The Institute of Nautical Archaeology – By Dr. James P. Delgado

March 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.



  1. Excellent article. Great synopsis of the history of INA.

  2. Hey Dr. Delgado,

    May we ask you for your guidance on the procedures we should take on an antique Captain’s box secret combination sequence? This antique chest contains a secrete compartment on the top of the box, separate from the inside itself. There are two alphabetical dials and a center dial. I suspect that when the left and the right alphabetical dials align, than the middle dial should be able to turn, opening the secret compartment. I tried cracking it by listening with a stethoscope, but was unable to crack the leftmost dial. I would appreciate any background on the chest itself and the era that this was used in as well.

    Please e-mail back and we will send more photos of the chest and the dials.


    • Hi I would suggest having it x-rayed and perhaps haqving a professional locksmith look at it. I am not up to date on these artifacts, I am sorry to say.


  3. I am a 76 year old woman in Victoria, B.C. and I begin my day with breakfast while I watch Sea Hunters on History Channel. Not only is it exciting but reveals many historical facts of where they are diving. Last week there was one filmed on Vancouver Island (in 2004), so I am wondering if the program Sea Hunters is still being filmed and, if not, what are Mike and Warren Fletcher doing these days. I see that you have a new job and are no longer the Exec. Dir. of the Vancouver Maritime Museum. At the end of Sea Hunters Clive Cussler always urges that we get up from the sofa and explore the mountains, seas, etc. Instead, I sit on my sofa and lose myself in the adventures of the Sea Hunters. Can’t quite tackle those mountains or seas in person, but I feel as if I am doing so with the Sea Hunters.
    Thank you.

    Elaine Sheridan

    • Hi Elaine and thank you for watching. I am now working full time for INA as its President and CEO, and the Sea Hunters are no longer being filmed. Mike and Warren have a new show on History TV, Wreck Detectives, and are doing great work around the world.

      It is great to hear from you, and to know that folks are enjoying the adventures.


  4. Hello,
    My name is Akasha Sutherland,i will be a sophomore at Western Michigan University this coming year and plan on majoring in Maritime Archeology, because of my love for the sea and history. This past summer i spent a month in key largo finishing my dive master qualification with PADI and 2 months as in intern for Ed Robinson divers in Maui. Now i am looking field experience in an internship or mentor-type program. Any suggestions on where to look or how to get started would be incredibly helpfulI.
    thank you,
    Akasha Sutherland

  5. HI I am aAwet from the college of arts and social sciences in Eritrea and because I am studying archaeology in third year and I have plans to write a senior essay in maritime ardchaeology what can you help me

  6. I don’t know if you knew this but Jules Verne used a current catalog of existing diving gear when he was researching 20,000LUTS. Using what submariners before the Civil War used to absorb CO2, quicklime. Also compressed air cylinders and oxygen generators!

    Our boys in the engineering club built a one-person dry sub: Omniscience Futureneeing (www.webcomsknkwrks.com)

  7. Esteemed Dr. Delgado,

    Thank you for being such an inspiration and example to so many of us out there like me – a young archaeologist just cutting their teeth on the meaty subjects you have gnawed on for decades. I have followed your work for many years, which I greatly respect and admire. After reading the Archaeology Magazine Article, USS Monitor and HL Hunley, from March 11th, 2013, I wanted to point out a correction and a possible ethical point of contention. When referring to the rediscovery of the Hunley, you say that “Decades of searches culminated in its rediscovery in 1995.” Yet a simple and proper review of the facts clearly that Dr. E Lee Spence found the Hunley and officially reported it in 1970, despite Clive Cussler’s rather offensive and historically revisionist claims. I grew up in Charleston, SC and my Sullivan’s Island Elementary class had a field trip to the Charleston Museum (“America’s First Museum”) when the HL Hunley replica was first erected out front. I was an undergraduate archaeology student at the College of Charleston, where this subject was discussed and debated in class. This is, was, and will continue to be one of the most important (and just plain fun) underwater archaeological subjects of conversation for all Americans, but especially to South Carolinians, which is why my tone may be considered a bit “ornery.” I have personally reviewed the documentation regarding this debate and can testify that Dr. Spence did, in fact, find it 25 years before Cussler says his group did. Bravo to Cussler for the wonderful notoriety his work brought to the historically invaluable Confederate submarine, but I feel it is a grave injustice and an ethical blunder not to give credit where it is properly due, especially as historians are so gravely concerned with truth and authenticity. As you have just included the HL Hunley in a list of “History’s Greatest Wrecks,” I believe there should be a spotlight on this point. As for your own apparent personal relationship and association with Clive Cussler, it draws a certain unethical slant to the controversy, which is, I believe, not suited to a scholar of your stature. Is this not a professional conflict of interest to knowingly propogate a historical falsehood of this magnitude? What can Cussler and those who support his claims possibly gain by doing so? If Spence did not find it first, then why was it he who graciously and patriotically donated his rights to it over to the state of South Carolina? What sinister forces would culminate to perpetuate this fraud. Dr. Spence deserves applause and an apology, and I ask you to please review your official stance on this matter. There is an upcoming television documentary which highlights and investigates this point, and I believe history shall not be kind to the liars. Please help to set the record straight.

    Very Respectfully Yours,

    W. Alexander Fallon
    March 19, 2013

  8. Editor’s note: Dr. Delgado requested I post this reply to Mr. Fallon.

    Dear Alexander:

    Thank you for your comments. I want to commend you for your appeal to scholarship and research, and believe me, I understand your feelings as a native South Carolinian and perhaps as a son of the South, as the great-great-grandson of a veteran of the 3rd Mississippi who followed and dogged Sherman’s march to the sea to the very end of the war and as a modern American who honors the memory of all who fought in that war and the great nation we live in today that resulted from that conflict.

    I have no personal feelings or loyalties in the matter of when and by whom the wreck of H.L. Hunley was discovered. As a scientist, I report the facts based on a review of the evidence. The detailed archaeological work done by the National Park Service, the US Navy and the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology and subsequent work by the Lasch Conservation Laboratory firmly document through geomorphological, stratigraphic and corrosion evidence that H.L. Hunley became completely buried in the bottom within a few decades of its sinking, and was not exposed until the 1995 test excavation by Ralph Wilbanks and Wes Hall uncovered portions of the submarine that verified that the magnetic anomaly they had targeted was Hunley.

    I’m well aware of the ongoing argument being made by Mr. Spence. He has not proven his case. The scientific data obtained from the submarine site and the craft itself indicates it was not visible in 1970.

    My ongoing interest in Hunley remains that of all who care about thesubmarine, which is the continuing work to learn from it, to learn more about its crew, to unlock more of its secrets like the just released information about the spar and spar torpedo, and to ensure its preservation and ongoing access to the public.

    • Dr. Delgado,
      I am humbled by your reply, and I appreciate your kindness and sincerity. This is a very interesting topic, indeed. Thanks for the succinct clarification.
      Very best regards,
      W. Alexander Fallon

    • But, the philosophical question still begs to be asked of Dr. Delgado, “What if it was you (or anyone else) who had ACTUALLY found the Hunley in 1970, and who followed all the same steps as Dr. Spence, and who then had your claim refuted by scientific evidence in 1995, no matter how sound or sketchy that evidence may be? Can you say real life Dark Pitt novel? Please note this statement by the head of the SCIAA from February 27, 2001:

      Underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence, M.H.D., has asked me to comment on his longstanding claim to have found the wreck of the submarine H.L. Hunley prior to 1995. I assume he has asked me to do this because I was the originator and official director of the project, which has been widely credited with the discovery of the Hunley. I appreciate being asked for comments, because it gives me a chance to point out some facts, offer my opinions, and to ponder some important issues.
      First, let’s get straight on the facts. The Hunley Search Project was neither a NUMA project nor a Clive Cussler project. NUMA was simply one of several organizations, which I, as an underwater archaeologist working under the auspices of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, had invited to participate in a project that I had originally put together with the support of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
      Mr. Cussler was only one of a large number of individuals who participated in the project. Mr. Cussler’s biggest contribution was his name recognition value as a best-selling author who writes about a fictional Government agent. His name was a draw card, which is still being used to help sell the Hunley. Furthermore, there were many other people and organizations who supported and otherwise contributed to the project. The most valuable support for the project came from the aforementioned United Daughters of the Confederacy and from members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I am not involved in the current work, but it is my understanding that virtually all of the financial support for the current work is coming from the taxpayers of South Carolina, who have followed the lead of those same Sons and Daughters.
      Although, even by NUMA’s official press release and by Mr. Cussler’s own statements to the press in May of 1995, I was the director of the Hunley Search Project, and could theoretically claim all credit for the discovery, but that would not be ethical or fair. It would be especially unfair to Dr. Spence. I say that because, after a review of the archaeological evidence published in the federal government’s H.L. Hunley Site Assessment (1998), and of various maps, notes, and other information related to me by Dr. Spence, I am convinced that Dr. Spence found and correctly identified the wreck prior to 1995.
      I am not saying that our project was not part of the discovery, it most certainly was. Part of our objective for 1995 was to visit and check out Dr. Spence’s site. But, like Dr. Spence, we were only a part of the discovery. In a very real sense the discovery of the Hunley has already spanned thirty years and is still going on. Every day the archaeologists, forensic experts, archivists and others discover more about the Hunley.
      What my project apparently did in 1995 was to verify that what Dr. Spence had found was indeed the Hunley. That was a discovery of major importance and it was something Dr. Spence had actively pressed the government to do for years. It was Dr. Spence’s persistence in pursuing and publishing his claim that has allowed all of us to participate in and be part of the ongoing discovery of the Hunley.
      Dr. Spence should be credited with being the first to find the Hunley, not the NUMA divers, and certainly not Clive Cussler.
      The Hunley Commission’s conclusion against Dr. Spence was simply not supported by the scientific evidence. The evidence actually supports Dr. Spence’s contention that the wreck was partially exposed when he found it in 1970. There is so much evidence in support of Dr. Spence’s claims that one might even wonder whether Mr. Cussler’s published threat to give $100,000 to any political opponent of Hunley Commission Chairman, Senator Glenn F. McConnell, was a factor in the Commission’s 1997 decision in favor of Mr. Cussler.
      Mark M. Newell Ph.D.

      This statement is a matter of public record, and, yes, I am appealing to scholarship and research. PS–Interestingly, I believe a strong case can be made that Cussler modeled his famed Dark Pitt character, at least in part, after Dr. Spence, much in the same way Margaret Mitchell modeled her character, Rhett Butler, after real-life Charlestonian, George Alfred Trenholm. Of course it was Dr. Spence who discovered that too.

      W. Alexander Fallon
      Isle of Palms, SC
      March 21, 2013

      • Please see:


        Historical revisionism is a nasty enterprise, and all association with it should be avoided like the plague. As you see, the above observations are spot-on and cutting edge topics! – which should then dictate a public and well publicized correction in your article and all future treatment of the subject. As one of the most influential stewards and protectors of the world’s nautical archaeological treasure, you of all people should champion this reform. Moreover, I hope this dialogue would prompt definitive conversion, much as how Saul became Paul – persecutor-cum-proselytizer style. Do professionals, now, in 2013, only make public apologies for making mistakes at the point of a gun? Is there some legal conflict in admitting the truth in this matter? If so, please point it out. The internet is, as print and radio have been for so long, a powerful tool which may be utilized for both good and evil. Which side are you on? Please allow this blog to serve as official notice. Please feel free to contest any part of this, and/or ask for complete documentation to back up my assertions. As an archaeologist and a historian, and a hero to so many, such injustice should piss you off too!

        W. Alexander Fallon
        March 23, 2013

  9. Ephesians 5:11
    And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

  10. Dr. Degado,

    Rather than publicly debating these points in a reply or a blog, which I feel may not be entirely professional, I would like to humbly engage in a private dialogue first. Make no mistake, my aim is to correct the egregious errors presented in the your article, with the aim of having you publicly correct what you wrote. But I wish to do this in a happy spirit of comraderie, as fellow academics and writers, for the general enlightenment of yourself and your readers. Very simply put, Dr. Spence did indeed first find the Hunley in 1970, and I have compiled overwhelming evidence to prove it. If you are willing, I would like to provide all documentation for your own personal gratification, as well as provide a point-by-point rebuttal to your responses. I believe Dr. Spence himself must be a gentleman of such high standards and decency, that he probably doesn’t even have the time to dignify misrepresentations and poorly researched articles with a response. But I, on the other hand, who am involved in a project which puts a spotlight on this debate, am very interested to see if this method might indeed produce in you a true conversion, rather than in more public and professionally embarrassing way. Be sure that my intent to expose all wrongdoings in this case and to expedite a reckoning as a result. So sure am I of my claims, that I would also expose myself publicly to the same high level of scrutiny. Therefore, if you would like to debate this on your website, I woud relish the opportunity. Please provide a more appropriate forum, if not.

    The legal matter of what was done against Dr. Spence is separate, and will be exposed in due time. What I would like to provoke is an organic response by you and all other authors on this subject, for the high and noble purpose of nipping historical revisionism in the bud, at the source. I am well underway in entreating similar discourse with a many writers, historians, and archaeologists, so please don’t feel that I have singled you out, or that there is any malintent in what I write. This is one of the most important topics in Nautical Archaeology today, and as such I am very passionate in its debate. As I have written to others, please help to set the record straight, and be very mindful of which side you may choose, because history will record the ultimate vindication of Dr. Spence. Please consider this email as official notice, and please indicate either your willingness or unwillingness to participate in this dialogue in a follow-up email.

    W. Alexander Fallon
    Isle of Palms, SC
    March 25, 2013

  11. Dr. Delgado,
    I received your first reply within 24 hours – pretty quick. It has now been over 2 weeks with no further reply. With all due respect, your response was not satisfactory, as it did not address the main points in question. You say your relationship with Mr. Cussler does not affect your bias in the matter of who found the Hunley, yet that bias is clearly expressed in your curt dismissal of the points I raised above. The “scientific evidence” submitted by the Hunley Commission and its reports has been refuted by several high-level independent reviewers. The result of independent review actually supports Dr. Spence’s claims, proving his case, and points to political manipulation. You say you are “well aware of the ongoing argument made by Mr. Spence,” yet you still write in your articles what appear to be a smear of him and the real history of the discovery of the Hunley. Dr. Spence is not the challenger who came to seek publicity to sell something – that is Cussler ….When Dr. Spence found the Hunley in 1970, (at age 23) he had already found the Georgiana, Mary Bowers, Constance Decimer, Norseman, Housatonic, Constance, Minho, Ruby, and Stonewall Jackson (and so many others.) He had already done, at that age, what many tenured professors of nautical archaeology could only dream of doing in their long careers. The entire expedition for the Hunley was based on 25 years of Dr. Spence’s hard work, yet no where in the entirety of The Hunley Report is he mentioned. So when the record is finally set straight, and the shady aspects of this come to the light, will you only then acknowledge Dr. Spence’s important contributions? Won’t you let me share with you further proofs, so as to win you over?

    Alex Fallon

  12. Hello? Anybody out there?


    Remember: the world is watching……

  13. Now that I reread your article, I realize you didn’t really say anything wrong when you wrote, “Decades of searches culminated in its [The Hunley’s] rediscovery in 1995.” You just don’t give credit where it is long overdue. You are right that decades of searches happened before 1995. And the team that raised the Hunley did, in fact REDISCOVER it….since it was already definitively found by Dr. Spence in 1970. So many have been duped into believing the historically revisionist version of the story….and then they “research” the subject and write about it, (and make tv shows about it) further spreading the historical falsehoods. Shouldn’t you feel some remorse for having shared a role in the spread of that misinformation, even if unwittingly? They’re writing children’s books and “definitive works” on the subject of the Hunley and its discovery…….and Dr. Spence’s key role isn’t even mentioned. Doesn’t that seem wrong to you? This “dialogue” is getting heavily one-sided, so I’ll wait for a reply. I’m starting to get discouraged by your lack of further response. Just study well the information I have sent you and posted here. I know that you are extremely busy, but I think this deserves your attention.

  14. Dear James P. Delgado,

    My name is Keli Asamoah; I was born in Ghana, earned a Bachelor of Science in Agronomy from Tuskegee University in Alabama, and have served both as a Water Specialist in the U.S. Army, and an Agriculture Specialist at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    I am fascinated with human history and the potential exciting evidence of the transcontinental excursions that took place 400 to 500 years ago between Holland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the West African Coast. The bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ghana must surely be ripe with ship wrecks, human remains and various cargo discarded from top heavy ships whose captains needed to lighten their load.

    Have you considered exploring the sea bottom off Ghana (the Gold Coast)? I am closely connected to members of the current administration and I would love it if an organization like yours could help to uncover buried maritime secrets of Ghana’s colonial past, particularly in the Western Region and Upper Volta Region (via the River Volta) where British Slavers would have undoubtedly explored as a result of the impenetrable resistance shown by the Ashanti tribe along Ghana’s southwestern coast. Please respond.

  15. The statement reproduced above, and over my name, has been edited to reflect a positive affirmation with regards to my opinion that Lee Spence found the Hunley many years before the actual discovery (actually by SCIAA in September of 1995, not by Wilbanks the following year). I have, in actual fact, stated only that I reviewed Mr. Spence’s material on file at SCIAA as part of my own research, and that I believed it was “possible” that Mr. Spence could have found the Hunley.

    Mark M. Newell Ph.D., RPA

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