The John C. Rouman Lecture Series in Classical and Hellenic Cultures 1
October 17, 2001
Anna Marguerite McCann

Figure 1
The development in the last ten years of the new robotic technology to explore the sea floor at depths of up to 6000 m. has revolutionized underwater archaeology . While over three-fifths of planet earth is covered with water, over 95% of the oceans still remain unexplored. But now with the new robotic technology developed in the past ten years, archaeologists can explore at depths where man previously was unable to go.

Using SCUBA (the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) invented in 1942 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau , Frederic Dumas, and Emile Gagnan, the archaeologist has only been able to skim the shallow fringes of the oceans to depths of under about 60 m. Now with Remotely Operated vehicles (ROV) scientists can search to depths of up to 6000 m. with camera, video and sonar wide areas of the sea floor in safety with speed and accuracy. 2 Or with the newest and much less expensive robotic tool, an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), one can search to depths of 3000 m. 3 A new era for underwater archaeology has arrived. It has gone deep and it has gone technical. The challenge is successful collaborative research between archaeologists, engineers, conservators and oceanographers. Together we must practice selective, non-destructive archaeology, to discover new knowledge about our ocean planet while protecting our common maritime heritage.

Figure 2
The first exploration in the Deep Sea with the new robotic technology took place in 1989 in international waters off the coast of Sicily 4, just north of Skerki Bank, a treacherous reef that lies just below the surface. (Fig. 1) The collaborative team was headed by Robert D. Ballard, director of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn. This author was the archaeology director. The project was the first use of ROV Jason, one of the most versatile ROVs in use today, developed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution by Ballard and a talented group of engineers. (Fig. 2) The robot gave its name to the JASON Projects directed toward the education of children in the sciences and included the first live, interactive television directly from the sea floor. About 225,000 children in the United States and Canada in their science museums directly communicated with the team in the Mediterranean in a half-second of time. The JASON Projects have continued every year and now reach about one half million school children annually.

We returned again to the Skerki Bank site in 1997 with ROV Jason and also with the US Navy's NR-1 nuclear submarine. 5 In all, eight shipwrecks were located in an area of about 210 square nautical miles at a depth of about 800 m. The NR-1 was particularly useful in identifying the shipwreck sites with its powerful forward looking sonar that could spot ancient amphoras at a distance of 1000 m.6 Five of the wrecks found are Roman with one medieval fishing vessel and two nineteenth century wooden sailing ships. The Roman shipwrecks span a period of time from about 100 B.C. to 400 A.D, documenting a major trade route between ancient Carthage and Rome over the open seas. That there was a quick, direct route over the open ocean between North Africa and Rome has long been known. The Roman orator, Cato the Elder, in the first half of the second century B.C. showed the senate in Rome a fig that "had been picked at Carthage three days before" (Plin. HN 15.75). What scholars did not know before was that the route crossed over the treacherous Skerki Bank reef. This paper will focus on three of the Roman wrecks and their cargoes from Skerki Bank ranging in date from the first century B.C. to the fourth century A.D., covering the span of Roman trade.

The earliest of the Roman wrecks found at Skerki Bank is designated Wreck D. In studying all the wreck sites, they were first mapped and photographed by ROVJason. Using a combination of precisely controlled tracklines and sensor data, detailed photomosaics (Fig. 3) and precise bathymetric maps of the sites were made. Then selected artifacts were lifted for study and to aid in more precise dating of the shipwrecks. 35 artifacts were recovered from Skerki Wreck D. The artifacts date in the first half of the first century B.C. and probably can be narrowed to between 80 and 60 B.C. on the basis of the amphora finds as well as a Campanian black-glazed plate, Morel form 2273. (Fig. 4)7 The other datable material includes kitchen and commonware, finer pottery, a fine bronze wine ladle, and two lead anchor stocks with one lead anchor strap. They must mark the bow of the ship at the north end of the site, which is about 20 m long overall. Wreck D was probably a medium-sized merchantman with a beam of 7-8 m. Built in the ancient shell-first method using mortise and tenon joinery, the captain braved the fast route over the open seas to make a profit with his cargo.

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1. I would like to thank the Committee for the Rouman lecture series for the opportunity to speak and particularly Mary and Christos Papoutsy for their generous hospitality that made my time at the University of New Hampshire such a happy and memorable one.

My original talk was given with many slides and without a written text. So, I have tried here to document in footnotes some descriptions of the slides, as well as photograph references and further bibliography for key pieces.

2. For example, see description of ROV Jason in McCann and Freed 1994, pp. 95-97. ROV Jason, one of the most sophisticated ROV's in use today, can go to depths of 6000m. Jason is 2.2 m long, 1.2 m high and 1.1 m wide. It weighs 1200 kg in air and has a maximum speed of 2 knots. It is designed to be neutrally buoyant in water using a syntactic foam flotation unit and a light aluminum tube frame. Three titanium housings seal in the electronic circuitry so essential for its operation. Jason is powered by seven brushless DC electric thrusters that give it excellent maneuverability in all directions. Essential for Jason's archaeological work is the electrically controlled mechanical arm used to recover samples and artifact. It is operated from a rate joystick in the remote-control room of the mother vessel.

Jason works in conjunction with a smaller towed unmanned camera sled named Medea. It serves as the support vehicle for the tethered, remotely operated Jason and as a relay station for signals between the main cables linking the two vehicles to a control room above on a dynamically positioned mother ship. The chief original designer of ROV Jason is Andy Bowen at the Deep Submergence Laboratory at Woods Hole who continues to develop its capabilities. Jason has recently been redesigned. The original cost of Jason was several million dollars.

At MIT's Sea Grant AUV Lab, two AUV's have recently been developed. One, the 'Xanthos', is an Odyssey I I c class and is mounted for video survey only. It is 2.2 m long with a diameter of 0.58 m. At a speed of 1-3 knots it can cover 22 km in 4 hours. The lab's newest vehicle, the 'Delphini', is an Odyssey I I I extended class. It has a length of 3.4 m and a diameter of 0.58 m. It has a survey endurance time of 20 hours and is equipped with state-of-the-art sensors to collect high-quality data. Both have operating depths of 3000 m.

3. The cheapest AUV today, mounted with a camera and sonar, I am told by Prof. Chryssostomos Chryssostomidis, director of the Ocean Engineering department and the Sea Grant AUV Lab at MIT, can be built for about $100,000. An AUV is thus much cheaper to build and to operate than a versatile ROV such as Jason. An AUV works totally independently from a mother ship and does not need cumbersome meters of cable as an ROV. An AUV can be launched from a small boat or shore and thus is also much more economical to operate. The disadvantage of an AUV is that the archaeologist does not have real- time contact and must wait for data. The AUVs being developed at MIT also are not as yet equipped for lifting. However, the AUV's are under continuous development and further survey capabilities are anticipated.

4. McCann and Freed 1994.

5. Ballard 1998; Ballard, McCann 2000; McCann 2000; McCann 2001. The archaeology/conservation team directed by this author included: J. P.Oleson, University of Victoria, BC; J. Adams, University of Southampton; B. Foley, graduate student, MIT; D. Piechota, Arlington, MA.; C. Giangrande, Institute of Archaeology, University College, London.

The NR-1 is the U.S. Navy's only nuclear powered oceanographic research, deep diving submarine. Launched in 1969, the submarine is 146 feet long with a diameter of 12.5 feet. It takes a crew of 11 plus 2 scientists. With the end of the Cold War, the navy has been sharing this powerful vessel with scientists for research. Special thanks are due to Lt. Commander John Coombs and his fine NR-1 crew who located several of our wrecks. It was an experience I shall always remember looking at Roman ship wrecks at the bottom of the Mediterranean that man had not seen before.

7. SK97.053. J.-P Morel, Ceramique a vernis noir du Forum Romain e du Palatin. Mel. Ecole Francaise Rome Suppl. 3 (Paris 1965) p. 147.