Shipwrecked!

Diving for Hidden Time Capsules on the Ocean Floor

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Hardcover
$24.99 US
8.38"W x 9.31"H x 0.62"D  
On sale Oct 31, 2023 | 144 Pages | 978-1-66260-204-7
| Grades 5-9
Reading Level: Lexile 1300L | Fountas & Pinnell Z
A 2024 Sibert Honor Book
A 2024 ALSC Notable Book

"(A) deeper dive into marine archaeology...enlivened by photographs, diagrams and archival images, describes sunken vessels as ‘time capsules’ and the ocean floor itself as ‘the world’s greatest museum.’ But what extraordinary things have been found, despite the depth and waves!"—The Wall Street Journal

From National Book Award–winning author Martin W. Sandler, here is a fascinating look at what shipwrecks reveal about our world’s past—and how exploring them led to the development of a whole new field of science: marine archaeology.


Most of the world’s ocean floor remains to be discovered. In fact, it’s estimated to be home to over 3 million sunken vessels and countless treasures of the past. This enthralling and adventure-filled nonfiction book for young readers recounts some of the most captivating shipwrecks from history, ranging from the Shinan, a Chinese merchant ship laden with riches from the 14th century, to the HMS Erebus and Terror, two polar exploration ships that mysteriously disappeared in the early 1800s. Combining new research, stunning archival material, and vivid storytelling, Shipwrecked! dives deep into the world of marine archaeology and shows young readers what each discovery reveals about the world before our time.
Martin W. Sandler has written over seventy books for children and adults, including the National Book Award–winning 1919: The Year That Changed America and the YALSA Nonfiction finalists The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found and Imprisoned. He has also worked as a documentary producer and was nominated for multiple Emmys for writing for television.
CHAPTER TWO
ANTIKYTHERA

It was the year 1900, and the world was in the midst of enormous change. In New York City, the first-ever display of the latest automobile models was about to open. In Germany, the first zeppelin had just taken flight. And for the first time in history, enormous steamships regularly crossing the world’s oceans outnumbered vessels propelled by sail.

Some old ways of doing things, however, still endured. Divers harvesting sponges on the ocean floor using only a hollow reed to breathe through remained a prime industry on the Greek islands. In the fall of 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kontos and his two small sailing boats, crewed by six divers and twenty oarsmen, were making their way home to Symi after having had a highly successful summer sponging season off the coast of Tunisia. So successful, in fact, that after six months of grueling and dangerous work, the decks of two vessels were so filled with drying sponges that there was little room left to move about. More sponges hung down from each boat’s rigging.

The two ships and their crews had left the sponging waters in mid-April and were now sailing in a channel between the Greek islands of Antikythera and Crete. This was one of the main shipping routes between the eastern and western Mediterranean, and it was also an extremely dangerous body of water, filled with shoals, sandbars, and suddenly shifting currents. Frequent storms also struck the region. 

Kontos had barely entered the channel when enormous winds and towering waves began battering his ships. Driven off course, the captain sought shelter next to a rocky, barren, almost totally uninhabited small island that in ancient times had been called both Aeigilia and Cerigotto, but which now was called Antikythera. Despite the storm and the treacherous waters, Kontos, a skilled mariner, managed to guide his two boats to shelter in Antikythera’s only harbor, a small cove on its northern coast called Potamos. There, the captain and the crew waited out the storm.

When the weather finally cleared and it was time to resume the journey home, one of the crew members made a suggestion. Even though the boats were fully loaded, why not dive down and see what kind of sponges grew beneath these unfamiliar waters? Immediately, one of the divers named Elias Stadiatis volunteered to be the first.

Five minutes after Stadiatis descended, he reemerged, pulling on his line, pleading to be taken back aboard. When his diving mask was removed, his face contained a look of sheer terror. He could hardly speak, but somehow he conveyed he had found not sponges but the remains of a large ship. But what he saw lying on the seabed next to the wreck plunged him into his present state. “A heap of [bodies],” he managed to blurt out. “Rotting . . . horses, green corpses.”

Captain Kontos was fascinated and knew that he had to dive down himself. Dropping over the side of the vessel, he plunged himself to the ocean bottom, where he saw both the wreck and a huge mass of figures. But they weren’t corpses as Stadiatis had thought: they were marble and bronze sculptures. As he glanced briefly at the magnificently crafted statues of gods, kings, and warriors and colored-glass bowls and cups, Kontos had no way of knowing he was gazing upon the largest hoard of Greek treasure that had ever been found. He could never have imagined that buried somewhere within that treasure was the most extraordinary ancient artifact ever discovered.

What he knew for certain was that he had to get back to the surface before his air ran out. Still, he had the presence of mind to do two things: First, he grabbed a bronze arm lying near one of the statues so that he would have proof of the discovery. Then, he made the best mental note he could of where the wreck and the treasure lay so that he could record it once he got back on his boat.
It was now time for the party to return to Symi. It was customary for those who completed a profitable sponge-diving expedition to spend weeks, even months, celebrating their success. And Kontos and his crew did just that. But they also had a serious decision to make: What should they do about the treasure they had discovered?

The crew decided to recover as many of the artifacts that lay beneath the waters off Antikythera as they could. They were willing to turn them all over to the Greek government if, in return, the government agreed to pay them sufficiently for each of the items and provided them with a suitable ship and necessary equipment to carry out the recovery.

Kontos enlisted the aid of Antonius Oikonomou, a professor of archaeology at the University of Athens. A fellow Symiote, Oikonomou took Kontos and Stadiatis, along with the bronze arm that had been salvaged, to meet the Greek Minister of Education, Spyridon Stais. It could not have been a more favorable time for the meeting. 

The Greek government had made a public announcement calling for a concerted effort to locate and retrieve the artifacts of the ancient world so that they could be put on display. Up to this point, almost all the ancient treasures had been found on land. When Kontos and Stadiatis showed Minister Stais the bronze arm, providing evidence that the sunken ship and its treasure were at least two thousand years old, the official was convinced that an arrangement between the sponge divers and the government needed to be reached. Together they planned to make the first-ever organized excavation of a shipwreck. According to the quickly made agreement, Kontos and his men were promised full payment for the treasures they would bring up and hand over to the government. The government placed a Greek Navy ship at their disposal along with all the equipment needed to haul heavy objects such as statues from the seabed. In addition, Professor Oikonomou was named the official archaeologist of the project and assigned the task of overseeing the operation.

News of the recovery expedition made the front pages of newspapers around the world. However, because of high winds and extremely choppy seas, it wasn’t until November 24, 1900, that Kontos and his men in their two small sponge boats accompanied by a Greek naval ship named the Mykali arrived at the shipwreck site. Anxious to get started, Kontos put his eight divers to work almost immediately. Because the wreck was located so far down on the ocean floor and because the diving equipment of the day was still so primitive, they could dive down only twice a day and remain on the bottom for no more than five minutes. 

Added to their difficulties was the fact that it became immediately obvious that the Mykali was far too large for their purpose. As powerful as the cumbersome vessel was, it was not the easiest ship to steer, which made it dangerous to operate in such a windy site so close to shore. On November 27, the Mykali returned to its homeport near Athens and was replaced by the smaller, more maneuverable steam schooner Syros, which hurried to the wreck site in time for the divers to resume work on December 4, 1900.

 Despite the fact that the winds never stopped blowing and the seas kept continuously churning, the earliest dives yielded rich rewards, including two small marble statues, an exquisite bronze head (thought at first to be that of a boxer but later determined to be that of a philosopher), and fragment after fragment of bronze marble statues. They also uncovered a bronze sword and scores of bronze bowls, clay dishes, and other pottery. It was only the beginning.

 The Symi sponge divers spent the next ten months rescuing some of Greece’s most beautiful artifacts, one of the greatest hoards of Greek treasure ever found. For a full three-quarters of that time, the weather was so stormy that the divers were prevented from entering the sea. And aside from the weather, there was what many regarded as an even greater challenge: the Antikythera wreck was about 197 feet down. Probably no divers other than the Mediterranean sponge divers who grew up on the water and earned their living by diving could have achieved it.

 By the end of 1900, the divers had recovered a large number of marble statues of men and horses, an ancient stringed musical instrument called a lyre, an enormous marble bull, another bronze sword, various pieces of bronze furniture including a throne, and a type of roof tile that had not been seen since ancient times. Now newspapers were printing daily summaries of what was being brought to the surface. Of all the items described, none captured the public’s attention as much as the huge, full bronze statue of a handsome Greek young man that immediately became known as “The Antikythera Youth.” Curators at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, where all the recovered items were taken, were also captivated by the many delicate objects that Kontos and his men were able to salvage intact. No wonder that Aggeliki Simosi, the director of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, exclaimed, “The ship that sank at Antikythera was not merely a cargo ship. It was essentially a floating museum.”

Then, just as the public, the curators, and the archaeologists waited anxiously to see what would be discovered next, the divers announced they had run into a serious problem. A large portion of the wreck was covered with enormous boulders, which had broken away from the cliffs that lined Antikythera’s shore sometime during the two thousand years the wreck had lain on the seabed. In order to carry out further excavations, the boulders had to be removed somehow.

By this time, several archaeologists had joined the expedition and immediately ordered that the powerful naval vessel Mykali be brought back from Athens to aid in the removal of the boulders. The archaeologists instructed the divers to dig tunnels under the boulders and to tie strong ropes around them several times. This enormously difficult task required at least twenty divers per boulder. When it was completed, the ends of the ropes that surrounded a boulder were then attached to the Mykali, which, using its full power, steamed so that once in open waters, the ropes attached to the boulder could be cut away and the boulder allowed to descend harmlessly into one of the several deepwater chasms.

 It was a dangerous strategy. If the ropes snapped while the Mykali was steaming out to sea, the shock might capsize the vessel, sturdy as it was. Even worse, if the boulder refused to become dislodged, it might drag the Mykalidown to the bottom. As a necessary precaution, members of Kontos’s crew stood by the ship with axes ready to cut the ropes if the Mykali started to be dragged down. Fortunately, the strategy worked. Several boulders were displaced and out of the way.

But the boulder adventure was far from over. Among the Greek officials who gathered at the wreck site to observe the progress was Minister Spyridon Stais, the man who commissioned Kontos and his crew to conduct the excavation. While the others at the scene were celebrating the removal of the boulders, Stais had a disturbing thought. What if the boulders weren’t really boulders at all? What if the divers had failed to recognize that they were colossal, ancient statues that had been lying under the sea for centuries and covered with marine life?

After sending several boulders crashing to the depths far out of any human’s reach, Stais ordered that, even though it presented a risk to the Mykali, the next boulder should be hoisted to the surface. One can only imagine the shock and then the exhilaration when it became obvious that the boulder was a huge statue of the divine Greek hero Hercules. One can also only imagine the feelings elicited by the realization that several other priceless statues had been deliberately sent to a watery grave.

The excavation continued into September 1901. By this time, significant discoveries from the wreck were becoming increasingly rare. One diver died from the bends, two others had become permanently disabled, and the rest involved in the grueling enterprise were exhausted. By the end of September 1901, the decision was made to bring the project to a halt. It had been an extraordinary endeavor, beginning with the discovery of the oldest shipwreck ever found and evolving into the first deliberate excavation of a shipwreck, work that was the prelude to what would become a brand-new science known as marine archaeology.

However, what took place at Antikythera, important as it was, was purely a salvage operation. No attempt to learn anything about the ancient sunken ship or the way of life onboard had been made. Unlike what would become the very essence of marine archaeology, none of the archaeologists at Antikythera dove down themselves to the wreck to survey the scene firsthand or record the exact location of the ship, its artifacts, and the possible locations of other buried objects. And once all that had been brought to the surface had been taken to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, no attempt was made to identify and catalog the origin, age, or anything else about each artifact.

 It was perhaps the haphazard approach to cataloging that allowed one of the most impressive artifacts to sit unnoticed—first in an open courtyard and then in a remote corner of the museum. Then, as fortune would have it, in May 1902 a museum worker brought it to the attention of archaeologist Valerios Stais, a nephew of Spyridon Stais. On first looking upon the object, Stais regarded it as nothing more than a large pile of encrusted bronze. But then, his eyes fell on two fragments in particular. One had inscriptions in ancient Greek. The other seemed to be a part of a system of interlocking gears. When he noticed the mechanized compounds of the object, Stais brought it to the attention of the museum’s archaeologists. They, in turn, called in a host of experts to analyze what was revealed to be a bundle of cogwheels and dials with inscriptions.

Despite the reputations of experts who were asked to examine the device, the mystery of what it was and what it was intended to be used for was so complex that those who periodically examined it came up with conflicting theories. In 1958, Dr. Derek J. de Solla Price, a physicist and highly respected science historian, made the first truly detailed study of the object. Using a form of X-rays called radiographs, Price determined that the device contained at least twenty-seven gears—more complicated than had at first been believed. At that point, Price became the first recognized authority to officially proclaim that, remarkably, someone had created the world’s first computer two thousand years ago.

Thirteen years later, and operating with the benefit of greatly advanced X-ray equipment, Price made the next breakthrough. It was now apparent, both from what Price and his assistants had been able to decipher about the device’s workings thus far and from the inscriptions, that it was for looking into the future of, among other things, the movements of the sun and moon. This device would become known as the Antikythera Mechanism.

Price was not the only one devoting much of his life to attempting to solve the riddle of the mechanism. Michael T. Wright, curator of mechanical engineering at London’s Science Museum, spent more than twenty years seeking a solution and in 2006 completed building a working model of how he believed the device worked.

Between the years 2005 and 2008, progress toward understanding the purpose and workings of the Antikythera Mechanism took a giant leap forward when a team of scientists, science historians, astronomers, mathematicians, computer experts, script analysts, and conservation experts formed. Its members included astrophysicist Mike Edmunds, mathematician and filmmaker Tony Freeth, astronomer John Seiradakis, astrophysicist Xenophon Moussas, physicist Yanis Bitsakis, and philologist Agamemnon Tselikas.

 By 2008, these researchers had collectively identified the purpose of the device, succeeded in translating 95 percent of the ancient inscriptions upon it, and had built a replica of the mechanism so advanced that no other device of comparable technological sophistication would appear anywhere in the world for at least another one thousand years after it was created.

It was a device designed and built to predict and track the position of the sun, the location and phases of the moon, lunar and solar eclipses, the movements of the planets across the sky, and even to help plan the dates of the next planned Olympic Games.

 No one knows enough about Greek astronomers to be able to definitively identify the creator of the mechanism. But there is one thing archaeologists, scientists, historians, and even casual observers agree on: the astonishing gearwork is far more technologically sophisticated than anyone had expected from an artifact of this time. It was all perhaps best summarized by mathematician Tony Freeth: “We know that [ancient Greece] was the birthplace of art, architecture, and culture that is the foundation of our modern world. Now we also know that it was the cradle of advanced technology.”

 The Antikythera story is an ongoing saga with no end in sight to the attempts made to discover more evidence about the ancient world. The first of these attempts was actually made in 1976 when a scuba team led by legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau excavated a small area of the Antikythera wreck site and recovered hundreds of items, including statuettes, coins, and jewelry.

 Then, in 2014, a much more ambitious expedition headed by Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and director Angeliki Simosi was armed with the most advanced underwater discovery equipment yet developed, including a new diving suit that allowed them to dive to unprecedented depths and to stay on the ocean floor for longer than had been once imagined. The new equipment also included the most sophisticated metal detectors ever invented and waterproofed iPads that enabled the team’s divers to map the location of each new artifact that was discovered in real time.

During the expedition, many more stunning objects of ancient Greek art were discovered. But as interesting as these finds were, it was the discovery of a much different type of object that proved to be the most exciting find of the expedition. Toward the end of August 2014, while Foley was diving on the wreck site, one of the members of the team, Nikolas Giannoulakis, swam up to him and shouted, “We found bones! We found a skull.”

While Jacques Cousteau recovered bone fragments during his 1976 Antikythera exploration, the skull was part of the most complete skeleton that had been found at the Antikythera site. As one of the world’s leading DNA experts, Denmark’s Dr. Hannes Schroeder stated at the time of the discovery, “Human remains have started to become a source of information that can tell us incredible things about the past. Even with a single individual, it gives us a potentially great insight into the crew. Where did they come from? Who were these people?”

Beginning with the 2014 expedition, DNA began to play an important role in understanding the origins of artifacts other than human remains. In the ceramics discovered, residues preserved within them for thousands of years held DNA. “Not only are [the ceramics] beautiful in their own right, but we can extract DNA from them,” Foley explained. “That could give [us] information about ancient medicines, cosmetics and perfumes.”

By the time the 2014 expedition ended, divers had searched deeper within the Antikythera wreck than ever before. While the equipment was being packed away, plans were already being made for a return to the site in 2017. Foley declared, “We’re down in the hold of the ship now, so all the other things that would have been carried should be down there as well. Every day is going to be like opening Tut’s tomb.”

In 2017, an expedition, once again under the direction of Foley and Simosi, returned to Antikythera with specific goals. One was to try and locate and possibly recover any bronze statues that might still lie hidden within or beneath the wreck. As Jens Daehner, associate curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, stated, “Ancient bronze sculpture in general is rare. . . . Any chance to recover more Greek sculptures in any medium, but particularly in bronze, should not be missed.”

The other main goal of the 2017 expedition was to see if any other metal fragments that may have been part of the Antikythera Mechanism could be found. Using the most sophisticated underwater metal detectors ever developed, the team uncovered solid indications of the presence of at least seven statues, buried deep under the seabed. The problem is that they also lie beneath enormous boulders, which may have fallen onto the wreck during a huge earthquake that struck Antikythera in the 4th century CE. Reluctantly, Foley, Simosi, and their teams concluded that the cost of extracting these statues would be prohibitive. What they did recover was a bronze disc, which is still being studied to determine its function and whether it was part of the original Antikythera Mechanism.
From the time the Antikythera wreck was first discovered, those who have seen it firsthand have been impressed with the amount of wreckage and how large the ancient sunken vessel seems to have been. Foley has, in fact, termed the vessel “the Titanic of the ancient world.” The most intriguing result of the explorations has been the growing suspicion that the wreckage may well represent not one but two ancient ships—and if that’s the case, there are even more questions, Foley says: “Were they sailing together? Did one try to help the other?”

Whatever the answer, one thing is for certain: the Antikythera shipwreck site is of tremendous importance. As Greek archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou proclaimed, “This is the cradle of underwater archaeology.”
A School Library Journal Best Book
A New York Public Library Best Book
A Bank Street Best Children's Book

★ "Full of adventure and numerous explorations of the value of perseverance, this title will capture the attention of readers through a wealth of scientific and historical details." —School Library Journal, starred review

★ "Sandler turns his attention to shipwrecks and marine archaeology, selecting seven shipwrecks that collectively present the excitement of solving the mysteries of where each one lies, the latest excavation technologies, and the wealth of historical understanding each wreck yields up...Sandler finds the hook in the story surrounding each wreck, and the stories build upon one another to create a more complete understanding of the field. A final chapter teases nine additional shipwreck stories in brief vignettes. The handsome book design features full-color photographs of recovered artifacts; scientists working to restore ships; sidebars with additional information; and historical paintings, photographs, and maps." —The Horn Book, starred review

"In individual chapters, the National Book Award–winning author focuses on seven shipwrecks with perhaps lesser-known recognition but notable historical significance...Most important, however, are the connections made to humans’ impact on history, from trade routes to technological advances to the horrors of slavery. Photos from the expedition scenes and lengthy sidebars on such topics as the role of women sponge divers on shipwreck discoveries add more insight to this thought-provoking STEM offering." —Booklist

"A survey of the tools, techniques, and select triumphs of underwater archeology...Historical images of ships at sea join photos of artifacts in place or in various stages of preservation to add both drama and visual detail, and along with quick, tantalizing looks at several other significant wrecks, young explorers will find helpful notes and references at the end. Immersive reading." —Kirkus Reviews

"Filled with photos of artifacts, the excavation process, and vessels recovered, [Shipwrecked!] a fascinating read that paints each shipwreck as 'a pristine historic time capsule' and marine archaeology as 'one of the newest, most dynamic, and most rewarding of all the sciences.'"—Publishers Weekly

About

A 2024 Sibert Honor Book
A 2024 ALSC Notable Book

"(A) deeper dive into marine archaeology...enlivened by photographs, diagrams and archival images, describes sunken vessels as ‘time capsules’ and the ocean floor itself as ‘the world’s greatest museum.’ But what extraordinary things have been found, despite the depth and waves!"—The Wall Street Journal

From National Book Award–winning author Martin W. Sandler, here is a fascinating look at what shipwrecks reveal about our world’s past—and how exploring them led to the development of a whole new field of science: marine archaeology.


Most of the world’s ocean floor remains to be discovered. In fact, it’s estimated to be home to over 3 million sunken vessels and countless treasures of the past. This enthralling and adventure-filled nonfiction book for young readers recounts some of the most captivating shipwrecks from history, ranging from the Shinan, a Chinese merchant ship laden with riches from the 14th century, to the HMS Erebus and Terror, two polar exploration ships that mysteriously disappeared in the early 1800s. Combining new research, stunning archival material, and vivid storytelling, Shipwrecked! dives deep into the world of marine archaeology and shows young readers what each discovery reveals about the world before our time.

Author

Martin W. Sandler has written over seventy books for children and adults, including the National Book Award–winning 1919: The Year That Changed America and the YALSA Nonfiction finalists The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found and Imprisoned. He has also worked as a documentary producer and was nominated for multiple Emmys for writing for television.

Excerpt

CHAPTER TWO
ANTIKYTHERA

It was the year 1900, and the world was in the midst of enormous change. In New York City, the first-ever display of the latest automobile models was about to open. In Germany, the first zeppelin had just taken flight. And for the first time in history, enormous steamships regularly crossing the world’s oceans outnumbered vessels propelled by sail.

Some old ways of doing things, however, still endured. Divers harvesting sponges on the ocean floor using only a hollow reed to breathe through remained a prime industry on the Greek islands. In the fall of 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kontos and his two small sailing boats, crewed by six divers and twenty oarsmen, were making their way home to Symi after having had a highly successful summer sponging season off the coast of Tunisia. So successful, in fact, that after six months of grueling and dangerous work, the decks of two vessels were so filled with drying sponges that there was little room left to move about. More sponges hung down from each boat’s rigging.

The two ships and their crews had left the sponging waters in mid-April and were now sailing in a channel between the Greek islands of Antikythera and Crete. This was one of the main shipping routes between the eastern and western Mediterranean, and it was also an extremely dangerous body of water, filled with shoals, sandbars, and suddenly shifting currents. Frequent storms also struck the region. 

Kontos had barely entered the channel when enormous winds and towering waves began battering his ships. Driven off course, the captain sought shelter next to a rocky, barren, almost totally uninhabited small island that in ancient times had been called both Aeigilia and Cerigotto, but which now was called Antikythera. Despite the storm and the treacherous waters, Kontos, a skilled mariner, managed to guide his two boats to shelter in Antikythera’s only harbor, a small cove on its northern coast called Potamos. There, the captain and the crew waited out the storm.

When the weather finally cleared and it was time to resume the journey home, one of the crew members made a suggestion. Even though the boats were fully loaded, why not dive down and see what kind of sponges grew beneath these unfamiliar waters? Immediately, one of the divers named Elias Stadiatis volunteered to be the first.

Five minutes after Stadiatis descended, he reemerged, pulling on his line, pleading to be taken back aboard. When his diving mask was removed, his face contained a look of sheer terror. He could hardly speak, but somehow he conveyed he had found not sponges but the remains of a large ship. But what he saw lying on the seabed next to the wreck plunged him into his present state. “A heap of [bodies],” he managed to blurt out. “Rotting . . . horses, green corpses.”

Captain Kontos was fascinated and knew that he had to dive down himself. Dropping over the side of the vessel, he plunged himself to the ocean bottom, where he saw both the wreck and a huge mass of figures. But they weren’t corpses as Stadiatis had thought: they were marble and bronze sculptures. As he glanced briefly at the magnificently crafted statues of gods, kings, and warriors and colored-glass bowls and cups, Kontos had no way of knowing he was gazing upon the largest hoard of Greek treasure that had ever been found. He could never have imagined that buried somewhere within that treasure was the most extraordinary ancient artifact ever discovered.

What he knew for certain was that he had to get back to the surface before his air ran out. Still, he had the presence of mind to do two things: First, he grabbed a bronze arm lying near one of the statues so that he would have proof of the discovery. Then, he made the best mental note he could of where the wreck and the treasure lay so that he could record it once he got back on his boat.
It was now time for the party to return to Symi. It was customary for those who completed a profitable sponge-diving expedition to spend weeks, even months, celebrating their success. And Kontos and his crew did just that. But they also had a serious decision to make: What should they do about the treasure they had discovered?

The crew decided to recover as many of the artifacts that lay beneath the waters off Antikythera as they could. They were willing to turn them all over to the Greek government if, in return, the government agreed to pay them sufficiently for each of the items and provided them with a suitable ship and necessary equipment to carry out the recovery.

Kontos enlisted the aid of Antonius Oikonomou, a professor of archaeology at the University of Athens. A fellow Symiote, Oikonomou took Kontos and Stadiatis, along with the bronze arm that had been salvaged, to meet the Greek Minister of Education, Spyridon Stais. It could not have been a more favorable time for the meeting. 

The Greek government had made a public announcement calling for a concerted effort to locate and retrieve the artifacts of the ancient world so that they could be put on display. Up to this point, almost all the ancient treasures had been found on land. When Kontos and Stadiatis showed Minister Stais the bronze arm, providing evidence that the sunken ship and its treasure were at least two thousand years old, the official was convinced that an arrangement between the sponge divers and the government needed to be reached. Together they planned to make the first-ever organized excavation of a shipwreck. According to the quickly made agreement, Kontos and his men were promised full payment for the treasures they would bring up and hand over to the government. The government placed a Greek Navy ship at their disposal along with all the equipment needed to haul heavy objects such as statues from the seabed. In addition, Professor Oikonomou was named the official archaeologist of the project and assigned the task of overseeing the operation.

News of the recovery expedition made the front pages of newspapers around the world. However, because of high winds and extremely choppy seas, it wasn’t until November 24, 1900, that Kontos and his men in their two small sponge boats accompanied by a Greek naval ship named the Mykali arrived at the shipwreck site. Anxious to get started, Kontos put his eight divers to work almost immediately. Because the wreck was located so far down on the ocean floor and because the diving equipment of the day was still so primitive, they could dive down only twice a day and remain on the bottom for no more than five minutes. 

Added to their difficulties was the fact that it became immediately obvious that the Mykali was far too large for their purpose. As powerful as the cumbersome vessel was, it was not the easiest ship to steer, which made it dangerous to operate in such a windy site so close to shore. On November 27, the Mykali returned to its homeport near Athens and was replaced by the smaller, more maneuverable steam schooner Syros, which hurried to the wreck site in time for the divers to resume work on December 4, 1900.

 Despite the fact that the winds never stopped blowing and the seas kept continuously churning, the earliest dives yielded rich rewards, including two small marble statues, an exquisite bronze head (thought at first to be that of a boxer but later determined to be that of a philosopher), and fragment after fragment of bronze marble statues. They also uncovered a bronze sword and scores of bronze bowls, clay dishes, and other pottery. It was only the beginning.

 The Symi sponge divers spent the next ten months rescuing some of Greece’s most beautiful artifacts, one of the greatest hoards of Greek treasure ever found. For a full three-quarters of that time, the weather was so stormy that the divers were prevented from entering the sea. And aside from the weather, there was what many regarded as an even greater challenge: the Antikythera wreck was about 197 feet down. Probably no divers other than the Mediterranean sponge divers who grew up on the water and earned their living by diving could have achieved it.

 By the end of 1900, the divers had recovered a large number of marble statues of men and horses, an ancient stringed musical instrument called a lyre, an enormous marble bull, another bronze sword, various pieces of bronze furniture including a throne, and a type of roof tile that had not been seen since ancient times. Now newspapers were printing daily summaries of what was being brought to the surface. Of all the items described, none captured the public’s attention as much as the huge, full bronze statue of a handsome Greek young man that immediately became known as “The Antikythera Youth.” Curators at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, where all the recovered items were taken, were also captivated by the many delicate objects that Kontos and his men were able to salvage intact. No wonder that Aggeliki Simosi, the director of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, exclaimed, “The ship that sank at Antikythera was not merely a cargo ship. It was essentially a floating museum.”

Then, just as the public, the curators, and the archaeologists waited anxiously to see what would be discovered next, the divers announced they had run into a serious problem. A large portion of the wreck was covered with enormous boulders, which had broken away from the cliffs that lined Antikythera’s shore sometime during the two thousand years the wreck had lain on the seabed. In order to carry out further excavations, the boulders had to be removed somehow.

By this time, several archaeologists had joined the expedition and immediately ordered that the powerful naval vessel Mykali be brought back from Athens to aid in the removal of the boulders. The archaeologists instructed the divers to dig tunnels under the boulders and to tie strong ropes around them several times. This enormously difficult task required at least twenty divers per boulder. When it was completed, the ends of the ropes that surrounded a boulder were then attached to the Mykali, which, using its full power, steamed so that once in open waters, the ropes attached to the boulder could be cut away and the boulder allowed to descend harmlessly into one of the several deepwater chasms.

 It was a dangerous strategy. If the ropes snapped while the Mykali was steaming out to sea, the shock might capsize the vessel, sturdy as it was. Even worse, if the boulder refused to become dislodged, it might drag the Mykalidown to the bottom. As a necessary precaution, members of Kontos’s crew stood by the ship with axes ready to cut the ropes if the Mykali started to be dragged down. Fortunately, the strategy worked. Several boulders were displaced and out of the way.

But the boulder adventure was far from over. Among the Greek officials who gathered at the wreck site to observe the progress was Minister Spyridon Stais, the man who commissioned Kontos and his crew to conduct the excavation. While the others at the scene were celebrating the removal of the boulders, Stais had a disturbing thought. What if the boulders weren’t really boulders at all? What if the divers had failed to recognize that they were colossal, ancient statues that had been lying under the sea for centuries and covered with marine life?

After sending several boulders crashing to the depths far out of any human’s reach, Stais ordered that, even though it presented a risk to the Mykali, the next boulder should be hoisted to the surface. One can only imagine the shock and then the exhilaration when it became obvious that the boulder was a huge statue of the divine Greek hero Hercules. One can also only imagine the feelings elicited by the realization that several other priceless statues had been deliberately sent to a watery grave.

The excavation continued into September 1901. By this time, significant discoveries from the wreck were becoming increasingly rare. One diver died from the bends, two others had become permanently disabled, and the rest involved in the grueling enterprise were exhausted. By the end of September 1901, the decision was made to bring the project to a halt. It had been an extraordinary endeavor, beginning with the discovery of the oldest shipwreck ever found and evolving into the first deliberate excavation of a shipwreck, work that was the prelude to what would become a brand-new science known as marine archaeology.

However, what took place at Antikythera, important as it was, was purely a salvage operation. No attempt to learn anything about the ancient sunken ship or the way of life onboard had been made. Unlike what would become the very essence of marine archaeology, none of the archaeologists at Antikythera dove down themselves to the wreck to survey the scene firsthand or record the exact location of the ship, its artifacts, and the possible locations of other buried objects. And once all that had been brought to the surface had been taken to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, no attempt was made to identify and catalog the origin, age, or anything else about each artifact.

 It was perhaps the haphazard approach to cataloging that allowed one of the most impressive artifacts to sit unnoticed—first in an open courtyard and then in a remote corner of the museum. Then, as fortune would have it, in May 1902 a museum worker brought it to the attention of archaeologist Valerios Stais, a nephew of Spyridon Stais. On first looking upon the object, Stais regarded it as nothing more than a large pile of encrusted bronze. But then, his eyes fell on two fragments in particular. One had inscriptions in ancient Greek. The other seemed to be a part of a system of interlocking gears. When he noticed the mechanized compounds of the object, Stais brought it to the attention of the museum’s archaeologists. They, in turn, called in a host of experts to analyze what was revealed to be a bundle of cogwheels and dials with inscriptions.

Despite the reputations of experts who were asked to examine the device, the mystery of what it was and what it was intended to be used for was so complex that those who periodically examined it came up with conflicting theories. In 1958, Dr. Derek J. de Solla Price, a physicist and highly respected science historian, made the first truly detailed study of the object. Using a form of X-rays called radiographs, Price determined that the device contained at least twenty-seven gears—more complicated than had at first been believed. At that point, Price became the first recognized authority to officially proclaim that, remarkably, someone had created the world’s first computer two thousand years ago.

Thirteen years later, and operating with the benefit of greatly advanced X-ray equipment, Price made the next breakthrough. It was now apparent, both from what Price and his assistants had been able to decipher about the device’s workings thus far and from the inscriptions, that it was for looking into the future of, among other things, the movements of the sun and moon. This device would become known as the Antikythera Mechanism.

Price was not the only one devoting much of his life to attempting to solve the riddle of the mechanism. Michael T. Wright, curator of mechanical engineering at London’s Science Museum, spent more than twenty years seeking a solution and in 2006 completed building a working model of how he believed the device worked.

Between the years 2005 and 2008, progress toward understanding the purpose and workings of the Antikythera Mechanism took a giant leap forward when a team of scientists, science historians, astronomers, mathematicians, computer experts, script analysts, and conservation experts formed. Its members included astrophysicist Mike Edmunds, mathematician and filmmaker Tony Freeth, astronomer John Seiradakis, astrophysicist Xenophon Moussas, physicist Yanis Bitsakis, and philologist Agamemnon Tselikas.

 By 2008, these researchers had collectively identified the purpose of the device, succeeded in translating 95 percent of the ancient inscriptions upon it, and had built a replica of the mechanism so advanced that no other device of comparable technological sophistication would appear anywhere in the world for at least another one thousand years after it was created.

It was a device designed and built to predict and track the position of the sun, the location and phases of the moon, lunar and solar eclipses, the movements of the planets across the sky, and even to help plan the dates of the next planned Olympic Games.

 No one knows enough about Greek astronomers to be able to definitively identify the creator of the mechanism. But there is one thing archaeologists, scientists, historians, and even casual observers agree on: the astonishing gearwork is far more technologically sophisticated than anyone had expected from an artifact of this time. It was all perhaps best summarized by mathematician Tony Freeth: “We know that [ancient Greece] was the birthplace of art, architecture, and culture that is the foundation of our modern world. Now we also know that it was the cradle of advanced technology.”

 The Antikythera story is an ongoing saga with no end in sight to the attempts made to discover more evidence about the ancient world. The first of these attempts was actually made in 1976 when a scuba team led by legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau excavated a small area of the Antikythera wreck site and recovered hundreds of items, including statuettes, coins, and jewelry.

 Then, in 2014, a much more ambitious expedition headed by Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and director Angeliki Simosi was armed with the most advanced underwater discovery equipment yet developed, including a new diving suit that allowed them to dive to unprecedented depths and to stay on the ocean floor for longer than had been once imagined. The new equipment also included the most sophisticated metal detectors ever invented and waterproofed iPads that enabled the team’s divers to map the location of each new artifact that was discovered in real time.

During the expedition, many more stunning objects of ancient Greek art were discovered. But as interesting as these finds were, it was the discovery of a much different type of object that proved to be the most exciting find of the expedition. Toward the end of August 2014, while Foley was diving on the wreck site, one of the members of the team, Nikolas Giannoulakis, swam up to him and shouted, “We found bones! We found a skull.”

While Jacques Cousteau recovered bone fragments during his 1976 Antikythera exploration, the skull was part of the most complete skeleton that had been found at the Antikythera site. As one of the world’s leading DNA experts, Denmark’s Dr. Hannes Schroeder stated at the time of the discovery, “Human remains have started to become a source of information that can tell us incredible things about the past. Even with a single individual, it gives us a potentially great insight into the crew. Where did they come from? Who were these people?”

Beginning with the 2014 expedition, DNA began to play an important role in understanding the origins of artifacts other than human remains. In the ceramics discovered, residues preserved within them for thousands of years held DNA. “Not only are [the ceramics] beautiful in their own right, but we can extract DNA from them,” Foley explained. “That could give [us] information about ancient medicines, cosmetics and perfumes.”

By the time the 2014 expedition ended, divers had searched deeper within the Antikythera wreck than ever before. While the equipment was being packed away, plans were already being made for a return to the site in 2017. Foley declared, “We’re down in the hold of the ship now, so all the other things that would have been carried should be down there as well. Every day is going to be like opening Tut’s tomb.”

In 2017, an expedition, once again under the direction of Foley and Simosi, returned to Antikythera with specific goals. One was to try and locate and possibly recover any bronze statues that might still lie hidden within or beneath the wreck. As Jens Daehner, associate curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, stated, “Ancient bronze sculpture in general is rare. . . . Any chance to recover more Greek sculptures in any medium, but particularly in bronze, should not be missed.”

The other main goal of the 2017 expedition was to see if any other metal fragments that may have been part of the Antikythera Mechanism could be found. Using the most sophisticated underwater metal detectors ever developed, the team uncovered solid indications of the presence of at least seven statues, buried deep under the seabed. The problem is that they also lie beneath enormous boulders, which may have fallen onto the wreck during a huge earthquake that struck Antikythera in the 4th century CE. Reluctantly, Foley, Simosi, and their teams concluded that the cost of extracting these statues would be prohibitive. What they did recover was a bronze disc, which is still being studied to determine its function and whether it was part of the original Antikythera Mechanism.
From the time the Antikythera wreck was first discovered, those who have seen it firsthand have been impressed with the amount of wreckage and how large the ancient sunken vessel seems to have been. Foley has, in fact, termed the vessel “the Titanic of the ancient world.” The most intriguing result of the explorations has been the growing suspicion that the wreckage may well represent not one but two ancient ships—and if that’s the case, there are even more questions, Foley says: “Were they sailing together? Did one try to help the other?”

Whatever the answer, one thing is for certain: the Antikythera shipwreck site is of tremendous importance. As Greek archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou proclaimed, “This is the cradle of underwater archaeology.”

Praise

A School Library Journal Best Book
A New York Public Library Best Book
A Bank Street Best Children's Book

★ "Full of adventure and numerous explorations of the value of perseverance, this title will capture the attention of readers through a wealth of scientific and historical details." —School Library Journal, starred review

★ "Sandler turns his attention to shipwrecks and marine archaeology, selecting seven shipwrecks that collectively present the excitement of solving the mysteries of where each one lies, the latest excavation technologies, and the wealth of historical understanding each wreck yields up...Sandler finds the hook in the story surrounding each wreck, and the stories build upon one another to create a more complete understanding of the field. A final chapter teases nine additional shipwreck stories in brief vignettes. The handsome book design features full-color photographs of recovered artifacts; scientists working to restore ships; sidebars with additional information; and historical paintings, photographs, and maps." —The Horn Book, starred review

"In individual chapters, the National Book Award–winning author focuses on seven shipwrecks with perhaps lesser-known recognition but notable historical significance...Most important, however, are the connections made to humans’ impact on history, from trade routes to technological advances to the horrors of slavery. Photos from the expedition scenes and lengthy sidebars on such topics as the role of women sponge divers on shipwreck discoveries add more insight to this thought-provoking STEM offering." —Booklist

"A survey of the tools, techniques, and select triumphs of underwater archeology...Historical images of ships at sea join photos of artifacts in place or in various stages of preservation to add both drama and visual detail, and along with quick, tantalizing looks at several other significant wrecks, young explorers will find helpful notes and references at the end. Immersive reading." —Kirkus Reviews

"Filled with photos of artifacts, the excavation process, and vessels recovered, [Shipwrecked!] a fascinating read that paints each shipwreck as 'a pristine historic time capsule' and marine archaeology as 'one of the newest, most dynamic, and most rewarding of all the sciences.'"—Publishers Weekly

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