Technology, archaeology, and the deep sea:
Current research and future directions
David A. Mindell, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Wednesday, February 7, 2001
3:00 p.m.—Pacific Forum
Developments in technology are opening the deep ocean to archaeological
investigation. A number of projects in recent years have proven the
viability of doing archaeology in the deep ocean, particularly the
discovery of Roman and Carthaginian shipwrecks more than a mile deep in
the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily, and recent surveys of Phonecian wrecks
(8th-century b.c.) off Israel. The next frontier for deepwater archaeology
is the Black Sea, which is more than 2,000 meters deep. Below about 150
meters the water is anoxic, and recent evidence indicates the Black Sea
harbors ancient shipwrecks in a high degree of preservation—veritable
gold mines of archaeological information. Such finds could radically alter
our notion of the ancient Black Sea region itself and its role as an
interface between Europe and Asia. The hypothesis by Ryan and Pitman about
an ancient (possibly biblical) flood in the region adds to the Black Sea’s
archaeological potential, as Neolithic dwellings or settlements may also
be found in deep water.
Finding such archaeological sites requires extensive and detailed
surveys, and the MIT Deep Sea Archaeology Research group is developing
technologies to properly document sites in this difficult environment.
High-quality imaging sonars are already being brought to bear, as are
remotely operated and autonomous vehicles. A new acoustic profiling
instrument allows archaeologists to map the structure of a shipwreck while
it is buried in the mud, and then "virtually excavate," or peel
off, vertical layers of computer data to assess the underlying structure
without having to dig the site.
The talk reviews the current state of precision mapping research for
archaeology, presents data and imagery from recent expeditions, and
outlines future research directions in precision mapping, remote
excavation, and autonomous search and survey.
Next: Natural selection, gene flow, and population