IamA underwater archaeologist. Want to learn about underwater exploration, shipwrecks, pirates, and sunken cities? AMA!
Hey Reddit, I'm underwater archaeologist Peter Campbell and with me is the staff of the free online course Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/shipwrecks). We're here to answer any questions you have about underwater exploration: shipwrecks, sunken cities, underwater caves, and the best technique for fighting a giant octopus, let's hear what you've got!
EDIT: Thanks folks! This was so much fun. Its after midnight here in the UK so that is a wrap for today. Here's a picture of me exhausted: http://i.imgur.com/BvitNsz.jpg
If you have questions in the future, I'm always on Reddit and Twitter (@peterbcampbell). There are lots of good questions left, so I'll try to answer them tomorrow.
Check out the online course if you found this interesting. Its totally free and you can do it at your own pace. Skim things you aren't interested in and you are under no obligation to complete it (though please try!). There is some great info on shipwrecks, sunken worlds, pirates, naval warfare, and everything else you can imagine relating to underwater research.
EDIT: Back for day two! I'm trying to hit the questions I didn't have time for yesterday, but if you've got new questions then get them in now!
FINAL EDIT: Thanks folks, thats a wrap! You know where to find me on Reddit or the net if you have more questions. Also, check out this Discovery article on all the things left to find in the world! The greatest discoveries are just around the corner! http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/more-archaeological-finds-coming-through-tech-141004.htm
There appears to be enough interest that I'll set up a future AMA with a live feed from the research vessel, so you can see what life on board is like and what the robots are finding underwater!
We sacrifice an intern to appease Poseidon at the start of expedition. Last time I checked, my DAN insurance included pirates as a pre-existing condition.
We've had great success with sacrificing jelly donuts (has to be jelly filled) to protect our robotic instruments, it's especially effective for helping autonomous vehicles come back home. Thankfully we haven't had to resort to interns yet, as we don't have very many...
You need better donuts...
Is it possible that Atlantis was a real place? What's the most interesting or historically significant find you've made?
Good question! The only ancient mention of Atlantis comes from Plato's dialogues, Timaeus and Critias. People treated it as a parable for the ideal state (and why enemies shouldn't underestimate Athens) until the 19th century when the story took on a new life with fantastic (and fake) tales of its discovery. Was there a real Atlantis? No. But there are hundreds of sunken cities and a few are good candidates for having inspired Plato to write the Atlantis story. Pavlopetri in Laconia (homeland of Sparta) Greece is the oldest sunken city in the world. It dates from the Late Neolithic (stone age) through the Mycenaean period (the war between Greece with Troy) and its buildings would have been sticking out of the water and eroding by 348 BC when Plato wrote the dialogues. Check out this documentary on Pavlopetri if you want more info! http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b015yh6f Helike is another candidate, it was located in the Peloponnese and sunk by a giant tsunami during Plato's lifetime.
How common are sunken cities in real life and which do you believe is the most interesting?
Super common! And there are going to be a lot more real soon with global warming :) There are several forms of sea level change and cities have been caught up in all of them. Some cities rise, some sink. There are a lot of myths about sunken cities though- most are located in the 3-10 ft range. Not very deep. Cities subside very slowly (less than a mm per year) and even catastrophic subsidence caused by tsunamis and liquefaction only drop cities a few feet. The deepest known city structure is Durres in Albania, which has harborworks around 40ft. It is so deep due to building on sand, a series of massive earthquakes, and most of these harbor structures were built below the water level to begin with. There are deeper Stone Age settlements, such as in the North Sea where remains around found down to around 90-120 ft. However, anyone that says there are cities deeper than that doesn't have a grasp of geology or archaeology! Which sunken cities are the most interesting? My vote would go for Apollonia and Alexandria in North Africa. These were powerful cities and their sinking into the sea has preserved artifacts that normally would be salvaged and reused by later civilizations. Current research is recording the remains of the lighthouse at Alexandria- the results of which I am sure will be spectacular.
And there are going to be a lot more real soon with global warming :)
Job security. We're going to need more underwater archaeologists.
Or, the world could really use underwater architects!
Rachel Armstrong is doing cool stuff with genetically engineering corals to be living buildings and self-repairing buildings. Her idea for Venice is to engineer corals that attach and grow on the foundations of buildings, allowing the city to "grow" as sea levels rise. http://www.nextnature.net/2013/07/interview-rachel-armstrong-innovative-scientist-who-wants-to-grow-architecture/
I can't wait to Scuba Diving in New Orleans!
Why wait? Already you can find things, such as a submarine that everyone agrees is really old, but no one really knows who built it or why it was sunk there. http://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-museum/online-exhibits/civil-war-era-submarine/
They found one in the Chicago River too but no one knows where it came from. I think they found a guy and a dog, long gone, inside.
Thanks for this! I love the idea of people building their own submarines in their backyard.
Here is a map of the western Mediterranean with ancient cities that have moved (up or down) due to eustatic (plates settling out after the last Ice Age) sea level change. http://imgur.com/Sb501pK
FYI this pic is a lil too small to actually read anything.
Ask and you shall receive, my friend! We aim to please at this AMA. I wish the same could be said about that Melissa Etheridge. http://i.imgur.com/M7BNXqK.jpg
How often are things like giant squids and other dangerous marine animals encountered during the dives?
Also, what do people say at cocktail parties when you tell them you're an underwater archeologist?
We encounter all kinds of marine life- but there is little to worry about. Sharks are very common around modern shipwrecks, but they are like curious dogs. They want to know what you are doing, but never attack. Same with alligators in the southern US, they just watch you from a distance and keep away. Giant squids are only found in really deep water, so to my knowledge no maritime archaeologist has encountered one (or we never heard from them again!). Marine life either stays away or is curious with most attacks are being caused by humans startling or cornering them, such as accidentally poking eels. We see tons of cool marine life, but its nothing to worry about :)
Most people say they didnt realize underwater archaeology was an option for a job!
So...no Cthulhu then. Good.
Seriously though, ever been really creeped out on a dive?
Totally, many times. There is all kinds of creepy situations underwater, but not much in terms of dangerous marine life. I was cave diving and heard this massive crack! And then another crack! And I was convinced the cave was falling in on me. Turns out it was kids doing cannonballs at the entrance and sound travels so quickly in water and reverberates down the walls that it sounded way worse than it was.
Night dives on shipwrecks are amazing, the best part being when you stop and turn off all your lights and you just listen to the ocean and how busy a place it is. Its eerie sitting deep underwater in a shipwreck, we aren't meant for that environment. But it is a good eerie!
Thanks for the chill up my spine ;)
THIS is the most terrifying thing I can think of encountering while diving. I would have a heart attack. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vzhi5a0M3jM
Here is what we encounter most of the time: http://imgur.com/TQmKuT7
And just normal size (1-2 ft), not giant :)
How do you choose a location to explore?
From my colleague Scott Tucker: Choosing a location to explore begins with defining one’s research interests. Let’s make a hypothetical about someone interested in Spanish Armada vessels. We would start by looking at historical documentation in Spanish archives, looking for documents describing where ships went down. From this, we would have some inclination of a search area. Next would come survey, in which we use some type of remote sensing equipment, like side-scan sonar or a magnetometer. The area is then scanned from a research vessel, looking for possible targets. The data is then analysed, and the best targets would be chosen for further exploration. This could be done by divers, or on a well-funded project, by robots. This time, target 7 proves to be a pile of cobble stones in an oval area, and the magnetometer spiked here, indicating iron, and some olive jars were found scattered nearby! A new research plan will now be formulated to investigate further.
I've always been fascinated by whats hiding down there, thanks for doing this AMA! -Where in the world would you love to explore most if you could get the rights too, what would you like to find? -Whats the most difficult dive you've ever done, and was it worth it? Thanks!
There is so much left to find underwater, it is incredible. I would love to work in central America (such as Honduras) or Asia (like China), where there is a rich maritime history that has barely been explored. It would be fascinating to work at inland sites too, like the great lakes of South Asia (such as Issyk Kul in Kyrgystan) or the cenotes of South America which likely hide many secrets of Mayan and Incan cultures.
The most difficult dive I've ever done was the Blue Eye Spring in Albania. It is a high flow cave with vertical shaft. The water has smoothed out the rocks in places so there are few good hand holds to work yourself down. The flow is so strong that if you look directly into the flow it compresses the purge on your regulator (the thing that gives divers air, for all you non-divers) and the stream even sweep small rocks up to the surface. It is physically exhausting, even if the cave is stunning. I was leading a project trying to document the ancient rituals that were undertaken at the cave.
Here's a video of our dive into the Blue Eye, our friends at Titan Dive Gear uploaded it to YouTube. You see part of the descent, me surveying a ledge at 65ft, and the Elaine Ferritto's ascent to the surface. The water is gin clear, so watch how the air bubbles and small rocks behave to get a sense of how tortured the invisible flow of water is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSXO46E4uRc
well, nice to see an archaeologist here. i tried to be one actually.
i failed the classes and now studying to teach..
my question: what is your most beautiful artifact you found, and how big was the octopus you fought? ;)
Archaeology is a tough field because of the physical labor (we're the construction workers of science) and few jobs opportunities- of my undergraduate class of ~50 only two of us are still working in archaeology. You aren't alone! I've found many beautiful artifacts, but beauty can change depending how narc'd you are on oxygen. I found a wonderful little amphoretta, a tiny Roman pottery vase for holding perfume at about 140ft. When I tried lifting it though, it was incredibly heavy. As I ascended through the water column my senses came back to me and I noticed that it was dense steel with a black outer coating- it was the tip of a missile with the same shape as an amphoretta! Quickly my excitement at the find turned to fear and I ditched that sucker as quick as possible. My favorite (non-narc'd) artifacts were these small Bronze Age drinking cups- like the red plastic cups of the past. They were finely but cheaply made and were clustered outside a certain building at the sunken city of Palvopetri and you could picture the rancorous feasts they must have held there. I'll ask some of the other staff about their favorite artifacts and update with a list!
beauty can change depending on how narc'd you are on oxygen.
Not to seem needlessly contrary but that feeling of narcosis is due to N2 rather than O2.
Right you are! I'm sure oxygen toxicity also affect one's interpretation of beauty :)
thank you! if you can, provide pictures :)
Here is the amphoretta/bomb: http://imgur.com/8YOCMgl and this is an example of the drinking cups (in a much better state than we found them underwater) http://imgur.com/N4nk3qW
As a student finishing high school this year and is interested in pursuing a future in archaeology;I've been to orientational lessons to archaeology at a few universities here in Sydney Australia, do you have any advice for me?
Australia is incredible for maritime archaeology, you are quite lucky. Flinders and James Cook both offer maritime programs, with Flinders being one of the top programs in the world. Australia has pioneered many aspects of underwater archaeology with projects like the 1628 Batavia and 1872 Xanthos shipwrecks. University of Sydney has an underwater robotics department which makes incredible autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) which can stay underwater and search for hours.
I would recommend doing an undergraduate degree in archaeology at a university of your choice while getting your diving certificates. Get as much time underwater as you can to be comfortable. Don't just get a recreational/sport diving certificate, but something that trains you for working underwater- either a scientific diving certification or a commercial license. Most universities in Australia should have a scientific diving program. As an undergraduate, try to volunteer on underwater archaeology projects. Then apply for a MA program in maritime archaeology, which give you the skills you need in wreck recording and historical research to get a job as a professional. Even as an undergraduate you can apply to join maritime archaeology field schools and Australian universities run some great field schools all over the Pacific.
Let me know if you have more questions or need more specific advice!
i failed the courses in belgium. there was a lot more arthistory to study than i expected, and its not all really cool stuff!
but, if you are really into history, and are willing to study a lot, and work even harder i believe its really a wonderfull career.
Do you know if schools in the US also have these options? I've never heard of them
Yes! Many US schools have scientific diving programs and there are several maritime archaeology programs, the big ones being East Carolina University, Texas A&M, West Florida, Coastal Carolina, and University of Rhode Island.
For a full run down by country of education programs check out: http://www.maritimearchaeology.com/education
Hi Peter, What's your opinion of cave diving and its role in future underwater archaeological investigations?
I love this question, do you know me? Underwater caves are beautiful and dangerous with great potential for archaeology. Archaeologists working in Mexico just announced the earliest known North American skeleton was found in Hoyo Negro. The find has changed everything we know about the peopling of North America. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140515-skeleton-ice-age-mexico-cave-hoyo-negro-archaeology/
My book The Archaeology of Underwater Caves comes out in a few months, I wish I had a link to plug it! Instead, here is a photo from the Blue Eye in Albania, one of the caves where I have been studying ancient religious rituals: http://imgur.com/SX6qq5M
Could you give examples of the most high-tech equipment used in your field? For discovery and exploration etc..
Sure thing! There is a lot of high tech equipment that we use. The standard is multibeam echosounders, which creates high resolution underwater images. We use this to find potential sites, then investigate them. For many years we used remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), but now autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are becoming common. AUVs are amazing pieces of technology capable of going to great depths, scanning for hours, then returning to the surface and calling your cell phone to let you know they are ready to be picked up (really). Some AUVs are mounted with multibeam and cameras, so they are an all-in-one tool. Recently archaeologists at Woods Hole used a multibeam with a mass spectrometer (if you know anything about mass spectrometers, this is freaking amazing) built into its nose, which allows the AUV to "sniff" the water as it goes, searching for chemical signals that indicate a shipwreck below. As far as diving, many archaeologist are now using rebreather technology and the Antikythera shipwreck project (happen right now!) is using a wearable submarine, which the media called an "Iron Man" suit, to search for shipwreck remains. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229724.300-wearable-submarine-to-hunt-for-2000yearold-computer.html
Give the Antikythera divers some love on their Twitter, they are using AUVs and the Iron Man suit to excavate deeper than ever. They are diving right now and update daily.: https://twitter.com/antikytheradive
Heve you ever come across bodies/skeletons, ancient or modern, while exploring? If so, what do you do after you find them? Do you ever work with modern day shipwrecks?
Yes, we do. Shipwrecks are great discoveries, but they are the sites of great loss of life. The American Civil War submarine HL Hunley (1864) sank with its crew still inside. As the submarine was excavated the skeletons began to appear. Since the sub filled with mud, there was even soft tissues preserved in some cases. The remains were 3D scanned and fitted into a digital model of the sub that is being used to reconstruct what happened that fateful night when it sank. The crew was buried in a Confederate cemetery with full military honors. The Probitas was an Italian hospital ship full of injured soldiers after Italy surrendered in WWII. German was spiteful that Italy surrendered and they started attacking Italian troops. A German bomber blew up the Probitas while it was loading injured soldier and she sits in Saranda harbor in Albania today. The ship is full of skeletons, a sad reminder of the cost of war.
Remains are never disturbed and we do not share photographs or videos of the dead. In the event of remains being revealed during excavations, such as the Hunley, they are immediately reinterred by their closest relatives or their home country if no relatives can be identified.
We work on modern shipwrecks all the time. Maritime archaeology works with any human interaction with water, so not just underwater research, but also modern fishermen, sailors, and boat builders. As a result, modern wrecks tell us just as much as ancient ones about how people interact with the sea.
Underwater sites have better preservation than deserts in some cases. While mummies have incredible preservation, underwater bodies are the real deal. A 10,000 year old perfectly preserved brain was found in a skeleton from Warm Mineral Springs in the 1960s.
What's the most interesting underwater site you've visited?
The most interesting site I've ever visited isnt deep and anyone can go see. There is an amazing place called Pammukale in Turkey, which is a natural spring at the top of a mountain. As the spring water runs down, it deposits white crystaline travertine, creating a white mountainside with pools of blue water: http://www.tourqo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/363fc737-491d-48bb-918e-20ef23308dd1.jpg
At the top of this mountain the Roman built a large temple to Apollo over the entrance to the spring. However, an earthquake knocked the temple into the spring and today you can swim in the hot spring water and climb over the temple ruins. It is shallow, but really cool: http://planetden.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/AJP_1539.jpg
I'd love to dive into the spring entrance itself, but the water is incredibly hot.
Even crazier than the temple in a hot spring, the Romans believed that the entrance to Hades (hell) was located there. Ancient sources talk about a doorway to hell, but everyone figured it was just ancient historians who had knocked back a couple pints. Not so- last year archaeologist uncovered a temple structure with a doorway that led into a rock face. As they dug small creatures like birds and mice started dying outside the entrance. They actually found the Roman entrance to Hades, where the hot spring's gases escape and are deadly if inhaled by small animals. The truth can be stranger than fiction: http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/gate-to-hell-found-in-turkey-130329.htm
Have you ever found anything that genuinely surprised or confused you?
I am genuinely surprised by the amount of trash on the seafloor, especially plastic bottles. It is incredible how polluted the oceans are, even in remote locations. You can be the first visitor to an ancient shipwreck in 2,200 years 100 meters below the surface and find that plastic bottles beat you there.
As far as archaeology, every site is a CSI case. You only get pieces of the puzzle and you have to try to fit them together. To me, that is the allure of underwater archaeology. On one site we found a busted old cannon, about 75 years older than the others. What were they doing with this useless old piece of crap? It wasnt until we sat back and saw its location relative to everything else that we realized it was stored in the middle of the ship, down in hold- meaning they were using it as ballast due to its weight. These little mysteries lead to interesting stories about the past.
Have you personally seen Cthulu?
I was once peering into a deep hole when it blinked. I dont like to talk about that.
Why is the Great Lakes region the best region in North America, and why is Michigan the best state in the region?
Michigan is the worst state in the region and Wisconsin is the best. However, the Great Lakes region is fantastic, no small part due to frozen custard. There are also amazing shipwrecks in the Great Lakes that are perfectly preserved. The largest wooden ship ever built, the Appomattox, sank of Shorewood, WI, and can be visited quite easily. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (in Michigan....for now) might be the top wreck diver location in the world- these wrecks have to be seen to be believed. The are sitting upright on the bottom with their masts still standing. http://thunderbay.noaa.gov/
I have been working in Indiana, where a team of amateur archaeologists and myself have been recording a ship that was used for the Underground Railroad in the 1840s, but was caught by slave catchers and burned to the waterline.
Somewhere hidden in the Lakes is Le Griffon, an elusive French shipwreck that will make someone very famous.
There are also older remains below the lakes as well. There is a petrified forrest off Illinois from when the lake level was lower and archaeologists have found evidence of Native American hunting traps dating to the last Ice Age.
What is your greatest discovery so far?
I work in many countries with local fishermen, divers, and archaeologists. Locals know where everything is. So I'm always hesitant to "my" discovery because its local people who lead archaeologists there. On those rare cases where it is a brand new discovery, it is usually deep water and then its the multibeam technician or the ROV pilot to first see it. Expeditions are always team efforts.
Haha so what is the greatest discovery WE have made? I've been lucky enough to work on a Soprintendenza del Mare and RPM Nautical Foundation project that discovered the only ancient naval battlefield yet found, the Battle of the Egadi Islands. We know these massive ancient naval engagements were occurring, but no one has been able to find any. Warships have been the holy grail of underwater archaeology because 3 bronze warship rams were the only evidence we had for the entire Mediterranean. This battle site has yielded 11 warship rams, helmets, and pottery scattered over the battlefield and only small portion of the site has truly been explored.
This was a pivotal battle as well- Roman was a backwater at the start of the First Punic War and it took on a super power- Carthage. For 23 years they duked it out before the Roman fleet ambushed the Carthaginian fleet off the Egadi Islands. Rome won a crushing victory and I would argue this is the pivotal point that put Rome on the road to Empire. Rome was nothing before the First Punic War- they didnt even have a navy. After the war, they were the only navy left and inherited control of the Mediterranean. The battle site is one of the great archaeological discoveries not just of this new century, but of all time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPTX1cySCTA
RPM Nautical Foundation does incredible deep water work in seven Mediterranean countries. I'm blown away by the findings each year, it is a great team to be a part of. There is so much left to discover on the seafloor.
Are there any things we know are underwater, have spent a great amount of expense trying to find, but remain elusive? If there is a big headline regarding a find in the next fifteen years, what would it most likely read?
Very good question. I have an article with Discovery coming out any day now titled "The Greatest Age of Discovery is Right Now" and it address this question. There many elusive big finds- Santa Maria, a Greek trireme, Vasco da Gama's ships of exploration- but the biggest finds will likely be ones we haven't heard of or considered. Modern humans are historically-obsessed, we think all the facts are in books. But very little of our history is actually recorded. Incredible finds are being made underwater from the deep past, before the historical record started. While we are fascinated by the Atlantis myth and the Titanic story, what lost ships and cities lay waiting from before recorded time? The most incredible stories may be ones that we haven't heard yet.
When was the last time an archeologist ventured to dive in the bermuda triangle? do you think with the recent advances in underwatwer technolgies more people will find the courage to search for the undiscovered?
The waters that compose the "Bermuda Triangle" are some of the richest in shipwrecks in the world and there are many maritime archaeologists working there! The Bermuda Triangle is a fascinating subject. There are a few myths though. For example, the actual triangle changes from storyteller to storyteller, depending on which shipwrecks and mysteries you want to include. Some have it going from Florida to Bermuda to New York to cover the Graveyard of the Atlantic, while other have it going from Bermuda to Florida to Puerto Rico to cover part the Atlantic/Caribbean interface.
There are LOTS of shipwrecks in this region, but historical records show that these disappearances are average for high traffic shipping lanes (generally 2-3% of the total amount of ships in a region sink). It is simply a high traffic region that had a lot of crashes, collisions, and piracy, which even continues today off certain Caribbean coastlines.
Let me know if you want to know more, I'm happy to discuss the Ghost Ship phenomena and other natural occurrences that appear supernatural when viewed from the outside!
Here is a great online exhibit at the Museum of Underwater Archaeology on shipwrecks in Bermuda: http://www.themua.org/exhibit_ecu/
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
The One True Ice Cream: cookies and cream. http://imgur.com/Xaw7CVz
I know that your primary focus is on exploration and discovery of archeological value, but during one of your undersea explorations, what is one of the strangest critters you have encountered? I've always wanted to dive to the bottom of the ocean to see what kind of mysterious creatures are lurking about!
Shipwrecks allow for incredible ecosystems, so there are some amazing critters down there! Turtles, barracuda, sharks, and eels are the big ones, but the tiny little creatures are often the most interesting. I didnt know about nudibranchs before working with some coastal ecologists, but these critters are absolutely beautiful and other-worldly. Here are two photos by my colleague Lee Pape at RPM Nautical Foundation from the Adriatic Sea this summer: http://imgur.com/SIS1f3Y http://imgur.com/OG4OKtY
Lee Pape had this to add, which makes nudibranchs among the coolest creatures ever: "They are hermaphrodites so when a male/female meets another male/female then they fight with their male organs. Whoever "wins" the fight is the male while the other will be the female and lay beautiful eggs displayed in a spiral formation."
What is the general consensus about Clive Cussler amongst you and your peers?
Clive is great. His writing and his underwater research are different things. His book are clearly adventure novels, but Clive does quite bit of adventuring himself in the form of archaeological surveys. He has made quite a lot of discoveries, including a joint NUMA-South Carolina expedition that located the Civil War submarine HL Hunley.
On that note, how often do you go adventuring?
May-September is adventure season and the rest of the year is spent writing reports, grants, and permit requests.
My father is an archaeologist, although the fact that you're underwater makes it a bit cooler. My question is, how does the water affect the erosion of artifacts? Do artifacts that are buried slightly under the surface of the sea-floor have a better chance of remaining intact, as opposed to artifacts just resting on the sea-floor? Thanks for your time!
From Scott Tucker: Great question! The sea is a peculiar thing in regards to conservation. The answer is, it is extremely variable in how it affects artefacts. Warm salt water leads to severe decay of wood and other organic materials. This is due to a higher number of organisms such as Teredo navalis, the dreaded shipworm, which eat away at the material. Cold saltwater, on the other hand, is a tremendous preservative, which is why wrecks such as Vasa (Sweden, 1628) are so incredibly preserved compared to their warm-water counterparts, such as the wreck of Sea Venture (Bermuda, 1609), of which only a small portion of the hull survives. Iron corrodes quickly in saltwater, and then tends to gather marine sediments and organisms called ‘concretion,’ but eventually reaches a stasis with its environment and is safe until removed from the water. Conservation of artefacts is a major concern of ours, and we won’t remove anything from the water until a plan to preserve the object and funding to do so is in place. You are correct in noting that burying of artefacts helps with preservation. Once wood is buried within anaerobic sediments, the harmful organisms can no longer reach them and they are relatively safe until they become uncovered.
How does your work get funded? Is it just through governmental grants? Would it be possible to fund your work by selling cool stuff you've found in international waters (I'm assuming anything you find in territorial waters belongs to the adjoining country)?
Excellent question. Archaeology is funded through government funds, public grants, commercial contracts, endowments, private donations, university fees, and tourism. Archaeologists cannot ethically sell any artifacts, if they do then they are no longer considered archaeology and face sanction by professional boards. Could we legally (as opposed to ethically)? Yes. Would we really be able to fund the project? Probably not. Lets break this down.
First, ethics. Why can't archaeologists sell artifacts? Shipwrecks are like our patients, we need to remove all conflicts of interest and what is best for our patient (scientific data collection of our subject). There is a reason doctors can't get a bounty for organs- they no longer would do what is best for their patient. If you are able to sell silver coins, would you spend an equal amount of time recording wooden timbers that have no value? Wooden timbers have more scientific value than gold or silver artifacts, but treasure hunting ventures have beens shown to ignore these important objects for the valuable objects. Once you can sell even the most "minor" artifact, then you introduce a potential conflict of interest, so archaeological ethics state there is to be no sale of any artifacts. (These are ethics for archaeologists- just as doctors and lawyers have ethics that other professions aren't required to follow.)
Second, why wouldn't archaeologists make any money if they did sell artifacts from international waters? Operating costs for deep water archaeology starts at around $50,000 per day and goes up from there. It is super expensive. And very few ships ever carried anything of value- we are a science to the farmer's wheat shipment means as much historically (or more so since it was more common) than the treasure galleon.
The only artifacts that are sellable to warrant this price range are precious metals. A lot of treasure hunters have tried to make a profit doing deep water salvage, but research has shown that none of the major salvage projects have been turned a profit due to operating costs. You hear estimates of shipwrecks being worth $500 million or $1 billion, but actual auctions by treasure hunters haven't fetched anywhere close to that, topping out at $55 million. Now this sounds like a lot, but that venture- the Central America- lost money due to the massive operating costs and the treasure hunter is now on the lamb due to owing creditors and investors. So could archaeologists ignore ethics and sell artifacts? Perhaps. Would they make any money? No one has in the past, why would it be different now?
Thanks for your question! Let me know if you want more info.
I work at a dive shop, what type of gear are you using? Do you use the same gear for any recreational diving you may do?
OMS backplate (and everything else), Scubapro and Atomic regs, BARE suits. Its all the same as recreational diving. I really want to get into rebreathers and we have a great relationship with the folks over at Titan, who have excellent rebreathers. I also love surface air supply, but it costs a lot and isn't practical for surveys covering large areas.
I've built my gear up over the years and love my set, but I'm open to trying new kit if you have suggestions!
Hi Peter, I've been quietly stalking you for 10 years and it's been fun and educational to read about your adventures and your efforts to stop antiquity theft.
Can you explain how it's determined who gets to keep stuff found when a big underwater discovery is made? Do the families of the victims of a wreck get to keep their personal effects?
For example, if Malaysia 370 is found in 50 years by a private explorer, who would determine what happens with everything that was found? And would the answer be different if it were found tomorrow? (assuming it's not found by the officials who are looking for it)
Thanks! Sorry for the slow response, I wanted to get maritime lawyer and archaeologists Bob MacKintosh to answer this one.
He says, "When vessels and aircraft are lost at sea, who can claim ownership to the vessel and its cargo very much depends on where the wreck occurred. Each country will has its own laws covering the subject, and these may vary quite considerably. In many countries the law of salvage applies to wrecks, so if somebody recovers wreck it is returned to the owner, and the finder is paid a reward for their trouble. Some countries apply the law of finds, where the wreckage becomes the property of the finder no matter who previously owned it. In other countries all wrecks over a certain age become the property of the state. If the wreckage happened in international waters however, despite there maybe still being people that can claim ownership of the wreck, in practice no state has jurisdiction so people who find wrecks there can generally do as they please. Subject to all of this, people who own wrecks can often still claim ownership, and ownership of the wreck itself and the cargo or personal effects can be different. For example the Lusitania which sank in 1915 was said in a UK court to belong to the insurance company which underwrote the ship, but the items on board belonged to the original owners or their descendants. For recent wreckage such as the Malaysia 370 flight, it may be reasonably easy to determine ownership of various aspects of the aircraft and its cargo, but who can claim what will of course depend on where it crashed. However, in archaeology a lot of wrecks we study are much older, so ownership is much harder to determine. In these cases it often goes to the State whose waters the wreck was found in."
Peter: All the permits I work under are through the Ministry of Culture in the home country- anything we find belongs to the country and the Ministry determines whether we leave it on the seafloor for future generations of divers or if we bring it up for conservation and display in a museum or storage in an archive.
So glad that you are doing this. I am currently working on a double major in history and anthro so I can get into grad school for archeology. Mainly underwater. I am currently an advanced open water certified diver but know that further training is needed. My question is: to what level certification do you feel is satisfactory for your diving needs? Also was is hard to find field work in graduate school for underwater archeology? Or was it something that came up further along in your career?
A lot of divers want to work on maritime archaeology projects, so this is a great question for them as well as archaeologists working toward maritime aspects. Underwater science falls into a different category than working at dive shop and has to meet different insurance requirements. This is bummer for people with lots of time underwater and a dive master cert from PADI, who unfortunately do not meet these insurance requirements despite being excellent divers. You need a professional working certification for any underwater research (archaeology, biology, geology, etc.).
Working diving certification programs teach quite different things than recreational certs. You will need either a scientific diver certification or a commercial diving certification. If you are going to grad school, then your university likely has a scientific diving program (American Academy of Underwater Sciences in the US, European Scientific Diving Panel in the EU, etc) and your advanced cert is enough to get you into that training program. Commercial certs are needed in some countries for certain jobs. If you want to work in Denmark or with US Army Corps of Engineers (but not NOAA or the Park Service) then you need a commercial cert which usually runs between $8,000-15,000. I would recommend getting a commercial certification after you finish your education.
If your university does not have a scientific diving program, my colleagues teach a scientific diving course that certifies you for both AAUS and ESDP every year in Croatia (the only place in the world where you can get both at once)- http://www.illyriancoast.org/ We also do underwater archaeology field schools after the diving training!
Is it possible that their is undiscovered sealife that is larger than any life-form previously known to man?
Good question! If there are any marine biologists out there, feel free to weigh in. I mostly study time periods from long ago, but applying scientific reasoning I would think that large sealife would have large appetites. In order to have this massive creature it would require a rich ecosystem. Whales eat massive amounts of plankton, which bloom at the surface. We've identified all the large surface creatures (though its possible a few escaped notice!). What about deepwater? Well the giant squid was only first captured on film alive 5 years ago, though dead ones had washed up on shore. So its possible that they are joined by other large deep sea creatures, but those would have to be eating similar things. I would say- find the food sources that are large enough to support large marine life and see what comes around!
Robert Sténuit once found a “treasure” after a 20 minutes dive, and about 10,000 hours researching through archives.
Would you say that this is a fair example of your work is?
Research is 90% of the work, diving is 9% and actual discovery is 1%. Those that make great discoveries do so in libraries, labs, and interviews.
Thanks for doing this AMA. You're answers have been swell. What kind of roles could a normal lay person fulfill on your team and what qualities would you say are most important to being successful?
From Scott Tucker: This is a fantastic question! I’ve been doing a lot of work with avocational groups over the last few years. In fact, my projects are generally staffed with volunteers, as grants for graduate students are quite meagre. Volunteers on my projects have been involved in survey and excavation (all of the fun parts without any of the boring aspects). I’ve been working with the group ‘Institute of Maritime History’ based out of Maryland in the US, and they run a training scheme to help recreation divers learn underwater survey techniques. This is far from a unique group, with similar groups existing in many locations. Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) is perhaps the biggest of these groups, based out of England, but operating internationally, offering a very wide and diverse training programme for recreational divers. For more information, check out these sites:
I've heard about the cocoa Island having the most gold in the world hidden by some pirate. Do you know about it and if yes what are your views on it?
I haven't heard of Cocoa Island, but I'd be willing to bet there isnt buried treasure! Sorry. There is only one contemporary story of pirates burying treasure and that was Captain Kidd when he was called to court in New York. Even that story is a bit sketchy. Romance writers picked up the idea of buried treasure and ascribed it to pirates from the Golden Age of Piracy and included it in fiction stories. It took on a life of its own from there. A lot of pirates, like Blackbeard, never even captured precious metals. They captured trade goods, medical supplies, and luxury items. Not things that keep well underground for hundreds of years. Is there buried treasure out there to find? Absolutely! Is from pirates? I have a feeling that they spent it all in the first port they reached...
There are plenty of other time periods that have a lot more buried treasure. Like Roman hoards! http://www.southampton.ac.uk/mediacentre/news/2012/jul/12_106.shtml
What find are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of our work in Albania. The country has some of the most pristine coastline in the world due to strict communist era policies. As a result, it has better preserved shipwrecks than almost any country in the Mediterranean. We are the only marine center in the country and it has been very tough working from scratch, but we have been funded by the Waitt Foundation and worked with RPM Nautical Foundation, allowing us to do some great research and training. Our Executive Director Auron Tare was named Director of the country's newly formed Coastal Authority by the new government, so we hope to implement some marine protected areas and protection of underwater archaeological sites to preserve Albania's coastline for the future. Not a "find" per say, but it will allow other people to make finds in the future.
The main course image on the MOOC course is a Roman shipwreck from Albania. Its an absolutely beautiful wreck.
This question is multi-faceted. If you need to take a wee while underwater, do you just go in your wetsuit? Have you ever had a moment when exploring a target where you were so surprised that you wee'd your wetsuit, be it either by an astonishing find or sea creature?
New divers wait to pee until their dive is done so they take off their wetsuits. Experienced divers never have to pee.
First of all, thanks for doing this AMA. I'd like to know what's the strangest find you ever had during one of your dives?
We find a lot of bombs. And in weird places. The often appear to be artifacts, but you touch them and have a "nope" moment when you realize what it is.
I was diving in the Pee Dee River in South Carolina looking for a Civil War gunboat. It is low visibility due to sediment in the water, maybe a few inches before everything disappears into a green-brown darkness. Out of this darkness floated a red dress- like a prom dress- and there was a high heeled shoe sitting next to it. Scared the crap out of me. You can't see or talk to your buddy in those conditions, but as soon as got out and I look at him he said "Did you see that dress?" There was no body though, thank goodness...
Good question- too little time is spent diving. Archaeologists general rule is one day in the field equal 7 days in the lab. I think it is more for underwater research. Artifacts from underwater environments require a lot of conservation and care, or they just disintegrate or crack. Plus, much of the really cool science takes place after the diving, like carbon or thermoluminescence dating. I use mass spectrometry to identify molecules left as residues. I wish it was all diving, but the other part is super important!
Hello. SCUBA diver here and my favorite types of dives are shipwrecks.
Have you ever explored the ancient city of Shicheng? The videos and pictures leave me speechless.
I've never been, but it does look amazing! For those of you who don't know, Shicheng is a Chinese medieval city that was flooded during the construction of a dam in the 1960s. It looks like a beautiful dive site. There are a lot of faked pictures on the internet of it, which I dont understand since the real photos are just as amazing. Check it out: http://www.news.com.au/travel/world-travel/the-ancient-lost-city-of-shi-cheng-lies-deep-underwater/story-e6frfqb9-1226832348823
Have you ever seen a submerged sunken city? If yes, how was it like?
I've seen many submerged cities! They aren't at all like the movies with whole buildings that you can swim through, but they are incredible. Most underwater cities are the foundations of buildings with artifacts from everyday life scattered all about. A telltale sign of an ancient underwater city is a beach covered in bits of pottery. With a bit of imagination as you can swim down the streets you can picture how the buildings would have looked on their foundation stones.
If you want to see some pictures, check Baia in Italy, it used to be the playground of Rome's elite: http://parcoarcheologicosommersodibaia.it/parco.php?id_lingua=en
There are lots of sunken cities if you want to Google some, I recommend Port Royal Jamaica (the infamous pirate den) and Alexandria Egypt (where they have found the lighthouse and ancient statues).
What does it take, qualifications/skill/background, to become and underwater explorer? How would someone get their "foot on deck",so to speak, to be able to have this occupation?
From Scott Tucker: Archaeology is an academic profession, so naturally, it requires a lot of education. During undergrad, we tend to focus on terrestrial sites, all gaining a similar background in general archaeology, before moving to a specialisation later in grad school. You get most of the basic training as a master’s student and jobs typically require a MA. Not all of us are divers, but many are. A fairly advanced level of dive training is necessary to work in many places, but this varies from country to country. Mostly though, you just need a drive and passion for learning about past cultures, mixed with a slight sense of adventure. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to become involved as a diver, working with avocation groups in your area. Check out the Nautical Archaeology Society, which runs a lot of maritime archaeology projects for volunteers.
What would be the oldest shipwreck you have come accross?
The oldest shipwreck I have worked on is a Greek Corinthian ship from the 450 BC. The oldest underwater site I've worked on is the ancient city of Pavlopetri, which dates back to around 3200 BC.
The oldest known shipwreck by any archaeologist is the Dokos shipwreck dating to 2700 BC. The oldest watercraft of any kind is the Pesse dugout canoe which dates to around 8040 BC.
Hi Peter, I m an undergrad who is majoring in anthropology with a focus in underwater archaeology. I am particularly interested in Caribbean shipwrecks and the pirate bases in the area like Port Royal, Nassau and Tortuga. I have a few questions.
- Do you know if there will be any future research conducted on Port Royal? The last time research was conducted was in the 80s by Texas A&M.
- How many shipwrecks have you encountered as an underwater archaeologist?
- Do you use remote sensing techniques in your research? If so, what kind? I am very interested in using remote sensing for my research one day.
Pirate archaeology has blown up in the last 5-10 years and there is no better time to do it than now. Just a few years ago we had scraps of evidence about pirates, now we have their shipwrecks, fleets, caves, and island lairs!
There are several groups vying for research at Port Royal. Donny Hamilton led the A&M projects in the 80s. His student Dave Stewart is now at East Carolina University and I believe he has done some recent work there (or at least appeared in a documentary about it). There was also a French team recording the visible structures. But what would be interested in learning from the site? It is low visibility and you would need to excavate a lot mud. If you are interested in pirates I would suggest going elsewhere. Speak with Fritz Hanselmann, the world expert on pirate shipwrecks and all around awesome dude. His PhD was on Captain Kidd's Quedagh Merchant and he found Captain Morgan's fleet in Panama (http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/captain-morgans-pirate-ship-found-110806.htm). Get on his team for a few seasons and the stick out on your own to find new pirate wrecks! The best stories aren't "celebrity" sites, but the unexpected ones.
I kept a list of wrecks I worked on for a while, which got up over 140. However, I worked a lot of ships graveyards at East Carolina University, which is how to get experience recording a lot of wrecks in a short amount of time.
I often use sidescan sonar, magnetometer, and multibeam. Sidescans are a great tried and true method, plus costs are coming down. Make sure you get the right one for the job you are trying to do. I've seen tenured professors using sidescans that wouldn't find a tanker at the depths they were using it at :) Multibeam is the standard in industry and it creates some beautiful data. Most jobs will train you in remote sensing gear once you are hired. http://www.hydropalooza.noaa.gov/images/press/MultiBeam.png
What are the coolest finds you know of?
Top five coolest finds (in my opinion): 1. The Vasa (1628): Whats cooler than a complete ship preserved in fresh Baltic waters and raised to be placed in a museum. The ship in the Goonies is based on it. http://imgur.com/HhmOvwb
Uluburun, the Bronze Age treasure galleon. Ok, they weren't called galleons then, but this ship is from 1300 BC and it loaded with treasure that was being sent between the kings of Cyprus and Egypt. Gold, ivory, copper (ok, not a big deal today, but it was back then), and all kinds of other goods. http://nauticalarch.org/projects/all/southern_europe_mediterranean_aegean/uluburun_turkey/photo_galleries/
The Oseberg Viking ship. Ok, this one wasn't found underwater. It was a Viking ship burial. It is amazingly preserved and a beautiful example of Viking shipwrightry. http://imgur.com/dYc5aLb
HMS Erebus. This was just found last week! Franklin's flagship on the Northwest Passage expedition. It was found beautifully preserved after years of searching, finally solved a 168 year old cold case. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/10/03/hms-erebus-lost-ship-whose-crew-resorted-to-cannibalism-found-in-canadian-arctic/?tid=pm_pop
Mary Rose. Henry the 8th flagship, which he probably loved more than his wives. It is an incredible glimpse into the past and the new museum is fantastic. http://www.maryrose.org/
What is a good way to get into archeology?
Archaeology is one of those fields that isn't learned through sitting a classroom (alone). It takes a lifetime of working with bits of old wood or broken pottery- I learn so much at every new shipwreck I visit and the old timers find things they've never seen before all the time.
You'll need an undergraduate or graduate degree to get started, as this is a science-based academic field. However, while you are taking classes, try to get out in the field as much as possible. Starting off you'll have to volunteer in exchange for training with groups like the Nautical Archaeology Society or with museums. But that is the fun bit anyway and if you are passionate about history then you would probably be tromping through mud or diving on your weekends anyway.
Our free online course really does provide a good overview of the maritime archaeology basics- https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/shipwrecks
Let me know what country you're in and I can give some recommendations on where to get some time in the field!
Have you ever explored the Great Barrier Reef? What is your opinion on its preservation and future?
I have not, but I'd love to some day. It sounds like sooner would be better- it is deteriorating rapidly. A colleague worked on BBC Oceans and they had to film parts in Tahiti because the Great Barrier Reef is dying so quickly. I'm afraid I'll leave preservation plans to the marine biologists, but it doesn't sound like the current government is much in the way of environmentalists.
Do you know of any interesting wrecks that are most likely too deep for a submersible vehicle to reach? And how deep will submersibles go 10-20 years?
The deep ocean is the final frontier! Submarines are costly and potentially fatal if something fails, so now most deepwater research uses remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs)- robots! Robots are great because they can stay down way longer and no one dies!
Some people are working at depths from 4,000-6,000ft of water, check out this wreck- http://www.boem.gov/Gulf-of-Mexico-Expedition-Discovers-Amazing-Historic-Shipwreck/
Just like to say first, am really looking forward to the course starting! Signed up last month!
As a UK diver myself currently working on his OWSI, I have to ask....
Want an intern!?
Also, do you prefer UK diving or abroad?
Hey! Great, I hope you enjoy the course. I'm out of the field until next May, but you should volunteer with the Maritime Archaeology Trust or the HMS Invincible project if you are looking to get some dives in before the next summer season. Send me a PM or email and we can discuss UK projects.
I love diving everywhere, in all different conditions. I cut my teeth on southern US black water rivers, so everything is up from there. However, most of my work is in the Mediterranean as a Roman specialist!
Nice! I did my MA there in 2007. Great program. It is a small a field. I have never worked with George, but I know quite a lot of people who have. Mentors of mine like ECU's Dave Stewart and head of Vasa research Fred Hocker were taught by George and some of my colleagues in my "generation" of maritime archaeology worked with him at the 50 year anniversary excavation at Cape Gelidonya a few years ago. It is nice that it is a relatively small field because you have direct lines to the original founders of the field like George, Keith Muckelroy, Ole Crumlin-Pedersen, Nic Flemming, and the early movers and shakers like Richard Gould, Jon Adams, Gordon Watts, and others. Its an ongoing and open dialogue, which is an exciting thing to be a part of.
What underwater creature are you most afraid of?
Scott Tucker says: My most feared creature is the Irukandji Jellyfish. It’s the size of a thumbnail with tentacles up to a meter long, and has a paralyzing and often deadly sting. Fortunately, I don’t work anywhere near Australia. I’ve done a lot of work in rivers recently though, one where several bull sharks have been caught near its mouth in recent years. I shouldn’t really be, but I must admit that I’ve been mildly concerned about this, as I’m working in low visibility and paying attention to my work rather than my surroundings. As far as real threats go, I’ve had the most annoyance with harmless-but-painful jellyfish and fire coral.
Do you think they actually found the Santa Maria?
My friend is a treasure diver off the treasure coast and said it's pretty likely, but it would be a terrible wreck to dive with very little of value.
Great question! Treasure hunter Barry Clifford claimed that he had found the Santa Maria off the coast of Haiti earlier this year. It made headlines, but is it the Santa Maria? It is in the right region and the remains are from the right period. However, a UNESCO team that just visit says it is likely not- there has been significant coastal change in the region and the reef where the Santa Maria sank is likely now located under land. We often see coastlines as static, but they are very dynamic and can change considerably in a single lifetime. We'll have to wait and see! The UNESCO report should be out this week! http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/underwater-cultural-heritage/advisory-body/mission-to-haiti/
And your friend is right- the Santa Maria like most ships would have nothing of monetary value. But it has unlimited cultural value. Who wouldnt want to see its remains? Dont judge shipwrecks by market value! Its the scientific information that is important.
Hypothetical question: suppose you drown while on a dive, and your body is stuck down there. Would your bones be free for anyone to take?
Interesting question. Simply being underwater doesn't mean its a free for all, I believe it would go to the closest relative or anyone who owns a contract over your remains.
If I were interested in getting into maritime archaeology how would I go about getting started? I have a degree in anthropology and have focused on archaeology a bit during my undergrad, including a field school for archaeology.
There are a lot of questions about this. I answered a few, but I'm out of time for today so let me direct you here: http://www.maritimearchaeology.com/ The website is still under construction, but I'll get the team to make a whole education guide for underwater archaeology. If you have more specific questions, I'm always on Reddit and you can contact me on Twitter (@peterbcampbell) or by email.
Was there ever a time when you thought "Hm... I wish I had a whip with me right now..."?
No, why would I not have my whip with me? :)
Haha I have seen both...no comment. As unlikely and humorous as a ship in a desert is, there are plenty of examples! Namibia's Skeleton Coast is full of them, the Aral Sea due to the overuse of water, and in Lake Michigan there is a schooner that was tossed high and dry on a dune in the 1840s from a storm!
Can you elaborate on how Nitrogen Narcosis affects your field? Do you primarily use EAN or do any closed circuit diving? Also, just curious but what's your Narc Depth? :D
I primarily use EAN 32 for coastal survey. Many of my colleagues use air. Closed circuit training is becoming standard with the large research organizations. With Poseidon and Titan releasing popular commercial rebreathers and courses being taught by organizations like AAUS and IANTD, I expect it to be commonplace.
I've noticed my vision begin to narrow and feel the effects of narcosis starting around 120 before, but I've never tried to give air to a fish or anything like that :)
Does your insurance cover pirate curses or attacks from sea monsters sent from an angry Poseidon?
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