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Exosuit’ Mission to Ancient Antikythera Shipwreck Begins

A group of marine archaeologists kicked off a mission this week to explore an ancient shipwreck at the bottom of the Aegean Sea — not with a sub, but with a semirobotic metal diving suit that looks as if it was taken straight out of a James Bond movie.

Sponge divers first discovered the 2,000-year-old shipwreck off the Greek island Antikythera in 1900. They recovered fragments of bronze statues, corroded marble sculptures, gold jewelry — and most famously, the Antikythera mechanism, a clocklike astronomical calculator sometimes called the world's oldest computer.

None of the previous expeditions had access to the Exosuit, a one-of-a-kind diving outfit that weighs 530 pounds (240 kilograms). It can plunge to the extraordinary depths of 1,000 feet (305 meters) and stay underwater for hours without putting the diver at risk of decompression sickness. [See Photos of the Exosuit and Antikythera Shipwreck]

Brendan Foley, a maritime archaeologist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Massachusetts, is co-director of the 2014 Antikythera mission, in partnership with the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.

"It's likely that sediment will hold the kind of stuff we can't even imagine," Foley told LiveScience back in June.

The Antikythera wreck settled more than 200 feet (60 meters) below the surface during the 1st century B.C., but some of the cargo onboard dated back to the 4th century B.C. Historians have speculated that the vessel was carrying loot from Greece to Rome during the era of Julius Caesar.

An Exosuit-clad archaeologist could unearth artifacts that help scholars learn more about the ship's story. During a preliminary expedition to the site in 2012, Foley and his colleagues used sonar to detect intriguing targets at the wreck site, which look like boulders but could be huge statues, according to WHOI's Oceanus magazine. The team also plans to explore a second wreck nearby that could have been the Antikythera ship's traveling companion, as well as the bottom of an undersea cliff.

The team is posting updates about its mission on a blog and on Facebook.

— Megan Gannon, LiveScience

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report. Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow LiveScience on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.