24 May 2009
The early morning sun is shining across the big square in the heart of Heraklion, Crete, and lighting up the lobby of the Astoria Capsis Hotel. I will meet the rest of our team of archaeologists and marine geologists at breakfast in an hour. But jetlag and a uncontrollable fit of wakefulness struck me at 4 oclock this morning, so I have been parked for the last three hours at the computer terminal in the hotel’s lobby, trying to catch up on email before boarding the research vessel AEGAEO later this morning for our 2009 underwater expedition. This year the DANAOS project’s target area lies near the confluence of the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean, and we are hopeful of locating ancient shipwrecks that may have been involved in maritime trade between the Greek world and Egypt. The ship to shore satellite links for phones and internet access are unpredictable. But I hope to have something to report when we come back to shore after the first week at sea, to take on the technical crew that operate the ROVs or “Remote Operated Vehicles” that will give us “eyes on the bottom” at a depth of more than a kilometer below the surface.
One tantalizing image, made almost half a century ago, gives us hope that some remarkable discoveries may still be made in these waters. An American research team was cruising with a camera and light towed behind their ship, on a very long cable. The camera was set to take photographs of the sea floor at regular intervals. When the film was developed, one of the photos showed an almost unbelievable scene. It had been taken, by an incredible coincidence, as the camera was passing directly above an ancient amphora or jar. The open mouth of the pottery vessel was directed straight up toward the camera lens. And inside the jar, clearly visible in the flash, is a white object that appears to be a skull. A human skull. The odds against relocating that exact artifact are astronomical. Even the research team at the time could not state exactly where the photo was taken. But it does give hope that ancient materials in a remarkable state of preservation may still lie preserved in these deep waters.