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Journals 2003/2004

John Langella
East Providence High School, East Providence, Rhode Island

"Deep water excavation of ancient shipwrecks in the Black Sea"
R/V Knorr, Black Sea
July 22 - 29, 2004

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Sunday, July 27, 2003
Istanbul, Turkey

We arrive in Istanbul early in the morning. Dr. Ballard, Dwight Coleman, a team of archeologists, more technicians and a crew from National Geographic come aboard about 9:30 am.

We are docked at the duty-free port but it is Sunday and everything is closed. Around 1 pm we are given passes to get off the ship for a few hours (only till 3 pm). From the ship I can see the terminal for the Orient Express, the Blue Mosque, and the Sultans Palace across the channel. I walk over a bridge to the Blue Mosque and come across a bazaar with hundreds of people about. The city is interesting and I wish I had more time to explore.

The Knorr departs Istanbul around 4 pm. All hands are on deck as we head down the Bosporus. It's amazing how many mosques and ancient forts we pass. A heavy squall is suddenly pours on us, the first rain I've seen on the expedition. Two hours travel though these narrow straits and we're in the open water of the Black Sea.

During the afternoon I worked with the archeology team. Dennis Piechota, Doug Ballard and I assembled a "wet tank". Recovered objects must be kept from drying out, so they are placed in this holding tank filled with water, similar in chemistry, from which they were taken. We discussed different preservation and dating techniques. Very little is to be removed from the sites, only enough for testing and dating. They want everything to stay where it has been preserved for thousands of years.

We discussed the possibility of organic remains. The conditions below 180 meters are anoxic, contain hydrogen sulfide, and probably do not support life, including decomposing bacteria. What would happen if preserved human remains were brought to the surface? Would they be saturated with gases under pressure the way divers are at depth? Would those gases expand as they are brought to the surface, destroying the tissue?

'This is all new territory. The science and technology do not exist to recover human remains preserved at depth for thousands of years. They will be left in place.' Dennis explained.

After supper the science team gathered in the main lab for a mission briefing by Dr. Ballard. He identified the sites we are to excavate. Site 82, a possible submerged settlement, and wrecks A, B and C, called "carrot wrecks" due to the shape of amphora shown in previous side scan images of the sites.

We are also to investigate a number of different shell levels, indicators of former shorelines. In particular we are looking for fresh water and extinct species from levels dating back to 7,500 B.C. These may reveal clues to determine how rapid the transition from fresh to salt water was. The Sea Beam will be used for high definition mapping of the seafloor contours.

Dr. Ballard explained how the sites were found in 1999. The Black Sea has a roughly figure-eight shape, lying east to west. Due to it being in the northern hemisphere, circular currents, gyres, are present in the surface waters. Ancient mariners most likely used these currents as trade routes. From experience gained when hunting for the Titanic, the 1999 expedition crissed-crossed the suspected trade routes looking for "debris trails" while towing Argo, the side-scan imaging apparatus. Once debris trails were found, they were followed to numerous wrecks. The "carrot" wrecks were chosen due to their uniqueness and state of preservation.

Other topics discussed were site contamination, i.e. debris from more recent times, and deep "mixing currents". These currents, possibly caused by surface storms, may periodically circulate the deeper anoxic water containing the hydrogen sulfide into shallower water. This may be why local fishermen sometimes report pulling in noxious smelling "black nets". The science crew will deploy sophisticated water sampling equipment to test this hypothesis.

We now travel east, following the coast toward Sinop and Site 82. This is the location which appears to have been a settlement.

I take more pictures for my journal and the "who's who on the Knorr" list.

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