The Institute of Nautical Archaeology – By Dr. James P. DelgadoMarch 17, 2010
Founded in 1973, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology is in its 37th year of operation in 2010, and we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first scientific archaeological excavation of a shipwreck under water at Cape Gelidonya. When journalist/adventurer Peter Throckmorton arrived in Bodrum in the spring of 1958 to write about Turkish sponge divers, he learned of many ancient wrecks as he gained the divers’ confidence. Throckmorton visited many of them, diving on what he later said were up to a hundred wrecks. He also visited an underwater excavation off Albenga, Italy, where six divers worked on a Roman wreck, supervised by archaeologists who remained on the deck and did not dive. Important discoveries were being made elsewhere in the Mediterranean, and in the U.S., and pioneering explorers interested in archaeological discovery were diving, but no one had completely excavated a shipwreck under water.
Archaeology of sorts was happening in the sea, but archaeologists were seen to be on the sidelines, and with most archaeologists not being divers themselves, they were dismissed, Throckmorton said, by Jacques Cousteau as “impractical pedants.” All that changed in 1959, when Throckmorton was guided to a Bronze Age wreck at Gelidonya, the “cape of the swallows,” and then returned to the U.S. to solicit help to excavate the wreck before it was lost forever to divers seeking to wrench up and sell its cargo of ancient copper and bronze for scrap.
Professor Rodney Young of the University of Pennsylvania Museum introduced Throckmorton to a promising graduate student, George F. Bass, in December 1959. Together, with a $10,000 grant from the University Museum, they organized an expedition to Gelidonya, raising additional funds, and recruiting a crew that included a young diver from France, Claude Duthuit, who had earlier worked with Throckmorton. They headed off to Turkey in April 1960. There they assembled their equipment, adding essentials that their limited budget could not support with visits to an Army surplus yard. “Our army training in scrounging,” said Bass (he and Throckmorton were both veterans) “suddenly seemed as important as any academic courses we had taken.” What followed was a further test of people, equipment and the capacity of the human heart to endure hardship in order to achieve the best of what we are capable of as human beings.
The three-month long excavation at Cape Gelidonya, working from two sponge boats and a narrow beach camp hemmed in by high cliffs, was hard work and the beginning of a new era. It was the first archaeological excavation of a shipwreck in its entirety, with archaeologists and archaeological technicians who worked under the water. The wreck, which had already seen initial despoliation by divers who had taken some of its ancient bronze cargo to melt down and sell, was now studied, surveyed, and carefully excavated. The artifacts were studied and the results were published after seven years of painstaking analysis. History was not only recovered, it was made.
What began on that beach and in the waters off Cape Gelidonya 50 years ago was the beginning of archaeology under water – an important distinction as noted by George Bass because it was more than “underwater archaeology.” It was the beginning of scientific practice in a submerged environment. In the end, what was done at Gelidonya and all other sites under water since 1960 is all about the use of technique, method and theory – simply stated, what we call archaeology, to answer questions about humanity’s past.
What George Bass did was to forever change archaeology. His meticulous study of the wreck, and publication of the results, was literally like tossing a pebble into the sea that in time grew into a tsunami. Hundreds of archaeologists have now been trained in universities, and work in the field in the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers.
Hundreds of shipwrecks, drowned ports, lost cargoes and prehistoric sites have been scientifically excavated, studied and the results published around the world. Academic programs, including one of the first in the world, founded in 1976 by Dr. Bass, Dr. Frederick Van Doorninck and J. Richard Steffy at Texas A&M University, as well as programs at East Carolina University, Indiana University, the University of Southampton, Flinders University, St. Andrews University, Södertörn University and other schools now train the next generation of nautical archaeologists. The Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) trains a growing number of avocational archaeologists who make immeasurable contributions.
Archaeological preserves, marine sanctuaries, national and state parks all preserve and make shipwrecks accessible to the interested public. Professional journals, books, popular media in print, film and the Internet bring the results of archaeological work under water and on nautical sites to an ever growing audience of scholars and the interested public. There are a number of associations, institutes and societies that work around the world on shipwrecks, archaeology under water, and on maritime studies.
The Institute of Nautical Archaeology is a global organization dedicated to the preservation, excavation, study and publication of the results of archaeological work done to the highest standard under water, and that is the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. Since our founding, INA and its members, associates, students and affiliated faculty have worked on more than 160 projects in nearly every ocean, in major lakes, and off nearly all continents. These have been cataloged by Dr. Bass in a landmark series of books. Hundreds of scholarly and popular articles have been published. An impressive shelf of dozens of books, almost all published in partnership with Texas A&M University Press, have shared the results of that scholarship.
What is paramount is continuing to conduct surveys, assessments, excavations, and to continue the excavations in the laboratory through conservation and analysis as we interpret the results and then share them. In 2008-2009, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, in conjunction with Texas A&M University’s Nautical Archaeology Program, Indiana University, Flinders University, the Waitt Institute for Discovery, and the RPM Nautical Foundation, was a participant, partner, or supporter of 40 archaeological projects around the globe in the United States, Canada, Bermuda, Panama, Turkey, Spain, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus, Japan, and Vietnam.
All of these projects were made possible by the generous support of partners, sponsors, and donors, volunteers, and the permission of and permits granted by the various nations and states where the projects took place.
To learn more about INA, check us out on Facebook or at www.inadiscover.com
James P. Delgado has a long list of accomplishments. Wearing his many hats as historian, curator, land and sea archaeologist, scientist, researcher, deep-sea diver, television host, museum director, lecturer, author and storyteller, he has built an incredible foundation of knowledge and experience in his field. Best known publicly as co-host and archaeologist for the international TV documentary series, The Sea Hunters, he has led or participated in shipwreck expeditions around the world. Author of over 33 books, he is a highly sought-after speaker, and has given hundreds of presentations to audiences around the globe. Jim was the Executive Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum for 15 years. Previously, he was the head of the U.S. government’s maritime preservation program and was the maritime historian for the U.S. National Park Service. Jim served as Executive Director and as President and CEO of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology between 2006 and 2010. He is currently the Director of Maritime Heritage in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C.
* The opinions expressed by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of the MUA, its staff, or its partner organizations.