‘Submarine’ suit to help diver search ancient wreck

Phil Short is dressed like an astronaut, but he is not going into space – he’s going to the bottom of the ocean. 

The Dive Tech educator will be part of a team of six men who will dive as deep as 1,000 feet to try and recover artifacts from a Greek shipwreck using a “man-shaped submarine.” 

The Exo suit atmospheric diving system, which looks similar to a metal spacesuit, allows divers to drop to extraordinary 
depths for hours without the need for decompressing upon returning to the surface. Short and members of the dive team will use the new technology in September when they return to the Antikythera wreck in the Mediterranean. The wreck is said to date from the first century BC. It was discovered by sponge divers off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900. 

“To train in the suit and use it on the forthcoming project is a privilege, an honor and very exciting,” Short said. 

Made of mostly aluminum, the suit weighs 530 pounds and uses patented rotary joints to enable both arm and leg movements that allow divers to complete delicate work on the seabed. 

The technology was invented by Canadian Phil Nuytten and has been developed and built by Nuytco Research Ltd. 

“It’s like a submarine, but it’s a hard suit so you’re really inside a man-shaped suit,” Mr. Short said. 

“The suit is basically a mini submarine with jointed arms and legs where the diver is maintained at surface pressure rather than being exposed to water pressure.” 

The expedition, called Return to Antikythera, follows a four-year journey for Short, who has been researching the site for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the same institute that discovered the wreck of the Titanic. 

The ancient Greek site is most famous for the discovery of what is known as the world’s oldest computer – the Antikythera Mechanism. 

The device is believed to have been used to predict astronomical positions, such as the movement of stars and comets, and pre-dates the use of Greek scientists in 100 BC. 

“What is so exciting about it is it predates any other machinery with cogs,” Short said. 

“The object has been described as the ‘first manual computer’ that pre dates the clock by hundreds of years.” 

Divers with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute began surveying the site in 2012 using scuba re-breather technology that allowed for extended dives to a depth of 230 feet. 

Short said in 2012 the team uncovered the ship’s anchor, bow and stem anchor and last year discovered the shipwreck’s layout. “Last year we found an object using ship-mounted electronic survey equipment that could be a missing life-size statue of horse, at about 600 feet,” Short said. 

During September’s expedition, the divers will be able to reach the statue and bring it back to surface, where it will be studied and later displayed at the Athens National Museum. 

The team will survey, study and perform the excavation of the wreck and surrounding area, and will conduct the authorized recovery of key artifacts. 

As well as his work with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Woods has trained with groups including the U.S. National Parks Service and the archeologists of the Chinese National Museum in Beijing. He has also worked with search and rescue teams including the U.K. Police Underwater Search team and media teams from the BBC. 

Phil-Short

Phil Short’s Exo suit atmospheric diving system, which looks similar to a metal spacesuit, allows divers to drop to extraordinary depths for hours.

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