The Temporary Exhibition of the Mechanism and the Antikythera shipwreck...>>

Fragments of metal sheathing

Material: Lead
Provenance: Antikythera shipwreck. From the material retrieved in 1976
(7 July, at a depth of 52m)
Date: First half of first century BC or earlier
Dimensions: Thickness (including patina): 0.0015-0.004m.
Inv. no: Athens, National Archaeological Museum X 19015
Room:Temporary Exhibitions Wing, Room I

The sheathing of the hull's exterior with lead sheets up to the water line and occasionally well above it is attested since the late fourth century BC in the Kyreneia shipwreck. The Kyreneia ship was already old when the sheets were applied. Lead hull sheathing was common in the Hellenistic period and the Early Roman period on newly built ships, but ceased at the end of the first century AD. The ships' sturdier construction due to the improvement of the keel and frame and the insulation of the joints, and the wish to lower construction costs probably led to the abandonment of this practice.

Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 5, 207b) describes the lining of the Syrakosia, the ship of Hieron II of Syracuse (250-225 BC), as consisting of "lead tiles placed against the wood with linen textiles dipped in pitch in between". The thin lead sheets followed the hull's curved sides and were secured with small bronze nails in "quin cunx" pattern on fabric, animal hide, or tree leaves impregnated with resin or tar. The resin and tar waterproofed the wood while preventing damage from sea microorganisms, such as the mollusc Teredo navalis, also known as 'shipworm'. As the size of the ship increased, the effect of the extra weight from the lead was yet minor. The small quantities of lead found in various shipwrecks were probably a standby for repairs during journeys.

It has been suggested that, because of its abundant lead and strategic position as regards to maritime trade routes, Lavrion was ideal for this type of ship repair work. This would have persisted until the early first century BC, when the Lavrion mines fell into disuse.

Bibliography: Õ.  altsas - Ň. Vlachogianni - P. Bouyia(eds.), The Antikythera shipwreck. ‘he ship - the treasures - the mechanism, Catalogue of the archaeological exhibition, National Archaeological Museum, April 2012 - April 2013, Athens 2012, 43-44 no. 5 (P. Bouyia).

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