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Scientists Scour Ancient Roman 'Titanic' for Artifacts

Oct 10, 2014 12:28 PM EDT

A massive shipwreck more than 2,000 years old was recently scoured by a team of Greek and international archaeologists looking to rescue antiquities from a by-gone age. Divers equipped with high-end technologies revealed significant evidence that many important artworks may still be awaiting discovery under the seabed.

The shipwreck in question is scattered across an underwater slope off Antikythera Island, in southern Greece, and is thought to be a Roman commercial vessel that was carrying Grecian loot. It had been accidentally discovered by sponge divers who had been blown off course by a storm in 1900.

At the time, the Grecian government recruited their navy to help haul in a spectacular number of ancient treasures including stunning bronze and marble statures, jewelry, and the mysterious "Antikythera mechanism" - the oldest known complex gear mechanism - designed by Hellenistic scientists to predict astronomical positions and eclipses.

However, that initial expedition was cut short by diving troubles, and experts have long suspected there was much more to find on the seafloor.

That's why experts returned on Sept. 15 this year, to try their hand once more at exploring the massive wreck. Covering nearly 1,000 feet of the seafloor, the researchers determined from ship parts that the wreck was 164 feet long.

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

The new expedition ended just this week, on Tuesday, and led to the recovery of artifacts such as a beautiful and fully-intact jug, and a six-foot-long bronze spear that likely belonged to a giant statue - perhaps a warrior or the goddess Athena, who is often depicted with spear in hand. (Scroll to read on...)

The divers also found evidence that there is more to be found underneath the surface of the seafloor, but that will have to wait for a longer, more complex excavation.

"I don't know what there is there - perhaps more works of art or parts of the ship's equipment, but we really have to dig," Angeliki Simossi, head of Greece's underwater antiquities department, said in a statement, via The Associated Press.

"There's an element of bad luck," she added, referring to the difficulties divers face in this excavation.

The 1901 excavation was reportedly put to an end after one diver died of the bends and two were paralyzed. Even now, with advanced gear, the wreck is still too deep to dive safely without cumbersome rebreather technology and even exosuits.

"Past investigations were also plagued by bad weather. It's as if the wreck doesn't want to be uncovered," Simossi said.

Still, this hasn't stopped the team. They plan to return with adequate digging and diving equipment next spring, when weather should be ideal.

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