Ancient Shipwrecks in the Deep Sea

Ancient Shipwrecks in the Deep Sea: Fieldwork and Study

For nearly a decade Prof. Dan Davis has served as the archaeological director on a series of deep-sea research expeditions sponsored by renowned oceanographer and explorer Dr. Robert Ballard. The team--made up of ocean scientists, ocean engineers, archaeologists and students from U.S. and Turkish colleges and universities--explored the shelf and deeper waters of the Aegean and Black Seas aboard the E/V Nautilus. In that time, we discovered and documented (using two remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs) some 46 shipwrecks ranging in date from the 6th century B.C. to the 20th century of our era at depths of between 100 and 500 meters. The sheer volume of shipwrecks is second only to the 64 ancient shipwrecks discovered at ancient Heracleia-Thonis in Egypt's Delta region, and well surpasses the 37 Byzantine-era shipwrecks found in the ancient Theodosian harbor of Constantinople (Istanbul).

Since 2011 several Luther students have been involved in this project during both the survey/discovery phase and the ongoing research/publication phase. They learned how to plan, conduct, and process data from acoustic surveys, how to classify acoustic targets and analyze high-resolution imaging, how to serve as an effective member of the ROV team, and, ultimately, how to document and conduct scientific and historical research on ancient shipwrecks. Now, with the help of current and future Luther students, we are in the process of publishing the results of all the expeditions in a major volume entitle Archaeological Oceanography of the Aegean and Black Seas, edited by Michael L. Brennan and Dan L. Davis (projected, 2018).

The Southeast Aegean Survey: Deepwater Survey aboard the STS Bodrum

In July 2013, the Nautilus team, together with Prof. Art Trembanis of the University of Delaware, embarked on a different kind of deep-water survey of the Aegean. This time, instead of using a large (and very expensive) research ship, we employed a sail training ship (STS) named Bodrum. And instead of large remotely-operated vehicles, we employed a small but durable autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) named DORA. Our destination was Knidos, an ancient harbor city on the Aegean Sea in southwest Turkey. The seabed in this area is relatively flat with a shallow slope, allowing for safe operations with vehicles in depths of 200-600 meters. Outcrops of carbonate crusts from cold seeps, numerous shipwrecks due to the high seafaring activity in ancient times, and areas of heavy bottom trawl damage make this submarine landscape an interesting area to map and also a good comparison of the AUV's capabilities to the previous data collected with the sonars on Nautilus. The results confirmed our hypotheses--the sensors of the AUV were easily able to detect shipwrecks that were previously documented, and two previously undetected wreck sites were discovered. That brings the total number of ancient, medieval and premodern shipwrecks discovered in this area to 28!

In addition to the science objectives of the expedition, we also utilized the capabilities of STS Bodrum as a teaching ship and had four high school students, two educators, and four undergraduate and graduate students on board. Among them was Luther student Daniel Faas ('13). For broadcasting the expedition off the ship, we did not have the live ROV video streams as Nautilus and other ships of exploration do, so instead, we used a Twitter feed supplemented by blogs and updates. The entire science team contributed to a live presence on the expedition website through social media platforms including Twitter, Vine, Flickr, and Instagram. Daily posting of edited videos, images, and blogs written by almost the entirety of the onboard team created a content-rich website that was viewed by ~900 unique visitors and had ~12,000 page views over the course of the two week expedition.