News of the Antikythera shipwreck is not an unfamiliar sight on this blog. The Antikythera mechanism and the subsequent finds on the wreck are spellbinding and have held my interest for years. So of course I am going to report on this too, because my Gods! Researchers from the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts have found a human skeleton at the bottom of the sea floor in the wreck where the famed Antikythera Mechanism was also found.

The recently found remains were pulled from the ship on August 31st. The team first uncovered a skull complete with a jaw and teeth, followed by arms, legs, and ribs. Some parts of the skeleton still remain underwater, but they were left behind and will taken to the surface at a later time.

Now, this is not the first time divers have found skeletons at the site. In 1976, Jacques-Yves Cousteau visited the wreck with his team and uncovered more than 300 artifacts, which included a number of skeletons. The find of human remains marks the first time since the beginning of DNA studies, however, that such an ancient skeleton has been identified aboard a ship and remains preserved. This means scientists have their first real hope of sequencing DNA from a victim of an ancient shipwreck.

Brendan Foley at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who is exploring the wreck site with archaeologists from the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities explained how Nikolas Giannoulakis, a team member, tapped him on the shoulder while out on a dive:

"Talking through his rebreather in muffled excitement, said: 'We found bones! We found a skeleton!' There was no doubt in any of our minds that what were were looking at were extensive human remains. This is the most exciting scientific discovery we’ve made here. We think he was trapped in the ship when it went down and he must have been buried very rapidly or the bones would have gone by now.”

Hannes Schroeder, an ancient DNA expert at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, will recieve samples from the remains for full analysis after the Greek authorities give permission.

“Against all odds, the bones survived over 2,000 years at the bottom of the sea and they appear to be in fairly good condition, which is incredible.” 

If a sufficient amount of DNA is recovered from the bones, researchers could learn a lot, including about the skeleton’s geographic and ethnic origins. Though the bones have been underwater for thousands of years, the bones are largely intact. That quality, combined with recent advances in DNA, should help experts in their analysis.

DNA tests are expected to provide information on the drowned person's age and gender which, if female, would add to evidence that such ships carried passengers as well as cargo, said Ageliki G. Simosi, director of the ministry's department of Underwater Antiquities. Simosi said the latest excavation, conducted 52 metres (170 feet) below the surface by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the culture ministry, had a lot more still to reveal.

"The area is difficult to approach and the conditions are tough. This shipwreck continuously reveals treasures and I believe that this is only the beginning."