Dispatch 1: Introduction

July 5, 1999

(Note: Nationalgeographic.com does not research or edit dispatches.)

This week a collaborative team of explorers is assembling in Sinop, Turkey, on the coast of the Black Sea. Believed to have been founded by the Greeks in the eighth century B.C., the port of Sinop is the site of more than a millennium of trade activity. A rich bounty of archaeological artifacts—shipwrecks, shipping containers, and, perhaps, dwellings—lies hidden in its waters. If the team is successful, some of those artifacts may be viewed for the first time in hundreds or thousands of years.

Robert Ballard

The 1999 Black Sea expedition is under the overall direction of chief scientist Robert Ballard. Only weeks ago, Ballard and Harvard University archaeologist Lawrence Stager found the world’s oldest deep-sea shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The principal investigators of the Black Sea expedition are David Mindell of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Fredrik Hiebert of the University of Pennsylvania. Underwater archaeologist Cheryl Ward of Texas A&M University at Galveston is collaborating with them.

The expedition continues several years of land and underwater archaeology in the Sinop region. The land team, headed by Hiebert, has concentrated on identifying ancient road networks, agricultural areas, dwellings, and places where trade goods and shipping containers were produced. The underwater team, headed by Mindell, uses this information to help concentrate its surveys in areas that are most likely to yield submerged artifacts.

According to team member Brendan Foley of MIT, the team will use four shipping boats, each loaded with remote-sensing equipment. Two boats will deploy side-scan sonar to survey broad areas of the seafloor. The other two boats will serve as platforms for the ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) that will videotape the objects.

On a previous survey in 1998, Mindell’s team located several promising sonar targets at a depth of about 70 meters (230 feet). The team will return to those and other sites over the next two weeks.

What are they hoping to find?

—Michael Heasley





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