Scientist makes the case for Aegean underwater museum

The one-day conference organized last week by the Ephorate of Marine Antiquities, in cooperation with the Hellenic Center of Marine Research, proved to be extremely challenging as well as interesting, as it discussed the use of new technologies in marine archaeological research. Among the guests, including mostly scientists and representatives from a variety of international foundations and institutions, was Dr Robert Ballard, the scientist who investigated the sinking of the Titanic. The acclaimed scientist had an interesting suggestion to make to Greek authorities: that there be a long-term program, with the cooperation of archaeologists and oceanographers, to explore the ancient trade routes of the Aegean, especially those around Crete. The broad aim, he says is to shed new light on the Minoan civilization, though the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography has something more in mind – broadcasting the course of the research live. This means that while the underwater explorations are actually taking place, scientists, university faculties and even schoolchildren would be able to witness the process in real time and in all its detail. Over the past few years, the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography has used state-of-the-art equipment to discover several shipwrecks at great depths, such as nine ancient shipwrecks belonging to the Roman period and dating from between 100-300 BC. Explorations off the coasts of Egypt and Israel have located two Phoenician wrecks (750 BC), while research conducted in the Black Sea, especially off the Turkish and Bulgarian coasts, has brought to light another four dating from Hellenistic and Byzantine times. Ballard also made special reference to the significance of being able to reach great depths, pointing out the Titanic as an example of a very well-preserved shipwreck. Research at these depths has to be conducted on three levels, he explained, with one ship above water, one underwater monitoring vessel and one remote-controlled submersible. Research conducted in the Black Sea in 2003, furthermore, used three-dimensional images that were so impressive and clear that scientists at the surface could make out the details on a ship’s mast. These technological advances mean that scientists no longer have to go underwater to investigate lost treasures, though Ballard admits, the live transmission system costs some $20,000. The researcher also stated that, in his view, the biggest museum in the world lies underwater and that he dreams of an «underwater museum.» What transpired from the conference was that archaeologists cannot be left behind in benefiting from technological advances. The potential for new discovery is enormous, as a recent project around the islands of Chios and Samos has proved after locating two ancient shipwrecks, among other interesting finds.

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