Hercules’ Marble Head Found At Site Of Ancient Roman Shipwreck
View of the Kamarela rocky beach in Antikythera island
Credit: Charalambos Andronos via Getty Images.

Researchers say a marble head of the legendary Greek and Roman hero Hercules has been recovered from a 100-year-old archeological site off the coast of an island in Greece. 

The head was recovered at the wreck of a Roman ship that went down about 2,000 years ago in the Aegean Sea off the island of Antikythera, which is close to Crete. The ship, believed to be some kind of a trading or cargo ship, was first found in 1900, but archaeologists continue to uncover artifacts from the sea floor. 

“In 1900, [sponge divers] pulled out the statue of Hercules and now in all probability we’ve found its head,” archaeologist Lorenz Baumer told the Guardian. “It’s a most impressive marble piece. It is twice lifesize, has a big beard, a very particular face and short hair. There is no doubt it is Hercules.”

Hercules, a mythological strongman, was required to do 12 near-impossible tasks by the gods to atone for killing his family after he was put into a frenzy by Hera, the wife of Zeus.

These labors included things like killing monstrous lions and hydra-creatures as well as cleaning the horrifically dirty stables of a local king by using his brawn to reroute two rivers. A sculpture of the legend’s body was previously recovered from the shipwreck during a previous expedition more than a hundred years ago. 

Now, researchers just completed another survey of the sea floor, finding several key artifacts, including the marble head of Hercules. It was the second phase of a five-year underwater exploration of the wreck, which is scheduled to last between 2021 and 2025.

The time the crew could spend excavating was limited as they were more than 150 feet under water. 

“It’s so deep they can only be down there for 30 minutes,” Baumer said, according to the Guardian. “But now we have an idea of what has been hiding under those rocks … each find helps us piece together more context in our understanding of the ship, its cargo, the crew and where they were from.”

In addition to Baumer, the project has involved the efforts of Dr. Angeliki G. Simosi of the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece, as well as the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, a government agency. The president of the Hellenic Republic has also provided funding for the project. 

Other objects found during the May 23 to June 15 expedition included human teeth, a lead anchor collar, bronze and iron nails, and the plinth of a marble statue. 

Baumer said the shipwreck was an “extremely rich” site with a lot more possibility in future expeditions.

“You never know what archaeology will deliver tomorrow, but what we do know is that the Antikythera wreck is an extremely rich site, the richest in the ancient world,” he said. 

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