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Facts: Wrecks of the Abyss

Dr. Ballard and his crew sail out into the deep water sea lanes of the Mediterranean in search of ancient shipwrecks that generations of scholars have written-off as impossible finds.

Dr. Ballard and his crew sail out into the deep water sea lanes of the Mediterranean in search of ancient shipwrecks that generations of scholars have written-off as impossible finds. (View larger version)

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  • To help stay in position during ROV operations, E/V Nautilus uses a Dynamic Positioning System. This autopilot system uses a computer model and calculation of environmental forces like wind and current to maintain a very precise position over the bottom.

  • The ROV Hercules' technology includes a manipulator arm that is "force-reflective". This means that, when a force affects the arm (like the tug of a fishing net), the pilot actually feels the resistance in the controls.

  • ROV Hercules' bright yellow color comes from its' floatation, a slab of "synatactic foam". This material is made of millions of tiny hollow glass beads mixed with epoxy, and makes Hercules just a little buoyant. The Argus vehicle has no float, so would sink if it fell overboard.

  • The Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island is based on NASA's Mission Control rooms. It is connected to expedition ships via satellite and Internet2… so fast that images from the ROVs reach the screen in Rhode Island in 1.5 seconds!

  • Bob Ballard named his ship, E/V Nautilus, after the submarine featured in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Ballard's ship was originally an East German research vessel named R/V Alexander von Humboldt.

  • One of the most famous ancient shipwrecks is the "Antikythera wreck", which was discovered in 1900 by sponge divers off the island Antikythera, near Crete. Not only did archaeologists recover statues from as far back as the fourth century B.C.E., but also a device some call the world's first analog computer.

  • The ancient city of Knidos (Cnidus, Cnidos) was famous for a sculpture of Aphrodite. Created by the artist Praxiteles in the fourth century B.C.E., it set the contemporary artistic standard for female nudes.

  • The ancient city of Knidos was home to Euoxus, an ancient mathematician and astronomer, who is considered brilliant and that some say was second only to Archimedes in his brilliance.

  • A wreck called Kyrenia provides some of the best historical evidence for ancient maritime trade. The small ship, which dates back to about 300 B.C.E., sank just outside the harbor in the town of Kyrenia, Cyprus. Its cargo was mostly wine amphorae produced in Rhodes.

  • In 2008, researchers took DNA samples from two 2,400 year-old amphorae which had been recovered from an ancient shipwreck. One may have contained olive oil flavored with oregano, and the other may have contained wine.

  • Researchers on the Island of Cyprus have found evidence of human habitation dating as early as 11,000 years ago.

  • One of the largest ships of antiquity was the massive Syracusia, built for Hieron II, king of Syracuse. It was said to have included a stable for horses, temple to Aphrodite, gymnasium and a catapult for defense.

  • Ancient Egypt was active in maritime trade, especially for wood. Record exists of an order placed by the Pharaoh Snefru for forty ships of cedar logs, to use in the construction of a palace. The wood likely came from Byblos, in modern-day Lebanon.

  • In 2004, archaeologists began excavating the ancient harbor of Theodosius, one of Constantinople's major trade hubs. The harbor was active from the fourth century C.E. until around 1500. In four years, workers excavated parts of 32 vessels.

  • What is the "Holy Grail" of shipwrecks in North America? Some say it is the Griffon, built in 1679 by explorer René-Robert sieur de La Salle. Griffon disappeared after departing from what is now Washington Island, in Lake Michigan, and has never been found...

  • In 2011, two bottles of champagne sold at auction for $78,400… after spending about 170 years on the ocean floor. They were part of the cargo carried by a two-masted schooner that sank in the Baltic Sea.

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