Efforts to determine the original placement of the finds using cutting-edge technology began in 2012 and have resulted in a fascinating “map” of the wreck. Divers from Symi may have stumbled across the wreck in 1900 and Jacques Cousteau explored it in 1976, but when modern-day archaeologists returned they did not know the precise location of the ship. Thanks to technology though, they now have a picture of the entire site and even know what lies beneath – for example, that there is a cluster of statues blocked behind a huge boulder that will have to be removed at some point.
At the opening of the exhibition last month, Simosi confirmed the existence of a second wreck from the same period at a distance of 250 meters. She also added that a skeleton discovered last year belongs to a woman and not a young man as originally believed. Archaeologists have so far uncovered skeletal remains belonging to five passengers of the ship.
The divers are now due to return to the wreck in May, and are expected to make more exciting discoveries.