Interview with Chief Archaeologist Dr. Fredrik Hiebert

September 9, 2000

The following is an abridged transcript of an interview with Dr. Fredrik Hiebert, Chief Archaeologist of the Black Sea 2000 Expedition. Hiebert is a professor of anthropology and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, adjunct researcher at the Institute for Exploration, and an adjunct professor at the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. The interview was conducted by online correspondent Sean Markey in the expedition control room onboard the Northern Horizon following the expedition team’s visual inspection of the settlement site with the remotely operated vehicle Little Hercules.

“From my perspective, what we’ve done today is of world importance. We’ve discovered, for the first time, an ancient settlement which is located underwater in the Black Sea which relates to the settlements that we’ve been finding on land on the Black Sea coastline.

During [the] time...the Black Sea was a freshwater lake, it had a rich coastline. It had been proposed that people had been living around this coastline. But we had no proof of this. It was just an idea.

This morning we went back to one of the most promising of these sites. A site that was located right along a submerged river valley. A place that according to our on-land archaeological surveys would have been a key place for human settlement. As we approached the site, we were coming along the flat, slightly sloping plane of the bottom of Black Sea today. It was almost featureless. And then we approached our target and it was quite distinct. There really was very little change around this site. But as we approached it, we found a rectangular site some four meters, or 10-12 feet, across and maybe double that in length. It was astonishing, because rather than being a typical underwater feature that we’d seen before—a shipwreck or an anchor or any other of the debris that you might see on the bottom of the Black Sea—here were hewn beams in a rectangular form along with branches that seemed to be stuck in layers of mud. What we were looking at was a melted building made out of wattle and daub. Now, this is the typical type of construction for the ancient inhabitants along the Black Sea coast.

And here we’re seeing it under 300 feet [91 meters] of water. It was one of the most astonishing things I’ve ever seen.

We had a chance to drive over that and inspect it very carefully with our remotely operated vehicle. As we went very carefully—practically inch by inch—over this site we began to see stone tools. These stone tools are pecked stone...not small blades...but seemed to be pecked or ground stone. I don’t know if they’re hammers or chisels. We are not touching anything. We’re just photographing them. We’re mapping them so that we have a good understanding of what this site is. So I’m not actually sure what these stone tools are. But it’s quite clear that they were worked by human hands. Some of them appear to be quite strongly polished.

We also found fragments of ceramics. These ceramics were literally exposed on the floor of this structure. It was amazing to see this because we imagine that the sediments would have covered them. But here on the ancient coastline sedimentation is so low that the ceramics were exposed. We were able to see that this structure more or less is in the shape of what we would think is an ancient house. It had ceramics. It had these ground stone implements. It had the clear remains of walls made out of mud with sticks and beams as their major construction.

This is a remarkable find. We need to study it more to understand its date. And also to look at the surrounding land to understand this building in the context of its settlement structure all along the coast.

So this is the first of what I hope to be is a really exciting series of discoveries this season, looking for ancient settlements along the submerged coastline.

Go to 1999 Dispatches

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