Hercules’ Lost Marble Head Found On 2,000-Year-Old Shipwreck

A marble head depicting Hercules was discovered on the famed Antikythera shipwreck. The marble head was discovered wedged between two rocks at Antikythera. The marble head depicted the legendary Greek hero, Hercules, whose image was used in the ancient world as an apotropaic device — that is, to ward off evil — though its exact provenance remains unknown.

The Shipwreck

The Antikythera shipwreck is an ancient Greek wreck discovered by sponge divers in 1900 off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera. It has been dated to c. 70 BC. Divers recovered numerous unique statues and luxury objects, most famously a life-sized statue of a youth in an athletic pose known as the Antikythera Youth (also known as Antikythera Ephebe). The wreck has been associated with a period of Roman ownership, based on pottery found on board and antiquarian descriptions of Roman ships from around that time. The ship’s cargo also contained hundreds of marble and bronze statues, pottery, luxury items, and weapons.

The Discovery

Upon removing a large rock, access to an unexplored area of the shipwreck became available. The lower part of a marble statue’s legs was within this cavity, coated in a thick layer of marine deposits. The statue was also discovered to include the head of a bearded man, and this discovery is suspected to represent Herakles (also known as the Roman Hercules). The find adds to other evidence that ancient Greeks, Romans, and other Europeans knew how to sail all over, not just through familiar waters close to home. From analyzing the items found at the wreck, the team can gather a sense of the ship’s fateful voyage. Although the exact story of the 40-meter-long (130-foot) vessel isn’t known, it seems likely that it was traveling from the Eastern Mediterranean toward Rome. As fate would have it, it sank after being smashed against the rocks by a powerful storm off the coast of Antikythera.