2012 Archived News

Excavating the wreck of Lord Elgin's ship

Exploring the wreck of Lord Elgin's ship

The hull of the ship, which was transporting the Parthenon sculptures to England and which sank southwest of Kythera in 1802, has been revisted by the Board of Supervision of Marine Antiquities.  Dozens of items belonging to the crew and of great historical value were recovered.  

The ship, Mentor, sunk in September 1802 at the entrance of the port of  Avlaimona.  This ship has been an  incentive for  exploration and research because of the  possibility of uncovering other sculptures, lying in the sand, at the bottom of the sea.  The underwater excavation lasted 17 days.    

This year's on board survey focused both on the area of its prow where in  2009 and 2011 items belonging to the crew and passengers of the ship had  been located, and on revealing and clearing of a section of the ship's hull, which appeared to be preserved in a reasonably good condition.  In fact the  hull was uncovered to a length of about 10 metres, towards the bow. It was established that a section of it had smashed on the rocks on the bottom, as the ship sank. Also during the clearing it was established that at various points around  the hull the finds were mainly personal items of the crew and passengers - a collection of uniforms and clothing buttons were found as well as other finds  such as bottles and an hour glass (klepsydra -  water clock).    

During the exploration many interesting items were found such as navigation  equipment, a ship's compass, ink bottles and portable ink wells, a portable  timepiece and a further handgun (the third together with the two others  which were dredged up during the 2011 excavation), a stone seal depicting a  firearm, a gold chain and various decorative objects. Also recovered were two gold coins (one from 1788 has been identified as  Dutch), three silver coins contemporary with the period when the ship was  wrecked, as well as two ancient silver coins (one Boeotian and one Athenian,  the latter of which appears to have been used as an ornament since it is  pierced).     On completion of the on board exploration, the wooden hull of the ship was covered with an agricultural textile material in order to further preserve the wreck.    

The exploration results make an archaeological contribution but also provide historical interest of this particular shipwreck, since certain objects which have been brought up, can be identified with actual people who  were on board the ship and who are probably connected with the enterprise of  the removal of the carvings of the Parthenon.   Particular interest results from the preservation of a  significant section of the ship's hull, the study of which can contribute to  the better understanding of the construction of merchant vessels of that particular period.    

The exploration was conducted by a team from the Supervisory Board of Marine  Archaeology under the professional supervision of the underwater archaeologist Dr D. Kourkoumelis and the underwater staff Louis Jean  Mersenie master technician; Manolis Tzephronis diver; Themistoklis  Troupakis technician-mechanical technician, and Petros Tsambourakis, manual  technician, as well as the assistance of the Australian foundation "The Kytherian  Research Group".  The exploration was conducted with the financial support of the Stavros Niarchos  Foundation.