Thursday, 08 March 2018

Ancient Secrets of the Sea at the National Archaeological Museum

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Ancient Secrets of the Sea at the National Archaeological Museum

A special sea-themed guided tour at the NAM arranged by Be a Greek reminds us that there is more to the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean than beach fun.

Myth says that the head of Orpheus floated down the Evros River and across the sea before being found by humans, who built a shrine for him. In the Odyssey, the islands and the sea provide the story with ten years’ worth of adventures. In real life, historically and to this day, the Mediterranean Sea has played just as an important role for the Greeks. The seabed has many times been proven to be a rich repository of historical artifacts.


Thankfully, sometimes things resurface. When sponge divers got stuck at the island of Antikythira due to bad weather in 1900, they decided to make use of their time and dive right there. Rather than coming back up with just sponges, they also retrieved samples from what they described as a horror scene of human and animal bodies; in fact, they were sculptures from an ancient shipwreck.


Many artefacts, such as the Antikythira Mechanism (1st or 2nd c. BC), known as the world’s oldest analog computer, were recovered during the next year, before the site was abandoned for 75 years as a result of a diver dying.


The story is similar at the site of the Artemision wreck, where divers found the famous Artemision Jockey and his horse (ca 140 BC), and the impressive statue of Zeus or Poseidon known as the Artemision Bronze (ca about 450 BC), in 1926. The wreck was abandoned after a diver died just two years later. The sea gives, and the sea takes away.


These and hundreds more treasures that have been salvaged from the sea can be admired at the National Archeological Museum in Athens. Last year the museum celebrated its 150 year anniversary with the exhibition “Odysseys”, featuring many of the famous artefacts from wrecks and islands that have been in its protection since their discovery, as well as items on loan from other museums.