Site has already revealed most spectacular cargo ever found from antiquity, but bones are first hope of sequencing DNA from 1st century BC shipwreck victim
Death, when it came, was sudden and cruel. The individual, either a crew member or passenger, was trapped on board when the huge ship foundered. Dashed on the rocks, the vessel slid beneath the waves, tumbled down an undersea cliff, and swiftly became buried in sediment on the seabed.
Now, more than 2,000 years later, archaeologists have recovered the bones of the individual they now call Pamphilos. Thought to be a man in his late teens to early 20s, he was on the ship sailing from Asia Minor to Rome when disaster struck off the tiny Greek island of Antikythera between Crete and the Peloponnese.
The catastrophe in the first century BC scattered the ships cargo across the seabed. It lay there until 1900, when sponge divers found it by chance in 50 metres of water. Salvage operations have since hauled up stunning bronze and marble statues, ornate glass and pottery, gold jewellery, and an extraordinary geared device the Antikythera mechanism which modelled the heavens. The cargo, for good reason, is considered the most spectacular ever found from antiquity.
With the latest discovery of human bones, scientists have their first real hope of sequencing DNA from a victim of an ancient shipwreck. The only comparable efforts have focused on remains from King Henry VIIIs great ship, the Mary Rose, and the Swedish warship Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. If the ancient bones contain intact DNA, it will cast fresh light on the ill-fated ships occupants.
This is the most exciting scientific discovery weve made here, said Brendan Foley at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who is exploring the wreck site with archaeologists from the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. 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.