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Lord Elgin’s Shipwreck Yields Impressive Discoveries

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A leather sole of a passenger or crew mate’s shoe from Lord Elgin’s shipwreck off the coast of Greek island of Kythera. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

The shipwreck of Lord Elgin’s vessel — along with countless looted Greek antiquities aboard — off the coast of the Greek island Kythera in 1802, has continued to yield intriguing discoveries for underwater archaeologists.

The Greek Ministry of Culture announced earlier this year that archaeologists had recently recovered a whole host of objects from the crew and passengers of the ill-fated ship, called the “Mentor,” during underwater excavations.

Archaeologists have sifted through the wreckage of the vessel on an ongoing basis since 2009. The latest search for artifacts took place in September of 2020 under the guidance of chief underwater archaeologist Dimitris Kourkoumelis.

The metal coin found at the wreck of the Mentor, the ship that brought the Parthenon marbles out of Greece. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

Small clothing items, rigging from the ship found

Most of the recent finds include clothing and commonplace items, lending a fascinating glimpse into every-day life on a ship at the beginning of the 18th century.

Additionally, many pieces of the ship’s rigging, mainly made of wood and metal, were recovered at the site of the disaster.

shipwreck lord elgin greecer
A wooden piece of rigging used for the ship’s mast. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

Remarkably, the team of skilled archaeologists uncovered a leather sole of a shoe — still completely intact and recognizable — and a metal belt-buckle, among other small clothing items.

Divers also uncovered metal cookware and other practical items, including a spectacular metal coin featuring a ship on one side, which possibly had been used in some kind of card game.

According to historical records and eyewitness accounts, the passengers and crew of the Mentor feared for their lives as the boat rapidly took on water, and they quickly abandoned nearly all of their personal possessions.

The team of 18 archaeological divers found chess pieces as well, which archaeologists have consistently discovered during other excavations at the site. Experts believe that all the recovered pieces belong to the same set.

In 2019, archaeologists found significant artifacts that were held in Elgin’s ship, including a gold ring, a pair of gold earrings, and three chess pieces.

The last dives also uncovered intact cookware, as well as other wooden and iron items which were most likely ship fittings.

shipwreck lord elgin greece
The magnificent golden ring recovered from the wreck during the previous excavations. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

The fateful shipwreck off the coast of Greek island

The Mentor sank in 1802 after the ship was forced to sail through extremely harsh weather conditions and eventually foundered upon rocks off Kythera’s shores.

Due to the extensive damage, the ship quickly sank to the bottom of the sea, at a depth of 23 meters (75 feet).

Luckily, the entire crew and all of the ship’s passengers were saved by a rescue boat launched by Greek residents of the island.

Parthenon marbles immediately “saved” from Lord Elgin’s shipwreck — only to be transported to England

At the time, the vessel was full of priceless antiquities that Elgin had taken from Greece and loaded on his ship to bring to England, including sculptures that he had paid to have chipped off the facade of the Parthenon.

Elgin himself was not on the Mentor during the shipwreck, and he quickly scrambled to recover the priceless Parthenon marbles he had just looted after hearing of the disaster.

Calling on sponge divers from the islands of Simi and Kalymnos, Elgin eventually salvaged the marbles from the shipwreck, and had them shipped to Malta. They later went on to England — where they remain to this day.

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