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From: David Mindell
Subject: Sinop Newsletter #1
July 4, 1999

Hello everybody,

Welcome to our Sinop Newsletter, which will provide daily updates on our expedition to Sinop, Turkey as we search for shipwrecks on the southern coast of the Black Sea. We'll be sending these out every couple of days, to convey a sense of such a project as it unfolds, rather than simply the "aha!" moment at the end when everything is found. There's a lot of difficulty and uncertainty here, and one can't know what its really like without realizing that when it starts, we have no idea whether it will be successful or not.



For the past five days, people from all over have been converging on this small town in northern Turkey. There's a group of archaeologists from Penn (led by Fred Hiebert), an ROV underwater robot and its pilot (Martin Bowen) from Woods Hole Oceanographic, another ROV and its pilot (Keith Moorehead) from National Geographic, guest archaeologists from Texas A&M (led by Cheryl Ward), and a group of engineers and archaeologists from MIT (led by me, David Mindell, and including Brendan Foley, Sarah Webster, Katy Croff, and Justin Manley), and a number of other students and professionals of various stripes. The press (NPR, National Geo.) shows up next week, so we're trying to get things together before they arrive. Bob Ballard, whose Institute for Exploration (IFE) sponsors and oversees the entire project, will arrive this Thursday. And, of course, we have to mention Cathy Offinger, who works with Bob and is the logistical genius (and incredibly amicable person) who makes the whole thing run smoothly.

Logistics officer Cathy Offinger with our friends from Sinop

This project also includes a number of people from the town of Sinop, who are very much a part of things, have been incredibly helpful, and really make the whole thing a pleasure. Gunsel is our translator (and general local facilitator), Mr. Sabbatin, a retired local banker, owns one of the boats we are renting and oversees our rental of two others, there's a crew at the Otel 57 where we are staying, and the crews of the three local fishing boats we are using for our operations. These folks can't do enough to help us out, from machining a part to hold a sonar transducer, to driving their boats in strange circles all day, to cooking excellent lunches while we are out at sea during the day (Sabbatin's son-in-law even came by to give me a massage when my back was hurting the other day). It is all beginning to feel like family.

Mr. Sabbahatin, with Gunsel in the background

What are we doing here? Well, a small subset of our group was here for three weeks last summer, and we towed a sonar around and surveyed the area around Sinop from the line of 50 meters depth to about 80 meters. We ended up with about 250 sonar "targets," which represent anything from obvious shipwrecks to possible ships to strange anomalies which can't be  identified. The sonar we used is a special broadband imaging side-scan sonar (made by our friend and team member Marty Wilcox of Marine Sonic Technology in Virginia), and it produces very sharp near-photographic quality pictures. Sometimes, these pictures tell us that we've got a clear wreck, other times they are simply suggestive. Therefore, to confirm the targets and begin a more detailed survey, this year we are sending a robot down with video and still cameras to examine the sites more carefully.

Undoubtedly, some of the targets will turn out to be nothing, but if only a fraction of them turn out to be archaeologically important, the trip will be a success. So we're spending this year examining these targets, with two separate robots on two separate ships, working together. And next week, two sonar systems come out to continue the sonar survey of the area down to 150 meters of depth, making a total of four ships and four instruments. For my part, half of the problem is simply keeping all these machines, ships, crews, and scientists working together in a coordinated, systematic fashion.

That's enough for now, but we'll be sending out a message like this every day or so, and the members of the MIT team will trade off writing the day's account, so you'll get a variety of different perspectives.

David Mindell and the Sinop '99 Operations Team




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



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