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Underwater Surveying and Draughting—A Technique

  • Eric J. Ryan and George F. Bass

‘No attempt worthy of the name has yet been made to explore an ancient wreck. Marine Archaeology will only become a science by practice, patience and experience. But at any rate we know enough to say that any excavation likely to fulfill its purpose will be heart-breakingly slow and will only be achieved underwater’.

Philippe Diolé, L’Aventure Sous-Marine, 1951.

Rapid strides in the development of underwater excavation have been made during the past two decades. New techniques of diving, raising objects, and removing sand and mud make practical the excavation of sites lying at depths up to 150 ft. The problems encountered in making accurate three-dimensional plans, however, are only slowly being solved. The methods used by the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, in excavating two ancient wrecks off the southern coast of Turkey, present partial solutions to these problems.

The excavation of a late Bronze Age shipwreck, reported lying near Cape Gelidonya by Peter Throckmorton, has been discussed more fully elsewhere. This wreck rested upon bedrock, which was unfortunate from an archaeological point of view as there was no protective covering of sand to preserve the wooden hull. The survey of the site and its remains, however, was relatively simple. Scattered heaps of metal cargo were photographed, plotted and then, not without considerable difficulty, removed to the surface in lumps held together by 32 centuries of deep sea concretion.

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1 The excavation of the Grand Conglué wreck established the methods used for actual excavation, but produced no plan of the remains; Fernand Benoit, L’épave du Grand Conglué à Marseille, suppl. 14 of Gallia (Paris, 1961). Methods for making plans have also been suggested in the Atti del Congresso Internationale di Archeologia Sottomarina (Albenga, 1958), especially in the article by N. Lamboglia, pp. 143-166.

2 G. F. Bass, “The Cape Gelidonya Wreck: Preliminary Report’, AJA, 65 (1961), 267-76; G. F. Bass and Peter Throckmorton, ‘Excavating a Bronze Age Shipwreck’, Archaeology, 14 (1961), 78-87. The latter deals more exclusively with our methods.

3 Peter Throckmorton, ‘Thirty-three Centuries Under the Sea’, National Geographic, 117(1960), 682-703; Honor Frost, ‘Two Carian Wrecks’, Antiquity, 34 (1960), 216-18. The latter presents an earlier drawing of the wreck.

4 The Byzantine wreck has been dated by four gold coins of the Emperor Heraclius which were found in the cabin of the ship. The other rich finds from the cabin will be published at a later date.

5 Dimitri Rebikoff, Atti (supra, n. i), 291-93.

Eric Ryan is an Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Colgate Universdy, Hamilton, New York. George Bass is a Research Associate of the Pennsylvania University Museum at Philadelphia, and Director of the Mmeum's underwater excavations at Cape Gelidonya and Yussz Ada in Turkey.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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