Archaeologists have found a human skeleton in Greece thanks to marine robotics mapping work done by the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. They are the first remains to be recovered since the introduction of DNA studies.
Two years ago the University of Sydney’s Professor Stefan Williams, Dr Oscar Pizarro and Christian Lees from the University’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics surveyed and mapped 10,500 square meters of the sea floor near the island of Antikythera in Greece. They used stereo cameras on Autonomous Underwater Vehicles to gather overlapping images of a shipwreck, and processed these with the aid of a Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping algorithm to create a three-dimensional model of the site.
As a result of the mapping work, archaeologists and technical experts from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) recently made a ground-breaking discovery; a 2000-year-old human skeleton (100BC). This is the first to be recovered from an ancient shipwreck since the introduction of DNA studies.
This latest discovery consists of a partial skull with three teeth, two arm bones, several rib pieces and two femurs, likely originating from the same person. The skeleton contains petrous bones—dense nuggets behind the ear which are more likely to preserve DNA than other parts of the body. If there is a sufficient enough amount of DNA extracted, it may be possible to identify the shipwreck victim’s ethnicity, hair and eye colour and their geographic origin.
Project co-Director, Dr Brendan Foley said the bathymetric map developed by the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics team “is the foundation of the Antikythera Shipwreck excavation.” “This map is quite literally in our diver’s hands, as we use tablet computers in underwater housings to localise every artifact we find during the dives. Our analysis of the artifact distribution on the map led us to excavate in a certain area of the wreck. As a result, that excavation trench delivered the human skeletal remains.”
There have only been a few examples in history of human remains being discovered on ancient wrecks, as they are typically swept away, decay or are eaten by the sea life. What this recent find might tell us about the lives of people who lived in 100BC is significant, particularly as excavation work continues in the hopes of finding more bones; made possible by the University of Sydney’s ground-work.
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