A 2,000-year-old human skeleton has been discovered in the ancient Greek shipwreck where the Antikythera mechanism was discovered. The remains were found on 31 August near the Greek island of Antikythera and include a partial skull, arm and leg bones and several ribs. All remains appear to be from the same person and have been well-preserved.
The discovery was announced in the journal Nature and scientists believe it will shed light on the mystery shipwreck. The Antikythera mechanism has baffled scientists since it was first discovered. It is thought to have used to track astronomical positions and eclipses, but it also recently was found to have colour codes, the purpose of which are not known.
Often described as the world's first computer, nothing as technologically advanced as the astronomical device would be invented for over 1,000 years, with the arrival of mechanical astronomical clocks.
The Antikythera shipwreck was first discovered in 1901. It was transporting luxury items from the eastern Mediterranean and has yielded huge amounts of treasure and artefacts ever since.
The skeleton will help scientists understand who would have been on board the ship. Initial examinations indicate the bones belong to a young man. It is thought he could be a member of the 15-20 strong crew that would have sailed on a ship that size. However, it is also possible he could have been a passenger or slave – a reason people sometimes get stuck in shipwrecks is if they are chained up.
"We think it was such a violent wrecking event, people got trapped below decks. The crew would be able to get off relatively fast. Those shackled would have no opportunity to escape," said Mark Dunkley, an underwater archaeologist from Historic England. The bones were surrounded by corroded iron objects.
The team now hopes to extract more DNA, which could tell scientists about physical characteristics, such as hair and eye colour, to their ancestry. For now, they have nicknamed the person who the bones belonged to Pamphilos – a name that was scratched onto one of the wine cups found at the wreck.
"We're thrilled," added Brendan Foley, an underwater archaeologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "We don't know of anything else like it. Archaeologists study the human past through the objects our ancestors created. With the Antikythera Shipwreck, we can now connect directly with this person who sailed and died aboard the Antikythera ship."
Hannes Schroeder, an expert in ancient DNA analysis from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, said: "Your mind starts spinning. Who were those people who crossed the Mediterranean 2,000 years ago? Maybe one of them was the astronomer who owned the mechanism."