The head of a statue of Hercules may be reunited with his body soon after it was recovered from a Roman-era shipwreck in the Mediterranean.
The discovery was raised from a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in the years 1900-1901. The wreck also equipped itself with the famous “Antikythera Mechanism”, a manually operated mechanical device used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses in advance. The mythical semi-god – thought to have been made for a “very wealthy” Roman – was thought to have been lost at sea at some point during the first century BC.
The statue’s body is currently on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, home to one of the richest collections of artefacts from Greek antiquity.
Archaeologist and excavation leader Lorenz Bommer, of the University of Geneva, said: ‘It was found, along with many other objects, in an area that was covered by several tons of rock that fell on the site during an earthquake of an unknown date. We managed to get to that area by removing rocks with the help of an advanced lifting system.
Archaeologists believe that the platform may have originally been destined for Rome.
Bomer added: “The ship carried a huge shipment – among other things – a large number of statues made of marble and bronze.
In the first century BC, wealthy Romans requested sculptures in their private gardens. It was delivered by ship to Rome or other destinations. The ship was heading west – because the material is from the eastern Mediterranean – probably to Rome, but we have no evidence of that at the present time. The sinking may have been caused by a storm, but we hope to get clearer information from our research. We can only say that it was definitely an expensive sculpture.”
The researchers’ next step will be to establish that the head indeed belongs to a beheading sculpture at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Regardless, the team is pretty sure the head was carved to depict Hercules.
“Hercules has a clear iconography, with his beard, the distinctive shapes of his face and hair, etc. We know of a few Roman copies of the original statue created by the Greek sculptor Lysippus in the fourth century BC, although the original has not been preserved,” Bomer said.
According to Professor Bomer, their investigations into the Antikythera wreck were motivated by a desire to learn more about the ship’s history.
The wreck was first discovered by a crew of sponge divers from the Greek island of Symi, who had stopped in Antikythera to wait for more favorable winds on their way to North Africa.
The artifact was found 148 feet below sea level, with the Greek Navy drafting it shortly after the initial finds to aid in the rescue effort.
The wreck has been explored several times since then, including by the famous French naval officer and diving master Jacques Cousteau.