National Geographic: Lost Ships of the Mediterranean

Year:
1999
38 Views


They lived by wind and wave,

and knew these waters well.

Their people were lords of the sea.

Few built finer craft.

Few sailed faster... or farther.

But none of that could save this ship.

The sea would rise up and conceal

its fate for nearly an eternity.

Summer 1997.

The US Navy's nuclear submarine,

the NR-1 is on a mission

in the eastern Mediterranean.

The sub's advanced sonar detects

several large objects in deep water

that appear to be shipwrecks.

Though pressed for time,

the crew decides to take a quick look.

A rough set of coordinates

and a shadowy videotape

are recorded on the fly.

Later, the crew will send word

to a former naval officer-

who is also one of the greatest

undersea explorers in the world.

The man who discovered the Titanic,

the Bismarck,

and many other shipwrecks,

Robert Ballard is immediately intrigued.

The sheer number of ceramic jars

is impressive-

but their meaning escapes

this marine geologist.

Well, not being an archeologist,

all I could tell was

it's an ancient ship,

but I didn't know anything

more than that.

It lies at a forbidding

Is it worth investigating?

Ballard will seek the advice

of an expert.

Throughout the Mediterranean,

most shipwrecks have been discovered

in shallow water.

But this one was found nearly

opposite what was once a thriving

seaport:
the city of Ashkelon.

On the southern coast of

present-day Israel,

Ashkelon's roots reach back

nearly 6,000 years.

Crusaders and Muslims

fought over this place.

Romans claimed it.

Babylonians destroyed it.

In the Bible, it was a stronghold

of the Philistines.

Its earliest known inhabitants

were the Canaanites.

Since 1985,

archeologist Lawrence Stager,

of Harvard University

has directed excavations here.

His knowledge of ancient pottery

is renowned.

In a tiny shard,

he can 'see' an entire artifact,

and pinpoint the culture

that produced it.

Oh, now this is great.

This is Cypro-Geometric III.

This is most probably

an import from Cyprus.

But things were not so clear

in the Navy's videotape.

Well, when I first looked at it,

I was a bit disappointed

that it was so fuzzy, and couldn't

really make out these jars very well.

Because that, of course, was the key

to determining the age of the shipwreck.

But it seemed to me

that they might be early,

and possibly even 9th, 8th,

These two-handled storage jars,

called amphoras,

were first used throughout

the Mediterranean

around 4,000 years ago.

Distinctive styles evolved

in various locales-

a boon for archeologists

who can use the jars

as 'signatures' of time and place.

But sometimes two amphoras

from vastly different eras

can be deceptively similar.

These might be

from the 5th Century A.D.

But Stager has a hunch

they're much older.

He tells Ballard that if this wreck

dates to the Iron Age,

as he suspects, it is the first of its

kind ever found in the Mediterranean.

It was a gamble but one that

I was at least confident enough

in that I would have put down

a good-sized bet.

More than money would be wagered.

In the summer of 1999, the

'Northern Horizon' sets out from Malta.

Ballard and Stager lead an expedition

to relocate and study

the mysterious wreck.

At stake is their conviction

that the combined strengths

of oceanography and archeology

can make history.

You know, when we found the Titanic,

we found the Bismarck,

we knew they existed.

They really were not a discovery.

They were a relocation.

These are true discoveries.

These are chapters of human history

we don't know about,

and I actually think

they are more important.

Still, this expedition begins

like any other.

Okay, ladies and gents!

Make sure your life jackets are right

before I shout you out

else I'll give you to Albert!

Safety training is mandatory

for everyone on board-

forty-nine scientists, engineers,

programmers,

ship's mates and graduate students.

When you jump in what's the correct

way to hold your life jacket?

Yeah, and your nose. Smashing.

Landlubber or seadog,

no one is exempt.

No one.

Larry!

Can't get it any tighter!

The Northern Horizon

has been transformed into

a floating research facility.

Over 55 tons of equipment were

shipped from the United States.

Several larger items have been

welded to the deck.

For nearly two decades,

Ballard has worked with an expert team

out of

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Martin Bowen and Andy Bowen have been

key members of many expeditions.

Inside, Stager's archeology team

has established its own 'headquarters'.

Hey, team, excuse me, I just got some

interesting information from Bob;

he just gave me the coordinates.

They're right on the ancient routes

that some have predicted between

the cedars of Lebanon and Egypt.

His team includes four

graduate students,

as well as an expert on ancient ships,

nautical archeologist

Shelley Wachsmann of

Texas A&M University.

These ships might have had

pretty wide beamy hulls and so forth?

Wachsmann:
They seem from all the

iconography we have from this period

that the merchant ships were extremely

beamy and broad hulled.

Yeah.

If this dates to around 700 BC

this is the first ship ever found

that dates to that time period.

You have to remember that ships

tell the story of history.

I mean, there is nothing

that man ever made

that was not carried on a ship,

including the pyramids-

stone by stone, not in one shot!

And each one of these are

literally a time capsule.

They went down in one moment,

like that,

and everything they were carrying on

it at that one time

went down together,

and that tells us a story.

To reach the coordinates provided

by the Navy will take about five days.

This is the calm before the storm.

We are very relaxed now,

which is great.

People are charging their batteries,

getting sleep,

we just did the testing of the ship.

Everything's proceeding smoothly.

But once we get on site it'll kick in

to around the clock.

And you will see people break up

into three watches,

and there will always be a team

at work 24 hours a day.

Susan and Michael have the

most difficult schedule in some ways

because they work

from 12 noon to 4 p.m.

and then from

they have to sleep

and that's a tough time

to go to sleep

at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

But the reason they have to do

that is because at 12 midnight

they have to get back up

and work the 12 midnight

to 4 a.m. shift.

And go to the van.

Exactly.

And that's where everything

is happening?

Well it sounds like,

from what they said,

that the midnight to 4 a.m. shift

actually is a time

when a lot of things do happen.

On the Northern Horizon, 'navigation'

involves a Global Positioning System

and computer-controlled propulsion.

But a few thousand years ago,

a sea captain had to rely on

somewhat 'higher' powers.

The very heavens were his guide.

He probably spent a lifetime

committing constellations to memory,

observing the shifting angle

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