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August 2006 & July-August 2007Interactive Dig Black Sea: Shipwreck Research Project
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Our dive site as seen from above at the summit of Mt. Sokol (Hawk). The poles are derelict fishing installations which provide us with convienient benchmarks for measurements.
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Our Airline hookah compressor churns away, feeding divers below. Our dive platform can be seen in the distance.
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Our Ukrainian collegue Nikita, uncovers a small amphora. Although the production area for vessels like these has not been determined, it is known from other shipwrecks and terrestrial sites to be a container for incense. They have often been found in the remains of churches and other sacred places, including as far away as Acre, Israel. Many complete amphora have been found in Novy Svet since the 1970s when recreational scuba diving became popular in the area. Since that time, much of the site has picked over by these amateur treasure hunters thus driving our search deeper into the seafloor. Unfortunately, many of these complete vessels now decorate the bottom of fish tanks in Ukraine and Russia.
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Diving every day leaves our beach area littered with equipment and drying wetsuits, and one reason for our day off was to give the locals a break from our noisy compressor and constant activity on this private beach.
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The beach at Meganom attracts those looking for secluded getaways, as well as archaeologists looking for undiscovered wrecks.
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Rhinoceros Mt., living up to its name, looks ready to charge into the sea. We journeyed here for our morning off in our rented paddle boat.
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Meg, Gabriel, and Hillary take the plunge below Mt. Rhino. [Video] Our trusty paddle boat is hidden away below towering rock arches. [Video]

Photos courtesy BSSRP. Click on images for larger versions where available.
by Gabriel Miller

From the Field: August 9, 2006

Beginning the Excavation

On Thursday (August 3), our American team began the first systematic exploration of our corridor (corridor D), removing rocks and aquatic grasses and setting aside the artifacts we came across. Among the objects we found were a ceramic handle with graffiti on it, a complete bowl rim, and a lead bolt, possibly used as a weight for a fish net or as a counter for amphora. It was also our first foray working with the compressor. The compressor is an engine the size of your average lawnmower engine attached to a filter and four air hoses. It is seated in an inner tube, so it is able to float on the water, and allows divers much more freedom in moving around under the water without a BC, regulator, or tank. (A BC is a bouyancy compensator, a device that is worn like a vest to which a tank is strapped. They act much like the air bladder in a fish, filling with air from your tank or dumping it as need be to maintain peak bouyancy during a dive, or to simply float safely on the surface.) What is more, the compressor's engine can run, at the very least, three hours, so it allows divers to work continuously for much longer. The downside, that we are attached to something on the surface, is really no hindrance because the hoses are each 20 meters long. As we are excavating at a depth of 10 meters, we have 10 meters of hose to move around with. The greatest challenge is keeping the hoses untangled, because they have a tendency to cross themselves up, which could conceivably restrict air flow. To prevent this, we devised a safety plan!

[image] Diver-archaeologist, Kim Koper, discovers an intact base of an amphora. This find will be enough to determine exactly the style, size, and shape of the original vessel. Nice job!

Safety Details

The six members of our team (replaced with members of the Ukrainian team whenever necessary), are split into three buddy groups. One group stays at the surface, with one person managing the hoses to prevent tangles, while the other stays at a platform nearby, and switches off with the person in the water to prevent discomfort from cold. Meanwhile, the other four members are split into their two buddy groups and are looking for artifacts. Every 45 minutes, the surface group and one of the diving groups exchange places, to make sure that no one gets too cold or tired. Although when diving, one can hear and feel the vibrations of the engine pumping air, which makes it highly unlikely that something could affect the engine and have the divers be unaware, we have decided to place a tank connected to a BC and a modified regulator with four breathing apparatuses in a designated spot underwater. In the event something does happen, all the divers would swim to the tank, breathe from the regulator, inflate the BC, and slowly ascend to the surface.

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Filled with pressured air from the Airline hookah compressor, the four hoses (left) reach into the distance and then descend directly below to each diver working on site. We typically work for an hour and a half at time, some of us diving for more than two and half hours in a single dive. Ben Goetsch (right), team leader, spends a surface interval tending to hoses and supervising while snorkeling at the surface.

Meeting locals

On a lighter note, we had a great time Tuesday night meeting some of the local tourists staying at the same hotel we are. We were drinking some of the local Ukrainian beer Krem, but they offered us some quite delicious wine that had been made recently by one of them. They also gave us some watermelon, cut into a blossom shape, and dried fish, to go with the beer. A note about the fish though, is that they had been dried complete. As in, head, fins, skin, guts...so most of us didn't eat it, and those who did ate with much less enthusiasm than the Ukrainians. But other than that, we had a great time with people who could barely speak our language, with only Hillary being able to speak to any of them fluently.

[image] The students and Ukrainian friends at the summit of Mt. Sokol (Hawk)

Scorpionfish

So far the greatest foe we have encountered is not the language barrier, not waking up before 7 AM every morning, nor the cold water. Instead it is the scorpionfish. The scorpionfish looks like a sandy gray version of the lionfish. It has venom-tipped spines on its back that make whatever limb is poked by them feel like it's on fire for a day. Not the kind of thing you want to happen to you. As we were diving yesterday, I ran into quite a few of them. The most frustrating thing about them is their curiosity. Most fish swim around you and go far away when you threaten them. The scorpionfish likes to sit still on the floor and watch you, and when shooed, only swims a couple feet then stops. So, of course worried about being stung, I took to carrying rocks and trying to hit the scorpionfish with them whenever I saw them. Although I didn't hit any of them, I hope I taught them a lesson!

[image] Our spiny friend, the scorpion fish, always keeps us on our toes while excavating. His back is covered with mildly posionous spines that can even penetrate the wetsuit of an unaware diver. While it's not certain if he is attracted to our work by possible food stirred up from the sediment, or if he's just a curious fish, we all know the danger of his presence.

Team Leader Notes by Ben Goetsch

As leader of this student team of archaeologists, the day off for me was not just a day of fun and mountain climbing. It was time to reflect on the future of the project with director Sergey Zelenko and assistant director Yana Morozova. After my journey with the students to our secluded hiding spot, I volunteered to travel to the nearby Cape of Meganom with interested archaeologists from Moskow and Poland, where recent reconnaisance has led to promising sites for further survey and excavation. The Cape is host to many of the hazards that made navigating the Crimean coast notoriously difficult for ancient travelers. Nowadays, this beautifully isolated spot, which attracts a number of campers and beachgoers eager for a brief escape from the crowds of Sudak and Novy Svet, makes life particularly difficult for divers as well. But with any luck, this region will hold our next great discovery. For as we talk about the future of the project, it is clear that we must act on the original objective of the Black Sea Shipwreck Research Project: to explore the expanse of the Crimean coastline of the northern Black Sea region in search of shipwrecks, from classical Greek times to the medieval period.

[image] The sun sets dramatically over Sudak Bay as seen from the top of Meganom, and our weekend comes to a close and we get ready for the next week's work.

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