Category Archives: GREECE

Greek Sponge Divers find the Worlds Oldest Analog Computer

Greek Sponge Divers find the Worlds Oldest Analog Computer

When you ask someone who invented the computer they might say, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. They would, of course, be wrong. Perhaps they might mention Alan Turing (who proposed a “Universal Computing Museum”) or the US Navy’s WWII era Torpedo Data Computer. But computers, which were initially conceived of as calculating devices, are much older than that and older than the modern world.

An analog computer, an old Greek device designed for the calculation of astronomical position, is the oldest Antikythera mechanism computer in the world. And now media outlets are reporting that a lost piece, which somehow survived looters, has been discovered on the Aegean Seabed.

The Antikythera Mechanism was lost over 2,200 years ago when the cargo ship carrying it was shipwrecked off the coast of the small Greek island of Antikythera (which is located between Kythera and Crete).

The rear face of the Antikythera mechanism.
The rear face of the Antikythera mechanism.

The Mechanism was initially discovered in 1901 when Greek sponge divers found an encrusted greenish lump. They brought the mechanism, which they believed to be a rock, to archaeologist Valerios Stais at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Over the ensuing decades the site was looted, trampled on by explorers, and, in 1976, the famous French explorer Jean-Jacques Cousteau inadvertently destroyed much of what remained of the ship’s hull.

Initially, no one knew to want the lump was. Two millennia had eaten away at the ship and its cargo. Stais’ cousin, Spyridon Stais, a former mathematician, was the first to identify the gears in the mechanism.

It was only with the development of advanced x-ray technology and the collaboration of numerous individuals (from Cousteau to modern historians of science like Alexander Jones) that the heavily corroded rock was revealed to be a technologically advanced calculator.

How advanced? The second century BCE Mechanism could do basic math, calculate the movements of the sun and moon, track the movements of the constellations and planets, and predict eclipses and equinoxes.

It contains over thirty hand-worked cogs, dozens more than the average luxury Swiss watch. It may not have the faculties of an iPhone but it is more than a simple calculator.

In 2012, almost 50 years after Cousteau’s excavations, a new team of underwater archaeologists returned to re-examine the site.

They discovered hundreds of previously unnoted artifacts, including bronze and marble statues, furniture, coins, and a sarcophagus lid. But last year, on the seabed, they discovered something else: an encrusted corroded disk about 8cm in diameter.

X-ray analysis has revealed that the disk bears an engraving of the zodiac sign Taurus, the bull.

The discovery of a piece of the world’s oldest analog computer would be a huge and remarkable discovery on its own terms. But it has additional significance in what it can tell us about the development of the field of archaeology itself.

As Sarah Bond, an associate professor of Classics at the University of Iowa, told The Daily Beast “The Antikythera Mechanism is an important object in the historical record of ancient technology, but is also a prism for tracking the development of archaeology as a professional field … It reveals the advanced astrological instruments created and used by ancient engineers, but the protracted nature of the undersea dig reveals archaeological advances in scanning, 3D modeling, and many other sophisticated approaches in reconstructing and analyzing ‘the computer’.” Elsewhere Bond has written about the unseen labor of the divers who engaged in the risky work that discovered the original Mechanism.

Other scholars have exhibited concern that the discovery of the new disk is being sensationalized. On social media, David Meadows and Michael Press have rightly pointed out that the year-old discovery is only making news because of the sensational claim that it belongs to the Antikythera Mechanism.

It is difficult to say precisely what this new piece is; it might be part of the original Antikythera Mechanism or part of a second similar device.

The presence of the bull engraving suggests that it may have predicted the position of the constellation of Taurus but it is difficult to say.

While scientific study continues,  the discovery has drawn attention to both the existence of this ancient ‘calculator’ and its amazing history

Lost ‘Atlantean Treasures’ Unearthed in Crete

Lost ‘Atlantean Treasures’ Unearthed in Crete

In excavations on the west of the islet of Chrysi by Lasithi Ephorate, large numbers of porfyra and houses of Minoan settlements survived the ancient carved fish ponds across the coast.

The several broken porfyra shells found in the rooms of the houses are evidence of a very early cottage industry of porfyra dye established during Crete’s first palaces.

The settlement had a flourishing economy not apparent from the architectural remains but from the fine quality artifacts found in the houses.

Chrysi islet is situated in the south of Crete in the administrative Region of Lasithi and belongs to the Ierapetra Municipality. The surface survey conducted between 2008-2011 provided evidence of human activity and habitation since the Bronze Age.

In 2018 and 2019 the by now systematic excavation on Chrysi under the Lasithi Antiquities Ephorate’s Head Chrysa Sophianou, brought to light a large building with many rooms, known as B2, which was inhabited without interruptions during the Protopalatial and Neopalatial period, from the Middle Minoan IIB to the Late Minoan IB period (ca 1800-1500 BC).

The rooms had simple architectural elements, such as built-in vats, stone benches, work surfaces, hearths and a staircase with stone slabs. Pottery is a typical mixture of vessels for drinking, eating, cooking, and storage, while many stone tools were recovered.

It was a surprise to discover no evidence in this entire building of a cottage industry for the production of porfyra, unlike the other excavated houses of the settlement.

Despite their simple architecture, two rooms contained “treasures/hoards” of metal, glass and semiprecious stones. The first treasure was found in 2018 in a room that most probably was used as a storage area.

The deposit contained two parts of copper talents, a mass of slag and jewellery: a gold ring, a gold bracelet, 26 gold beads (disc-shaped, round and shaped like a papyrus), one bead of silver, 5 of bronze and the band of a bronze ring.

A collection of gold beads found at the site.
Beads found during excavations on the western part of the islet Chryssi.

There was also a large number of different shaped glass beads (39 round and 25 papyrus-shaped), 4 of so-called Egyptian blue, 20 of corneal stone, 1 of amethyst, 10 of lapis, one agate seal depicting a ship whose prow has the shape of an animal’s head and a stone amulet shaped like a monkey.

While continuing the excavation in 2019, another treasure of talents was discovered in the corner of a room in the same building, along with a large saw and three vessels, one made of copper.

A copper vase found at the site.

Their overall weight is 68 kilos and together with the parts of the other treasure, they are in all over two talents. It is the largest treasure of metals found to date on Crete.  Moreover, stored inside a vessel were pieces of a tin talent.

The latter is considered a rare find being the second from the Late Minoan period found on Crete. The first was discovered in a settlement on the islet of Mochlos.

The above data leads to the hypothesis that the inhabitants of building B2 in the Late Minoan period (ca 1500 BC) belonged to a higher social class and played a different part in the society of Chrysi; probably one of administration. They managed production, the promotion of products, the trading of porfyra dye and the import or distribution of metals.

Archaeologists uncover two Bronze Age ‘royal’ tombs lined with GOLD that promise to unlock secrets about life in ancient Greece 3,500 years ago

Archaeologists uncover two Bronze Age ‘royal’ tombs lined with GOLD that promise to unlock secrets about life in ancient Greece 3,500 years ago

Historians from the classic department of the American University of Cincinnati are readdressing what is known of early Greek history based on their once-in-a-lifetime discovery of two treasure-filled tombs that were once lined with gold leaf.

The two beehive-like graves were uncovered by a team of archeologists in last year and they announced in last Tuesday in Pylos while they were investigating the tomb of the renowned Greek military leader Griffin Warrior, who had been identified with the remarkable collection of weapons armors and jewelry in 2015

The scientist Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker from the UC Classics department reported in an article on the UC Web Site that they spent 18 months excavating both graves and similarly to the Griffin Warrior’s tomb, they were called ‘princely.’

The burials were discovered overlooking the Mediterranean Sea close to the palace of Nestor, a ruler mentioned in Homer’s famous works the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Davis and Stocker´s team are excavating in Greece in the wake of the late Carl Blegen who was head of UC’s Classics Department and was responsible for having discovered the Palace of Nestor in 1939 with Greek archaeologists Konstantinos Kourouniotis.

Stone lines the entrance to a grave called Tholos IV near the former Palace of Nestor, both discovered by the late UC Classics archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939.

Within the two tombs, a wealth of cultural artifacts were recovered, including delicate jewelry. As an added mark of the extreme opulence of the family, the researchers found, “The tombs were littered with flakes of gold leaf that once papered the walls.”

When interpreted alongside the artifacts recovered from the tomb of the Griffin Warrior, historians expect to use these burials to gain a deeper understanding of early Greek civilization and Pylos’ links with ancient Egypt.

Pylos is a town in the Bay of Navarino and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. It has an exceptionally long history – having been inhabited since the Neolithic era. In Classical times the site was uninhabited yet hosted the Battle of Pylos in 425 BC, during the Peloponnesian War.

Pylos was one of the last places which held out against the Spartans in the Second Messenian War and it sank out of history until the seventh year of the Peloponnesian War, during which according to the Greek historian Thucydides in his  History of the Peloponnesian War, the area was together with most of the country and “round, unpopulated.”

An aerial view of the site shows the Tholos IV tomb, far left, found by UC archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939 in relation to the two family tombs called Tholos VI and Tholos VII, uncovered last year by UC archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the identity of the ‘Griffin Warrior’ is an assumption based on the types of armor, weapons, and jewelry found in his tomb – which all suggest he had military and religious authority. It is thought that he may have been the king known in later Mycenaean times as a ‘Wanax.’

The name ‘Griffin Warrior’ was chosen after the mythological creature, the Griffin, which is composed of parts from eagles and lions, a depiction of which was found engraved on an ivory plaque in the warrior’s tomb alongside his armor, weaponry, and gold jewelry.

The new artifacts discovered in the two princely tombs include a gold ring with two bulls within sheaves of barley, and an incredibly detailed carnelian seal depicting an image of two ‘genii,’ which like the Griffin are lionlike mythological creatures. The depictions of the genii are shown below a 16-pointed star and they hold serving vessels and an incense burner over an altar.

According to Dr. Stocker, “16-pointed stars are rare” to find in Mycenaean iconography and he sees the discovery of two objects depicting 16-pointed stars, in both agate and gold, as “noteworthy.”

In one of the two family tombs, UC archaeologists found a carnelian seal stone featuring two mythological creatures called genii with serving vessels and incense over an altar.

A National Geographic article says the two tombs were found holding “lots of gold” but also Baltic amber, Egyptian amethysts, and imported carnelian – which the archaeologists think belonged to “very sophisticated” people at a time when very few luxury items were being imported into Pylos – which was later a central location on the Bronze Age trade routes, said the archaeologists.

Dr. Davis said the discovery of a gold pendant displaying what might be a depiction of the Egyptian goddess Hathor is “particularly interesting considering the role she played in Egypt as protectress of the dead.” And if this is the Egyptian goddess Hathor than new evidence has been discovered suggesting early trade links between Pylos, Greece, and Egypt.

UC archaeologists found several gold pieces, including this double argonaut (octopus type of creature).

Female Remains Found at Strictly Male-only Greek Monastery

Female Remains Found at Strictly Male-only Greek Monastery

The Guardian reported that American anthropologist Laura Wynn-Antikas was asked to investigate some bones found in the burial site while the church of St. Athanasius was restored on Mount Athos, only to declare they were those of a female.

The surprise assessment is surprising for the centuries-old strictly male monastic community where women even today, are not permitted to access the peninsula which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Laura Wynn-Antikas told Guardian representative Helen Smith, that “a forearm, a trunk, and a sacred bone were among those found which were very different in morphology from the rest of the males.

“Bones never lie. They will reveal the way a person lived and probably how that person died. You are prepared to see everything,” she commented.

The bones have now been sent to the Democritus Carbon Radiocarbon Research Centre to confirm their dating, with genetic analysis for gender identification expected.

Some of the bones found at the Chapel of Athanasios seem to be female.

“If we talk about one woman or even more than one woman, this will raise many questions,” the scientist added. But few among the monks are willing to learn the truth.

After all, the entry of women into the autonomous status of Mount Athos has been banned since the 10th century, despite the fact that the EU considers the fact illegal.

In fact, even female animals are banned, with the exception of cats. If tests confirm Wynn-Antika’s assertion, it will be the first time that a woman has been buried in Mount Athos, according to architect Faidon Chatziantoni, who called on the experts.

Monastery of Pantokrator, Mount Athos.

“What is certain is that [the bones] would not be [buried] there if these people were not important to the monastery,” he noted.

In all, seven people were re-buried at the site, according to Wynn-Antica, who explained that no skulls could be found but that there were seven jaws and added that the process is not easy as the bones were moved from the original landfill, resulting in lost information.

“Once we have the dating, another piece of the puzzle will be solved,” the anthropologist noted. Finally, the director of the Democritus lab, Yiannis Maniatis, said that “the whole process is likely to take three months”.

Monkey from Southern Asia Identified in Ancient Greek Artwork

Monkey from Southern Asia Identified in Ancient Greek Artwork

A painting from the Bronze Age on a Greek island depicts a monkey in Asia from a hundred thousand kilometers. The findings suggest that the trading and exchange of ideas were ancient far-distant civilizations.

Wall painting of grey langur monkeys at Akrotiri on the Greek island of Thera (Santorini)

The painting is one of several wall paintings in a building at Akrotiri on the Greek island of Thera (Santorini) in the Aegean Sea.

Akrotiri was a settlement in Bronze Age Greece of the Minoan civilization that was buried by ash in around 1600 BC from a volcanic eruption ..

Many of the pictures show monkeys although at that time there were no monkeys in Greece. Most of the monkeys have been identified as Egyptian species like olive baboons.

This is important because the Minoan civilization was in contact with Egypt, which extended over several Aegean islands. However, others were harder to identify.

Marie Nicole Pareja at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia teamed up with primatologists to re-examine the mystery monkey paintings. One stood out. “When they looked at this wall painting, they all straight away unambiguously said ‘that’s a langur’,” says Pareja.

The team has identified the monkey as a grey langur (Semnopithecus). As well as its distinctive fur, the monkey was depicted holding its tail in a characteristic S shape.

Grey langurs live in southern Asia in what is now Nepal, Bhutan and India – and particularly in the Indus Valley.

During the Bronze Age, the region was home to the Indus Valley Civilisation, one of the most important societies of that time.

Although it was past its peak, the Indus Valley Civilisation was still advanced for its time, with large cities and elaborate water supply systems.

Somehow, the artist who painted the monkey picture must have seen a grey langur. But how?

Did Minoan Greeks visit the Indus? “I wouldn’t be surprised if someday in the future we found evidence for that kind of direct contact,” says Pareja, but right now there is none. It is also possible the visit was the other way round, but again there is no evidence.

Instead, it may be that Greece and Indus were connected via Mesopotamia, another Bronze Age civilization centered on what is now Iraq. Langurs may have been imported to Mesopotamia for menageries, where visiting Greeks saw them.

“It’s evidence of this far-reaching trade, these relationships with these far-flung areas,” says Pareja. Even in the Bronze Age, it seems there was a lot of exchange between seemingly separate civilizations.

5.7 Million-year-old Human Footprints Fossil May Challenge History of Human Evolution

5.7 Million-year-old Human Footprints Fossil May Challenge History of Human Evolution

The established narrative of human early evolution can be tested by newly discovered human traces from Crete. The footprints are about 5.7 million years old and were made at a time when previous research puts our ancestors in Africa — with ape-like feet.

The origin of the human race has been thought to be in Africa after fossils of Australopithecus were found in South and East Africa during the middle years of the 20th century.

More recent fossil discoveries in the same region, including the iconic 3.7 million-year-old Laetoli footprints from Tanzania which show human-like feet and upright locomotion, have cemented the idea that hominins (early members of the human lineage) not only originated in Africa but remained isolated there for several million years before dispersing to Europe and Asia.

A trail of 5.7 million-year-old fossil footprints discovered in Crete could upend the widely accepted theories on early human evolution. The new prints have a distinctly human-like form, with a similar big toe to our own and a ‘ball’ in the sole that’s not found in apes

The discovery of approximately 5.7 million-year-old human-like footprints from Crete, published online this week by an international team of researchers, overthrows this simple picture and suggests a more complex reality.

Human feet have a very distinctive shape, different from all other land animals. The combination of a long sole, five short forward-pointing toes without claws, and a hallux (“big toe”) that is larger than the other toes, is unique.

The feet of our closest relatives, the great apes, look more like a human hand with a thumb-like hallux that sticks out to the side. The Laetoli footprints, thought to have been made by Australopithecus, are quite similar to those of modern humans except that the heel is narrower and the sole lacks a proper arch.

By contrast, the 4.4 million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus from Ethiopia, the oldest hominin known from reasonably complete fossils, has an ape-like foot.

The researchers who described Ardipithecus argued that it is a direct ancestor of later hominins, implying that a human-like foot had not yet evolved at that time.

The new footprints, from Trachilos in western Crete, have an unmistakably human-like form. This is especially true of the toes. The big toe is similar to our own in shape, size, and position; it is also associated with a distinct ‘ball’ on the sole, which is never present in apes.

The sole of the foot is proportionately shorter than in the Laetoli prints, but it has the same general form. In short, the shape of the Trachilos prints indicates unambiguously that they belong to an early hominin, somewhat more primitive than the Laetoli trackmaker.

They were made on a sandy seashore, possibly a small river delta, whereas the Laetoli tracks were made in volcanic ash.

‘What makes this controversial is the age and location of the prints,’ says Professor Per Ahlberg at Uppsala University, last author of the study.

At approximately 5.7 million years, they are younger than the oldest known fossil hominin, Sahelanthropus from Chad, and contemporary with Orrorin from Kenya, but more than a million years older than Ardipithecus ramidus with its ape-like feet.

This conflicts with the hypothesis that Ardipithecus is a direct ancestor of later hominins. Furthermore, until this year, all fossil hominins older than 1.8 million years (the age of early Homo fossils from Georgia) came from Africa, leading most researchers to conclude that this was where the group evolved.

However, the Trachilos footprints are securely dated using a combination of foraminifera (marine microfossils) from over- and underlying beds, plus the fact that they lie just below a very distinctive sedimentary rock formed when the Mediterranean sea briefly dried out, 5.6 million years ago.

By a curious coincidence, earlier this year, another group of researchers reinterpreted the fragmentary 7.2 million-year-old primate Graecopithecus from Greece and Bulgaria as a hominin. Graecopithecus is only known from teeth and jaws.

During the time when the Trachilos footprints were made, a period known as the late Miocene, the Sahara Desert did not exist; savannah-like environments extended from North Africa up around the eastern Mediterranean.

Furthermore, Crete had not yet detached from the Greek mainland. It is thus not difficult to see how early hominins could have ranged across south-east Europe and well as Africa and left their footprints on a Mediterranean shore that would one day form part of the island of Crete.

‘This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate. Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen,’ says Per Ahlberg.

Unusual Greek Baby Burial Unearthed in Sicily

Unusual Greek Baby Burial Unearthed in Sicily

In the Sicilian town of Gela, workers who installed cables under a road have uncovered part of the ancient Greek burial.

This month’s people in Gela, Sicily, in Via Di Bartolo, expected road work disruption because of workers installing street-side fiber optic cables.

But instead, they ended up getting an archeological dig outside their front gate after an old necropolis dating back to the 7th century BC was found by the Open Fiber cabling company

Example of an (ornate) 4 th century BC Greek hydria.
Example of an (ornate) 4 th century BC Greek hydria.

The ceramic water jug containing bones of a newborn child and parts of a large animal skeleton according to local authorities has so far been found along the small  strip of the road.

The finds were reportedly made by Open Fiber’s in-house archaeologist, Gianluca Calà, who had been on call during the installation work in case of such discoveries, which are not that unusual in Sicily.

Screenshot: Google Maps

A sarcophagus containing an intact skeleton thought to be from the same period was discovered earlier this month in Gela.”

Two weeks after the last important discovery, in what is certainly a Greek necropolis, Gela gives us other extraordinary testimonies of the past” the Sicilian regional government stated in a press release.

The area where the discoveries were made is believed to be part of a necropolis first excavated at the beginning of the twentieth century by Paolo Orsi, according to the La Sicilia newspaper.

“Once again Gela is confirmed to be a part of Sicily that can tell us an important part of our ancient history.

Two important archaeological finds, a short distance from each other, show that great attention is paid to the Gela area, which I believe to be a precious treasure chest,” said local

Open Fiber said it would be willing to enlarge the excavation area to help historians and archaeologists uncover more ancient finds in Gela, La Sicilia wrote.

Gela is believed to be the site of one of the earliest settlements of Greeks, from Rhodes and Crete.

“The newly-uncovered graves are seen as particularly important by historians,” the Sicilian regional government stated, “as they’re thought to hold the remains of the first settlers along with examples of the fine ceramics they brought with them.”

From Thebes to Nazi Germany: ancient vase returned to Greece

From Thebes to Nazi Germany: ancient vase returned to Greece

Upon his return to Athens, an amazing story about an ancient wine-cup given to the marathon champion of the first modern Olympics before being smuggled out of Greece by a notorious Nazi.

Spyros Louis, who was a water carrier when he surprisingly won the opening marathon in 1896, obtained the 6th century BC pottery vessel. It went missing then.

“When I was asked to review everything which happened in 2012. I started checking bibliographies and records. It was believed it had been inventoried in our archives but that is not at all the case,” said Georgios Kivvadias, curator of vase collections at the Athenian National Archeology Museum.

Two years of detective work began after the archeologist finally found a vessel at the University of Münster, Germany decorated with an image of two black-figured athletes with a clay-red background.

The double-handled cup – originally discovered in a tomb in Thebes – was acquired by the university in 1986.

From Thebes to Nazi Germany: ancient vase returned to Greece
The 6th century BC vessel will go on show in Athens before joining the Olympic collection in Olympia.

On Wednesday the cup was formally repatriated in a handover ceremony at the museum, where the university’s rector spoke of the “bittersweet” experience of giving it up, and Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni, spoke of the gratitude of the Greeks for getting it back.

“The noble gesture of the University of Münster is a very important gesture of the German people to the Greek people,” she told an audience gathered at the museum. “Cultural heritage belongs to the people who created it.”

How the ancient vase got to Germany may have played no small role in the university’s decision to hand it back.

Kivvadias said: “After Louis was handed the pottery, it disappeared until 1934 when it re-appeared in the hands of Werner Peek, an archaeologist who had won a grant to work at the German Archaeological Institute in Athens.

Peek had amassed a collection of antiquities during his time here in the thirties and probably bought it on the art market in Athens.”

The connoisseur of ancient artworks and respected classical philologist was also an ardent Nazi sympathizer and antisemite.

Peek later confessed he handed his entire 68-strong collection to Hermann Göring, the notorious Nazi military leader when he paid a visit to Athens in 1934 – seven years before the Wehrmacht occupied Greece.

Göring, one of the architects of the Third Reich police state and later associated with the plundering of Jewish treasures, concealed the antiquities in diplomatic pouches.

“They were smuggled out of the country with the rest of his collection by Göring,” said Kivvadias. “Then when [Peek] returned in 1937 they ended up with him in East Germany, where he lived for years, was allowed to travel freely and taught as a professor.

“It was only when he went to the West in the late 1980s that he decided to sell the collection to the University of Münster, which acquired it without knowing the exact origins of the pieces.”

At a time when Athens has stepped up its campaign to retrieve the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum – ahead of the nation bicentennial independence celebrations – the repatriation of the cup could not be more timely.

The vessel, currently on display in the National Archaeological Museum, will remain in Athens until early next year, when it will be exhibited at a museum chronicling the history of the Olympics in ancient Olympia, the birthplace and venue of the original games.

Dr. Erofili Kollia, the director of the Archeological Museum of Olympia, said: “It will have pride of place here. The piece is hugely significant both as an artwork whose value is undisputed and because it was given to Louis, the victor of the first marathon when the modern Olympic games were revived. We are overjoyed that it will be here, with us, again.”