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Black Sea Trade Route Project
Fred Hiebert, University of Pennsylvania & Robert Ballard, Institute for Exploration

April 1, 1998

Fred Hiebert discusses Black Sea Archaeology -

For the past 70 years, the geopolitical situation divided the Black Sea. Was this just a Cold War phenomenon, or is it an historical fact? Some research questions and points to ponder:

Pastoral cultures from the steppes of Eurasia spread to the northeast

Agricultural cultures also spread

What were the east-west links and when did they develop?

The Indo-European language is believed to have originated on the steppes. Colin Renfrew argues that it could have originated in Anatolia. Might it have been a circum-pontic trade language?

Chronology of Black Sea coastal settlement, evident from the archaeological record:

3300 B.C. - Probably the earliest circum-pontic intensification, trade believed to have been conducted via coast-hugging small vessels.

2600 B.C. - North-south trade corridor seems to be open since similarities exist between settlement sites in the north and south. The city-state of Troy controls the trade exiting the Black Sea.

1500 B.C. - Hittite period. Elite trade carried out, relating to both Caucuses and Aegean cultures. The Ulu Burun wreck, dating to approximately 1300 B.C. held a gold chalice that may reflect styles crafted along the western coast of the Black Sea.

A steep increase in trade occurred in the 7th to 8th centuries B.C. when the region became a Greek interaction area. This trade and east-west interaction ebbed and flowed over the following centuries. Question: Why is trade cyclical?

By around 950 A.D. settlement sites around the Black Sea indicate similar culture existed throughout the region.

Why conduct investigations at Sinop?

  1. At Sinop there is a submerged coastal shelf extending east and west, and there is deep water close to shore.

  2. Rugged mountains ring in the Sinop promontory, cutting it off from Anatolia. In effect, Sinop is an island with almost all contact necessarily focused upon seafaring.

  3. There is little sedimentation along the near-shore coastal shelf, so submerged cultural resources may not be buried.

  4. Two counter-rotating current gyres meet offshore near Sinop. These may have facilitated north-south trade in ancient times by reducing sailing time for voyages across the sea.

Bob Ballard on strategies for investigating offshore at Sinop:

  1. We'll create a topographic map of the survey area to aid identification of the ancient drainage basins.

  2. The optimal survey area lies south east of the promontory, between the 40 to 100 meter contours.

  3. Since the ancient lake level lies some 155 m below the current sea level, we should start our survey at the shelf break (which lies just beyond the 100 m isobath in some areas) and work in toward shallower water.

  4. The depth limit for scuba divers is roughly 40 m, and this coincides with the area of the Black Sea alongshore current.

Archaeological and engineering research questions driving this project and future endeavors:

  1. Pitman and Ryan theorize that the Black Sea flooded suddenly and catastrophically, with sea levels rising about 155 m in the span of a couple of years. Can we find archaeological and geological evidence to support this theory?

  2. The Black Sea depths are anoxic (no dissolved oxygen). Have wood-eating organisms evolved in the anoxic layer yet, or will organic material (ie: ancient shipwrecks or dwelling sites) be intact in the anoxic layer?

What would an ROV optimized for archaeological projects do? What capabilities should it have?



Deep Water Archaeology Research Group
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave. Rm e51-194
Cambridge, MA 02139



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