The skeleton was surprisingly preserved.
Scientists have discovered a 2,000-year-old skeleton at the site of an ancient shipwreck that may offer new clues to the lives of its ill-fated passengers.
“It’s extraordinarily rare to find human remains on an ancient shipwreck,” Brendan Foley, an underwater archeologist at Woodshole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and co-director of the excavation, told Travel + Leisure. “There’s a very small handful of ancient wrecks in the [Mediterranean] that have produced human remains.”
Sponge divers first discovered the wreck in Antikythera, Greece, in 1900, and it has become a preeminent site for deepwater archeology. Foley’s team first started its expedition in 2010, though they did not begin diving until 2013 as they went through several years of training to prepare for the dangerous 165-feet dive.
The ship was a merchant vessel in the first century B.C., and scientists have been amazed by how intact the human remains are after 2,000 years, according to a statement.
Foley has a theory as to how the bones have remained so well preserved, rather than disintegrating or being eaten by fish.
The ship—at 40 meters (130-feet) long, according to the archeologist—was unusually large for its time. Many trading vessels were transporting grains for sale, and as the ship was wrecked, people on the lower levels may have been trapped inside, sinking to the ocean floor where their remains were buried under the grains, preserving them for two millennia.
Foley and his team’s discovery is unique, as it offers the chance for scientists to use DNA analysis to learn more about the passengers, including where they were from, what they looked like, and even what their socioeconomic and health background might have been.
The researchers have already made 3D models of the bones with help from Autodesk modeling software to aid in their work.
“There’s never been a skeleton from an ancient shipwreck in the last 20 years since DNA studies have really come to the floor,” Foley said, calling the find “uncharted waters.”