Dispatch 2: Ready, willing, but unable

September 1, 2000

At 3:45 p.m. today the Northern Horizon entered the Black Sea after completing the 17-mile [27- kilometer] passage through the Bosporus Strait from Istanbul. An hour later, Bob Ballard called the expedition crew together below decks to outline the team’s mission and search strategy.

Photo of the Bosporus Strait bankWeeks one and four the team will spend searching shallow-water areas for early Paleolithic settlements, Ballard said. Weeks two and three the team will search deep-water regions for shipwrecks of antiquity believed to lie along ancient trade routes.

Looking in the right place—for the right clues—is key to the team’s success. All who were gathered knew that.

The right place in the case of Paleolithic settlements, Ballard estimates, would be “livable areas,” regions with broad stretches of flat land or river valleys and deltas. To determine where those areas lie, Ballard explained, “we pulled the plug and drained the Black Sea to what it was about 7,000 years ago—then put the plug back in.”

The topography that emerges provides a number of clues. Much of the old coastline is steep cliff. It can be ruled out. The same is true for an area of beach. What remains are two prime areas of broad, flat land that might have been settled by Paleolithic peoples prior to the inundation of the Black Sea basin.

Ballard announced the plan to start searching the first target area around 6:00 p.m. The team would lower the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s side-scan sonar unit, the DSL-120, and begin collecting data. As Ballard told the crew, “Tonight we’ll either be confirming our thoughts or scratching our heads.”

The DSL-120 team prepped the unit and awaited the go-ahead. But the O.K. never came. Monitors from the Turkish government, traveling onboard the Northern Horizon. denied permission for the drop. The reason? The area lay outside the search zone approved by the expedition team’s research permit.

The expedition team lost their chance to search a “prime piece of real estate,” as Dwight Coleman, an oceanographer from the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut, would say later.

It will take another 10 to 12 hours for the Northern Horizon to reach its second target, a 150-square- mile [390-square-kilometer] area found roughly 5 to 15 miles [8 to 24 kilometers] off the coast in the area of Sinop. What was to be a busy night for team members became instead time for equipment checks, rest, and waiting.

—Sean Markey

Go to 1999 Dispatches

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