Alumnus John Albertson’s (’06) first-hand account of underwater archaeology in Black Sea

Posted on August 14th, 2007 by

Dear readers,
I’ve been asked to write a brief account of my doings since graduation in ’06, and thus you find this post. I’m writing from the stark, stony beauty of the Crimean coast where I’m currently working with the Centre for Underwater Archaeology of Ukraine’s Taras Shevchenko University. Upon leaving Gustavus I actually spent a year working as an English teacher with the JET program in Hiroshima, but that story has little relevance to our field; suffice it to say that several boats, buses and trains later I arrived for my second season of excavation here in the north Black Sea. The main area of research, as it has been since 2002, is the wreck of a trading vessel roughly 100 yards off the coast of the resort town of Novy Svet. Recovered pottery, some unique enough to bear the title of “Novy Svet ware”, dates to the late 13th century A.D., and tentative identification with a Pisan vessel recorded as sunk in these particular waters in 1277 has collaborative dendrochronological and ceramic institutes investigating.

Life at the site is invigorating. The main camp is built on an ex-WWII German gun position, so our kitchen is a bunker and our shower the (appropriately) excavated ammunition shed. Life is conducted under two large US military tents, one holding our equipment (suits, B.C.’s, regulators, tanks, computers, compressors etc.) and the other our cots, which we often carry out along the cliff face for the cool sea breezes and the incomparable stars. The day begins at sunrise, either with a swim, cooking, or paperwork, followed by a breakfast of kasha and tea. The dive team will then load the vehicles and head the 3 kilometers to a stony beach just off the wreck, where we assemble whatever equipment we’ll need for the day. This generally includes a hookah compressor (a floating air compressor that allows four divers to go to depths of 35 feet without the encumbrance of tanks and B.C.’s and extending bottom time to up to three hours per dive), a small surface boat for the dive manager and whatever cameras, lift bags or DPV’s (diver propulsion vehicles) will be necessary.

We’re in the water by 9:30 and back at base between 2 and 5, depending on the conditions. We lay the new artifacts out, sometimes leaving the more delicate ones in salt water for preservation. They’re drawn, photographed, recorded and some of the hardier pieces are reconstructed. Video and photographs are compressed, paired with explanations, and posted to the Centre’s website (http://www.fieldschool.univ.kiev.ua/fs01.html) and our interactive dig hosted by the AIA (http://www.archaeology.org/interactive/blacksea/).

The end result of the excavation season is a summary report finished during the Autumn and early Winter. Often, presentations are given at the annual EAA conference, which will be held in Zadar, Croatia this September. This year the team’s Ms. Yana Morozova is organizing the EAA conference session entitled “10 centuries of Byzantine trade: from the 5th to the 15th centuries A.D.” and I will be presenting an overview of the Centre’s work entitled “Salvaging History: International outreach and collaboration in the north Black Sea”.

If you’d like more information about the excavation or would like to participate during upcoming seasons, please browse the above mentioned websites and feel free to email me at ndianajohn@yahoo.com.
Best wishes,
John Albertson
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One Comment

  1. some truly great info , Sword lily I discovered this.