Marine Archaeologists Have Recovered Ancient Treasures From the Wreckage of Lord Elgin’s Sunken Ship

The double-masted ship carried the looted Parthenon marbles and scores of other antiquities from Greece in 1802.

View of the shipwreck and excavation site. Courtesy of Greece Department of Sport and Culture.

View of the shipwreck and excavation site. Courtesy of Greece Department of Sport and Culture.

More than 200 years after its devastating wreck, marine archaeologists have recovered gold jewelry, cookware, and chess pieces from the remains of the ship that belonged to Lord Elgin, researchers in Greece announced this week.

In 1802, a large double-masted ship called the Mentor set sail with treasure looted from Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin. It was heading from Greece toward Malta, intending to land in the UK, but the brig sank after crashing into rocks off the coast of Avlemonas on the island of Kythera. It took with it the entirety of the plundered booty, which included some 17 boxes filled with antiquities—the most famous of which were the Elgin Marbles, looted from the Parthenon.

Divers recovering objects from the wreckage of the  Mentor . Courtesy of Greece Department of Sport and Culture.

Divers recovering objects from the wreckage of the Mentor. Courtesy of Greece Department of Sport and Culture.

Following the wreck, all 12 passengers and crew members were rescued by a ship called Anikitos, and Lord Elgin scrambled together a salvage mission for his precious bounty. Although the Parthenon marbles were recovered and sent on to Malta, ultimately ending up at the British Museum—much was left on the sea floor.

A mission in 2011 turned up nothing more from the Mentor wreckage, but subsequent maritime ventures in 2015 and 2016 successfully recovered three amphorae handles dating to the third century BCE, small stone vessels, and later a cache of ancient coins, jewels, statues, porcelain, and other objects. The most recent mission, carried out between August 27 and September 15, was led by chief archaeologist Dimitris Kourkoumelis and a crew from Greece’s Euphorate for Underwater Antiquities. It involved cleaning the surviving parts of the ship as well as retrieving the movable objects from the wreck.

See some of the recovered treasure below: