Dispatch 7: Lay of the Land

July 17, 1999

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

“Bob is finding landscapes underwater, and this is the kind of place he might be looking for,” says Owen Doonan, director of the Black Sea land expedition.

High on a hilltop with a clear view of the Black Sea, Doonan is standing in a fallow field bordered by squares of plowed cornfields.

As the plow turned the rich soil, it also unearthed scores of pottery fragments from the amphora and roof tiles of a Greco-Roman settlement. The plowed cornfields are littered with them, but they can also easily be found in the fallow fields.

Photo of ancient pottery fragments

Doonan calls the pottery pieces the plastic cups and bottles of the ancient world because they are ubiquitous and apparently immune to deterioration. The terra cotta colored tiles and pottery tell him many things.

The composition of the tiles tells him that they were of Roman construction because they contain black sand particles that gave them added strength. The black sand comes from a local beach and was highly sought after—it was even exported to other Black Sea colonies.

The shapes of handles and decorative bumps on the pottery allow him to more closely match style with the time in which they were produced.

But the tiles can only tell him so much. Today, he’s got some help.

Joining him are assistant director Alex Gantos, graduate students Astrid Runggaldier and Alex Bauer, Turkish Ministry of Culture representative Nurhan Turan, and geomagnetics expert Meg Watters.

The team will lay out ropes to form a grid that Watters will survey with a magnetometer. The magnetometer is extremely sensitive to metals, burnt debris, and fired clay, including bricks from ancient buildings. The data collected from the magnetic survey is interpreted by Watters (aided by special software) to create an image of what lies underneath the surface of the ground. The effect is somewhat like a virtual excavation.

The team suspects the site may have been a small village that burned down. The image that will be produced from the magnetometer’s readings should help them delineate the layout of the site and help them determine if it is a candidate for excavation.

The team may also learn more about earlier settlements and the kind of places prehistoric people chose to live. Thus far according to Doonan, the land team has learned that “these people generally liked to live on bumps and hills, in areas with good drainage, and near springs and streams.”

Photo of the countryside near Sinop

The Paleolithic and Neolithic hunters and gatherers chose to live near river basins where “the living was easy, and there was an abundance of plant life and food like shellfish, waterfowl, and other game.”

These observations should be good news to Ballard, who is focusing his survey on an area where he believes an ancient river met an ancient lake.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]