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Ancient ‘Acropolis of the sea’ opens to divers, guarded by high tech

Hidden and protected for millennia, an ancient shipwreck in Greece opens to the public for the first time on Monday fusing archaeological wonders in the depths of the sea with the marvels of modern-day artificial intelligence.

Access to underwater sites is typically restricted in Greece to preserve their integrity. But authorities have been able to allow recreational diving at the shipwreck at Peristera, thanks to computer surveillance technology.

Underwater cameras monitor the site, and use image recognition software to alert administrators instantly if the wreck is in danger of being disturbed.

The site is located off a tiny outcrop off the Aegean island of Alonnisos, where a wooden vessel sank in the late 5th century B.C., taking with it thousands of amphorae, pointy-bottomed clay jugs used for commerce across the ancient Mediterranean.

“We were lucky to start with one of the most beautiful ancient wrecks in the world. They call it the Acropolis of sea wrecks,” said George Papalambrou, an assistant professor of power propulsion at the National Technical University of Athens.

Papalambrou, who works at the university’s School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, says the custom-made monitoring system — with solar power, recognition software and luminosity-triggered lens wipers to unclog debris — could be a template deployed to other underwater sites.

The system, called NOUS (Undersea Vision Surveillance System) works with an algorithm that can recognise the difference between a fish, a robotic vehicle or a diver, even at night. The cameras are fully automated, and so do not require monitoring – an alarm will be triggered instead.

“It’s quite a difficult task, but such technology can handle it almost perfectly,” Papalambrou told Reuters.

Dimitris Kourkoumelis, an underwater archaeologist at Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, says the NOUS pilot project could make more sites accessible.

“It is the first time, and not only not just in Greece but on a pan-European level, that such a site, such a shipwreck so large with so many objects, is opening to the public and divers,” Kourkoumelis said.

Archaeologists say the wreck gives insight into commerce in the period known as the Golden Age of Athens. The 3,000-3,500 amphorae on board may have been transporting wine.

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