Acnient shipwrecks found deep in Mediterranean



EMBARGOED: For release 11 a.m. Wednesday, 
July 30, 1997

	WASHINGTON -- Using a remotely operated 
vehicle and a nuclear submarine deep on the bottom of the 
Mediterranean Sea, a team of oceanographers, engineers and 
archaeologists led by Robert Ballard has discovered the 
largest concentration of ancient shipwrecks ever found in the 
deep sea, one of them dating to before the time of Christ.
	The cluster of eight ships, along with thousands of 
artifacts spanning more than 2,000 years of human history, 
lies 2,500 feet (762 meters) beneath an ancient trade route -- 
almost a half-mile (805 meters) below the surface. They include 
five ships from ancient Roman times lost between about 100 B.C. 
and 400 A.D., one Islamic ship from the 18th or early 19th 
centuries, and two modern ships lost in the 19th century. 
The discovery -- including retrieval of more than 100 
artifacts -- was announced Wednesday at the National 
Geographic Society.
	Although cloaked in perpetual darkness, the water 
surrounding the ships is “crystal clear,” said Ballard, 
of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn. He said the 
discovery launches a new era in archaeology -- study of 
mankind’s maritime past by exploration of the deep sea.
	 “A sunken ship is a moment in time encapsulated at 
the bottom of the ocean, put into suspended animation,” said 
Ballard, whose previous underwater exploits have included 
the discovery of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic and the 
German battleship Bismarck. “Most shallow-water 
shipwrecks tear up on rocks, become encrusted with coral, 
or are looted by divers and fishermen. These deepwater sites 
are covered only by a very fine dusting of sedimentation and 
have never been touched by humans -- until now.”
	The researchers used the U.S. Navy’s nuclear 
submarine NR-1, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Charles 
Richard, to locate the sites. Capable of searching vast 
regions of the ocean bottom for long periods of time, NR-1 
uses long-range sonar that can detect shipwrecks at much 
greater distances than sonars previously used by 
oceanographers. It also was equipped with a remotely 
operated arm that was used to recover the heavy anchors.
	The remotely operated vehicle Jason, from Woods 
Hole Oceanographic Institution, was used to explore and 
bring up the 115 artifacts, carefully selected by the 
archaeologists to help in dating the ancient wrecks. At 
several sites Jason was placed on an automated path that 
enabled it to survey shipwrecks with a precision never 
attained before in the deep sea.  The pilot of Jason also was 
able to maneuver within inches of delicate artifacts, including 
fine glassware, and gently pick them up and transport them 
to an elevator device that took them to the surface without 
	“You come in with your robot, this most advanced 
technology on the planet, almost like a spaceship, and you’re 
hovering over a picture of antiquity two millennia old,” said 
Ballard. “It’s a breathtaking, unbelievable scene.”
	The oldest of the wrecks is of particular importance 
as one of the few and one of the earliest shipwrecks from 
ancient Roman times ever found, dating from the late 2nd or 
early 1st century B.C. It lies undisturbed, with most of the 
finds intact. The visible remains suggest a vessel about one 
hundred feet (thirty meters) long, with two cargo holds fore 
and aft of the mast. 	The remarkably varied collection of 
artifacts includes an array of kitchen and other household 
wares, fine bronze vessels, two heavy lead anchor stocks, 
and at least eight different types of amphora intended for 
wine, olive oil, fish sauce and preserved fruit, said Anna 
Marguerite McCann of Boston University, director of the 
archaeology team.
	Three other wrecks probably date to the first century 
A.D. One of them carried a heavy cargo of high-quality 
marble or granite building stones roughed out from a quarry 
to be finished on site. Carefully packed in at least two layers 
in a roughly square central section of the hold, they include 
monolithic columns as well as some large, irregular blocks -- 
and a large supply of kitchen ware.
	“Sampling the splendidly preserved cargo of cooking 
wares in this wreck is like shopping in a Roman kitchenware 
outlet,” said John Oleson, a project archaeologist.
The researchers believe the ships, strewn over a 20-square-
mile (32-square-kilometer) area, were sunk by sudden, 
violent storms that frequent the Mediterranean during certain 
times of the year, turning parts of the region into “Bermuda 
Triangles” of lost ships.
	Before these discoveries, no major ancient shipwreck 
sites had been discovered and explored by archaeologists in 
water deeper than 200 feet (61 meters), an area that 
represents less than 5 percent of the world’s oceans. 
Technologies used by the Ballard team can reach 20,000 feet 
(6096 meters) -- the depth of 98 percent of the oceans.
	The explorers were a collection of scientists from 
different fields working together for the first time to establish 
the new field of deepwater archaeology, and they represent a 
unique collaboration of government, high-technology and 
the humanities. The oceanographers and engineers were led 
by Dana Yoerger of Woods Hole. The archaeology team was 
headed by McCann of Boston University; conservation was 
directed by Dennis Piechota of Object and Textile 
Conservation, Arlington, Mass. 
	The project was funded by the U.S. Navy’s Office 
of Naval Research and the Navy’s Office of Deep 
Submergence Systems, National Geographic Television, the 
National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and 
Exploration, the Institute for Exploration,  the J.P. Kaplan 
Fund, Sun-Star Electric Inc. and private donors. Additional 
support for members of the archaeology team came from 
Boston University, the University of Victoria, British 
Columbia, the Joukowsky Foundation and private donors. 
	National Geographic Television is producing a film 
about the expedition that will air on its EXPLORER series 
on TBS in early 1998. National Geographic magazine is 
preparing an article. Some of the artifacts will be on display 
at the Society’s Explorers Hall July 31 through Aug. 31.
	Ballard, formerly of Woods Hole, is now president 
of the Institute for Exploration, which is dedicated to 
pioneering the new field of deep-sea archaeology. He is 
already planning his next expedition -- to the Black Sea. 
Barbara Moffet
 (202) 857-7756
Melissa Montefiore
 (202) 857-7627