Dispatch 8: “Mr. High Tech”

July 18, 1999

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

Accompanied by legendary underwater archaeologist George Bass, Ballard and his “Z” boat returned to the area he believes is the beach of an ancient coastline. After a few stalled attempts at lowering the ROV, Ballard told the crew to give it up. “Let’s just dredge it,” he said.

A makeshift dredge about a foot [one third of a meter] tall and wide was lowered to the sea floor to scoop up samples. Says Ballard, “I’m known as Mr. High Tech, and this is about as low tech as you can get.”

Full of mud and seafloor samples, the dredge was raised to the deck and into Ballard’s hands. “I reached in through the muck and pulled out a pebble and I tossed it to George.”

This being Bass’s first day on a short visit to Sinop, he eyed the pebble and replied, “I sure did come on the right day.”

The dredged samples were buried under about a foot [one third of a meter] of gray mud—a very fine sediment. Under that sediment were chunks of pebbles that were fused into clusters. Ballard theorizes that the fusion was due to an underwater chemical reaction. Provided that the pebbles were undisturbed, manganese and phosphate could have precipitated on the pebbles, and over time fused them together like rusted metal.

Also found in the sample were shells, waterlogged bits of wood, what may be charcoal, and what may be a shard of obsidian. The samples will have to be studied and dated.

The samples were found below the berm of the coast—the highest place on shore that the gnawing action of waves can reach. Ballard is looking through the garbage and detritus of what may be an ancient shore in search of things that humans might have discarded or left behind.

Says Ballard, “There was a flood. Absolutely. I’m convinced of it. Now we’ve got to take it to the next level. We’ve got to find evidence of human settlement.”

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