Amphoras at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology

Diving into History with The Institute of Nautical Archaeology

Jim Delgado|April 19, 2007|Blog Post

In 1960, George F. Bass, then a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, learned to dive in order to excavate a Bronze Age shipwreck off Cape Gelidonya, on Turkey's southern coast. This was the first scientific excavation of a site beneath the water, and not only represented a revolution in archaeology, but also helped rewrite scholars' understanding of ancient trade in the Mediterranean three thousand years ago.

The example set by Bass and his colleagues inspired other archaeologists to learn to dive and work beneath the seven seas. In 1973, Bass founded the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) in College Station, Texas; today it is the world's oldest organization devoted to the study of humanity's interac-tion with the sea through the practice of archaeology.

INA's international members are united in their passion for underwater exploration. All of us are whole-hearted advocates of applying the highest standards of science and art to discovering, excavating, studying, and preserving lost ships, their cargo, and sites from antiquity. Unlocking their secrets contributes to our collective understanding of seafaring's role in the progression of civilization as well as illuminating the evolution of things made by humans "tools, weapons, household goods, glass, and even games and musical instruments" that were carried on board as items of trade or of daily life.

The Institute's professional and volunteer members and affiliates have conducted fieldwork in Africa, Asia, Australia, the Americas, and Europe. They have worked on the world's oldest known shipwrecks, and on wrecks as recent as those from the Second World War. Their work has rewritten the history of shipbuilding in the Ancient World, ancient trade in the Mediterranean, the saga of European expansion into the New World, and wars for the control of the Americas.

During this past year, INA's archaeologists have been excavating a 1st-century B.C. Roman shipwreck off Kizilburun on Turkey's Aegean coast. This wreck was a navis lapidariae, a stone-carrying ship loaded with a massive marble column and other pieces of stone work, perhaps on its way to Ephesus. On the shores of Istanbul's Bosporus on-going excavations have revealed more than a dozen well-preserved ships from the 7th a[euro]" 11th centuries, all locked in the mud of a land-filled harbor. Other field projects surveyed shipwreck sites in Portugal, Spain, Cyprus, and Italy. Students documented ancient Egyptian boats retrieved from burials in the desert sands, while others studied the shattered timbers from warships battered and sunk during Kublai Khan's invasion of Japan in 1281.

As Zegrahm takes you to destinations around the globe, you will be passing by some of INA's ongoing projects. Mediterranean Mosaic passengers will visit the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, founded by INA in the Crusader castle of that ancient Turkish city. Here, a special tour will showcase INA's discoveries in local waters, from Gelidonya and a Bronze Age wreck at Uluburun near Kas, to remarkable examples of medieval Islamic glass raised from a wreck and painstakingly reassembled.

As Rainforests & Reefs guests cruise through Panama's waters, an INA survey team returns to the world's oldest known deep-diving submarine, a craft lost in Panama's Pearl Islands in 1869 only to be rediscovered and identified on a Zegrahm expedition in 2001! And, Zegrahm explorers on the Petra to the Pyramids expedition may be visiting an Egyptian tomb while, nearby, an INA scholar is analyzing paintings of ancient Nile river craft.

As INA approaches its 40th anniversary in 2012, it faces an amazing future filled with new opportunities and an ongoing role in the never-ending quest to learn more about the past as we excavate history's lost and forgotten ships in the depths. For travelers who seek a deeper understanding of previous civilizations, its legacies are boundless.

For more information about the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, please visit their website.

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