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September 2002

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Bringing Back the Bronze

He’d been relaxing off the coast of Croatia on the floor of the Adriatic for almost 2,000 years before a passing scuba diver spotted him in 1997. He was already a few hundred years old and not in the best shape when he came to rest there—lost while being moved from his original home in Greece or present-day Turkey. Now scientists restoring this fourth-century B.C. bronze are getting clues about the figure’s history from a most unlikely source: an ancient mouse nest in his hollow right leg. Because of the positioning of the nesting material and nuts, “we know it had been lying on its back for some time before it was lost at sea,” says archaeologist Robert Sténuit. Pieces of worked wood suggest the figure had been repaired before its fateful voyage, which took place in the 1st century A.D., according to carbon dating of the nest.

Once hundreds of these life-size athlete statues, called apoxyomenoi, stood in public spaces all over Greece. Only a few remain, and most have been found underwater, according to Sténuit. “The rest were probably melted down for the bronze,” he says.

The statue’s painstaking restoration, begun in 1999, will probably be finished next year. But one essential step has already been taken before its eventual display at the National Archaeology Museum in Zagreb: The mouse nest has been removed.

Web Links

Read articles about Robert Sténuit’s discovery and view a map of the Adriatic recovery site.

Nautical Archaeology Society
Amateur and professional maritime archaeologists will find items of interest on this site.

Free World Map

Mattusch, Carol C. Greek Bronze Statuary. Cornell University Press, 1988.

Mazzatenta, O. Louis. “The Brindisi Bronzes: Classical Castoffs Reclaimed from the Sea,” National Geographic (April 1995), 88-101.

Sténuit, Marie-Eve, and Robert Sténuit. “A Preliminary Report on the Discovery and Recovery of a Bronze apoxyomenos, Off Vele Orjule, Croatia,” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (2001), 196-210.

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