Provenance: Antikythera shipwreck. From the material retrieved in 1976 (15 November)
Date: First half of first century BC (terminus ante quem)
Dimensions: Height: 0.142m, upper diam.: 0.062m, base diam.: 0.155m, weight: 14.460kg
Inv. no: Athens, National Archaeological Museum X 19013
Room:Temporary Exhibitions Wing, Room I
Fragmentary, suspension ring missing. Whitish layer of oxidization over the entire surface, chipped on the ring base and body.
This sub-conical object resembles a bell because of its concave base. The flat upper surface features twï small square mortises for the now lost suspension ring. The ring base is between 0.014 and 0.03m thick, and shows four small holes for nails, 0.027m from its edge. One of the holes is square (side 0.007m long) suggesting that the nail shaft had the same section and thickness.
The above characteristics identify the object as a sounding-weight, a device used for measuring water depth and testing the seabed's texture. It belongs to the common Type B according to J.P. Oleson's typology, which standardized G. Kapitan's pioneering classification. This humble yet invaluable device, which ensured safe navigation in the Mediterranean from at least the sixth century BC, is often found in shipwrecks or on its own (after loss, rejection, or abandonment). Although stone sounding-weights also existed, the properties (resistance to corrosion and heaviness) and low price of lead made it the choice material for this kind of device. Sounding-weights normally feature four oblique holes, but the nails that were driven into these holes are rarely preserved. Although no remains of ropes have ever been found, recent practice has shown that the ropes used to manoeuvre sounding-weights normally bear markings for quick and accurate measurement of the water's depth. The concave base with its bronze or iron nails, which retained sand, stones, or other materials, facilitated the sampling of the seabed.
Herodotus (2.5.28, approximately 440 BC) describes the use of sounding weights, which he designates êáôáðåéñçôçñßç (katapeireterie) in the Ionian dialect, which is indicative of the object's function. The ancient Greek verb âïëßæåéí (Acts of the Apostles 27.28, Eustathius 563.30) designates the act of casting the sounding weight into the water. The discovery of a lead sounding weight in the Gela shipwreck of 500 BC supports the hypothesis that Herodotus was describing a lead rather than stone device and that sounding weights of this type developed in response to the needs created by Greek seafaring and colonization in the eighth and seventh centuries BC.
82% of the known sounding-weights date from the mid-second century BC to the second century AD, when overseas trade peaked. Their discovery in the wrecks of long-distance ships suggests that they were particularly useful during manoeuvring and anchoring in unknown waters. Some shipwrecks yielded two or more (up to five) sounding-weights that were not necessarily identical. A second lighter sounding-weight (9.615kg) was recovered from the Antikythera shipwreck in 1900/1. The Antikythera sounding-weights, which belong to Oleson's heavy and medium-weight categories, are indicative of a ship that travelled long-distance. The two sounding-weights of the Ìahdia shipwreck offer the same difference in weight (16.9 and 12.82 kg).
Bibliography: P.A Gianfrotta - P. Pomey, Archeologia subacquea. Storia, techniche, scoperte e relitti. Milano 1980, 288-289. Â. Liou - C. Domergue, Le commerce de la Betique au 1er siecle de la notre ere. L' epave Sud-Lavezzi 2 (Bonifacio, Corse du Sud), Archaeonautica 10 (1990), 47. J.P. Ïleson, Ancient sounding weights: A contribution to the history of Mediterranean navigation, Journal of Roman Archaeology 13 (2000), 293-310. J.P. Ïleson, Herodotus, Aristotle, and sounding weights: The deep sea as frontier in the Classical World, in Ancient Technology, Proceedings of the 2nd Conference, Athens 2006, 34-37. Í. Êaltsas-Å. Vlachogianni-P. Bouyia (eds), The Antikythera Shipwreck: The ship-the treasures-the Ìechanism,Catalogue of the Archaeological Exhibition, Ápril 2012- Ápril 2013, Áthens 2012, 47 no. 9 (P. Bouyia).