Antikythera Shipwreck Yields Human Remains

2K-year-old bones are a 'rare find' whose DNA might be able to be sequenced
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2016 2:33 AM CDT
Updated Sep 20, 2016 6:15 AM CDT
Antikythera Shipwreck Yields Human Remains
File photo from 2014 of a diver at the site of the shipwreck.   (AP Photo/ARGO via Greek Culture Ministry, Brett Seymour)

The Antikythera shipwreck has yielded many exciting results since its discovery off Greece a century ago, most notably the world's oldest known computer (the 2,000-year-old Antikythera Mechanism). Now divers say they've unearthed surprisingly well-preserved human remains (as well as huge anchors and a teardrop-shaped lead weight), raising the hope that enough DNA has survived to be sequenced, reports the Guardian. A leading expert who examined the skull from the new find says it's "amazing" that both petrous bones behind the ear are intact because DNA is best preserved there, reports Nature. If DNA is recovered, it could give clues as to hair and eye color, as well as geographic origin.

Uncovered in late August, the remains include parts of a skull with three teeth, two arm bones, rib pieces, and two femurs, and the early guess is that they all belong to a young man who was trapped as the ship went down and buried quickly. Researchers dubbed him "Pamphilos," a common Greek name found etched into a wine cup recovered from the wreck. “Your mind starts spinning,” says one researcher. “Who were those people who crossed the Mediterranean 2,000 years ago? Maybe one of them was the astronomer who owned the Mechanism.” Finding human remains in shipwrecks is so rare that one of the only other instances is from this same wreck, when Jacques Cousteau excavated the site in 1976 and uncovered scattered remains from at least four individuals. (See what else divers recently found.)

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