BLACK SEA 2000
Hello again from the Black Sea -
The NORTHERN HORIZON is hovering over the 100 m contour again, as the Electronic Still Camera (ESC) mounted on Argus fires off hundreds of shots of our antediluvian site. WHOI's Steve Gegg and I are going to make a photomosaic of the site with the images the ESC collects. The mosaic will be the permanent record of the site. As Fred Hiebert interprets the artifacts below us, he will rely on the composite image.
Video capture from Argus: Li'l Herc ROV over a portion of the antediluvian site.
The ESC is a $100,000 piece of equipment, very similar to the type of camera used in spy planes or satellites. It has a very high dynamic range; it's as if we're shooting pictures with 10,000 ASA film. When David Mindell and I were in the Mediterranean with Dr. Ballard et al during the 1997 Skerki Bank Deep Water Archaeology Project, the team built mosaics of all the shipwrecks we found. The mosaic of largest wreck, Skerki D, was composed of 182 separate ESC images. It took about 72 hours of labor to produce it.
Fortunately, the antediluvian site is much smaller than Skerki D, so the mosaic will probably only need 30-40 images. The difficult part initially will be to sort through the images we're collecting right now to find the ones that'll fit together best. An analogy that comes to mind is attempting to assemble a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box, and with 960 extra pieces.
The weather is terrific right now. The seas are super calm. No swells means Argus is able to maintain a constant altitude over the site; that's why we picked today to do this ESC run. We started at 5 m high to get large-scale images to make a preliminary template mosaic. We've now dropped the vehicle to 3 m altitude for super-high resolution images.
The site is more subtle than a shipwreck, so we need to be as close as possible so the details will be evident on the mosaic.
Sitting in the control van with me are the rest of the 4-8 watch: Jim Newman is in charge of the winch; Craig Elder is the ROV pilot and engineer. He would be flying Li'l Herc if it were in the water, but right now he has very few responsibilities. Steve Gegg, WHOI engineer and our resident computer expert, is navigating the ship and hence the vehicle dangling underneath it. Craig and Jim have absolutely nothing to do on this watch, as Argus needs no pilot. They're having an understandably hard time staying awake. Nobody gets much more than 6 hours of sleep per day, and often it's fewer than that.
WHOI's Bob Brown, SIO's Gary Austin, and Dr. Ballard in the control van.
Dr. Ballard is directing the ESC runs, and Fred Hiebert is staring at the video monitor with him. Both are trying fix in their minds the dimensions of the site. Also observing is John Broadwater, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration archaeologist in charge of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA may ask Dr. Ballard to bring some of this technology to bear on the Monitor wreck, or other sites under consideration, so John is out here to learn about what we do.
It's now later the same morning, nearly 11:00 a.m. We finished ESC-ing the dwelling site and have moved some 28 kilometers to Wreck B. We think the wreck is a 6th century merchant vessel that sank outbound from Sinop. The amphoras (ceramic storage jars) on the site are of two types as far as we can tell. The predominant type is the classic carrot-shaped Sinop design. Interspersed are a few rounded Byzantine jars. There is a lot of wood on this wreck, too, which is rare for ancient shipwrecks. Usually the wood gets eaten by benthic critters. Maybe this wreck is close enough to the anoxic layer so that it is periodically washed with poisonous upwellings, killing the colonial wood borers.
Wreck B, about 100 m deep, carrying typical Roman-era Sinopian amphorae. Note the wood plank at left center, accompanying several other wooden features throughout wreck.
Kathryn Willis (a Texas A&M nautical archaeology grad student) and I have been staring at the monitors, trying to discern the edges of the planks we see on the wreck. We're looking for mortise and tenon fastening, the edge-to-edge method of ship building practiced in the ancient Mediterranean region. So far, we haven't seen any evidence of mortise and tenon, but it may be that these pieces of wood are too degraded to show these features. Even though our video camera is broadcast-quality, it's still very hard to see enough detail to be certain of what we're looking at.
Archaeology graduate students Kathryn Willis (Texas A&M) and Jenn Smith (UPenn)
That's all we are up to today. Some days are more exciting than others out here, and much of the time is spent in quiet tedium. Today is a less exciting day.
So what's life like out here? One of the most enjoyable aspects of these cruises is the sociability of the team. Since we are in a fairly dull routine most of the time (except for short periods of intense excitement and activity when we find a new site), we try to entertain each other. The humor is generally wan, but we're each other's captive audience. We manage to keep laughing through most of the watches.
The big joke out here is anything relating to Noah. MIT Ocean Engineering grad student Katy Croff calls any feature on the seafloor "Noah's ______." We've had Noah's Beach, Noah's House, and Noah's Garage. That joke quickly lost its luster. In the meantime Martin Bowen removed the red flannel inserts from his deck boots and hung them up near the door to the control van. They look a little like Christmas stockings, so Martin thought he'd leave them there and see what happened. During the next watch, Katy was quiet and busy in the corner of the lab. A while later we noticed that the "Christmas stockings" now had the names '"Noah" and "Mrs Noah" affixed to them, the letters cut out of paper and taped to the inserts. Katy added treats from the mess deck to them: oranges, small bags of potato chips, etc. That kept us entertained for at least one round of watches.
MIT Ocean Engineering graduate student Katy Croff with MIT OE alumnus Jim Newman.
All for now,
R/V NORTHERN HORIZON
Black Sea Deep Water Archaeology Project 2000