Hercules' Head Discovered in Ancient Roman Shipwreck

The head of a 2,000-year-old statue of Hercules has been found in the world-famous Antikythera shipwreck, as well as other artifacts like human teeth.

The ship carrying the mysterious Antikythera mechanism is thought to have sunk in the Aegean Sea over 2,000 years ago during the Roman era. It was found by sponge divers in 1900 off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera. Underwater archeologists have been exploring the site ever since.

Divers lifting the marble statue base. Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports

The bearded statue head bears a strong resemblance to how Hercules was depicted in another statue, the Farnese Hercules. This led the archeologists to suggest that this "Hercules of Antikythera" head "probably" belongs to a headless statue currently displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, which was excavated in 1900 by the original discoverers of the wreck.

According to a press release from the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports, other findings from this expedition include the marble base and bare lower human limbs of a statue that were covered in too much marine detritus to be properly identified.

finding head
Divers finding a marble statue head with facial features. Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports

They also found two human teeth stuck onto a solid base containing traces of copper, and various objects from the ship's accessories, such as bronze and iron nails, and the anchor. Analysis of these artifacts will reveal much about the history of the wreck, including the DNA from the human teeth.

Close-up of a human tooth in an agglomerate found on the wreck. Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports

"The main objective of the program is to formulate a clearer and more acute understanding of the ship, its route, its cargo and the wreckage conditions," said the research team in a blog post. "Genetic and isotopic analysis of the teeth might be useful to deduce information on the genome and other characteristics relevant to the origin of the individuals they belonged to."

Several expeditions had previously explored the wreck, discovering wonders including the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek astronomical calculator containing a sophisticated gear system, allowing the display of the motions of the planets and the sun with the Earth as the center of the solar system, the phases of the moon, and the position of Zodiac constellations.

The latest mission was the second in a five-year research program by Greece's Ephorate of Marine Antiquities, which runs until 2025. This particular expedition was only possible after enormous rocks were lifted from the wreck, exposing parts of the shipwreck that hadn't previously been accessible.

"The 2022 field research included the relocation of selected sizable natural boulders that had partially covered the shipwreck area during an event that is under investigation, weighing up to 8.5 tons each; their removal gave access to a formerly unexplored part of the shipwreck," the researchers said.

The artifacts were then transported from Antikythera to the Ephorate of Marine Antiquities and packaged as instructed by the Conservation Department of the Ephorate. Researchers are excited for what else they might uncover from the ancient wreck, as expeditions in 1900-1901 and 1976 indicate that the ship was transporting luxury goods.

"We expect to locate and recover an assortment of artifacts," they say on the expedition website. "There is a very real possibility of unimaginable finds, similar in importance to the Mechanism."

View of the statue head. Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports