Nick Bartos, 2013 Fellow Dig Blog at The Illyrian Coastal Exploration Program, Croatia, Montenegro,
Nick Bartos is a first year student at the University of Oxford, St. John’s College (MPhil, Archaeology), and he graduated from Brown University (BA, Archaeology and the Ancient World) in May 2013. Nick is interested in maritime archaeology, particularly in the Mediterranean, and has conducted fieldwork in the United States, Italy, Albania, and Turkey. This summer, Nick will serve as a crew chief for the Illyrian Coastal Exploration Program, and will conduct underwater fieldwork on the ancient Illyrian coastline of Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania.
Excavation: The Illyrian Coastal Exploration Program, Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania
Director: Jeffrey Royal (RPM Nautical Foundation)
The Illyrian Coastal Exploration Program, led by Dr. Jeffrey Royal and the RPM Nautical Foundation in conjunction with the Albania Center for Marine Research, the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar, and the Center for Conservation and Archaeology of Montenegro at Centinje, investigates the ancient Illyrian coastline in an attempt to systematically document, record, and study all submerged cultural material in the littoral zone. Addressing a wide range of archaeological research topics including colonization, overseas exchange routes, trade connections, and artifact distribution, the Illyrian Coastal Exploration Program expands the picture of maritime trade and economic trends in the Adriatic Sea.
July 14, 2013
Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse.
To sail is necessary, to live is not.
These are the famous words of Gn. Pompeius Magnus (according to Plutarch) which he shouted as a rallying cry to sail despite a brewing storm. It is a provocative statement, one that echoes the incredible importance of the sea itself in the development of the cultural landscape of the ancient Mediterranean.
As I peered across the shimmering water during my first Mediterranean sunset of the summer, it was easy to imagine countless ancient sailors doing the same, deep in contemplation of the mysteries of the sea. In antiquity, the “Middle Sea” became the network that defined the entire region, the ultimate nexus for the movement of people, trade, and ideas. Yet the underwater record of the Mediterranean Sea remains a major frontier in archaeology, particularly near the Balkan coastlines of Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania. Maritime archaeology in these areas is an ever-transforming and extremely exciting field and has the potential to provide a truly unique view of the ancient world.
For the next few weeks, I will be working as a crew chief for the Illyrian Coastal Exploration Project (ICEP) and its underwater archaeology and ecology field school. I return after a summer of underwater research in Albania and Turkey and a year of research on a ship near India Point (Providence, Rhode Island). The ICEP field school is unique in its inclusion of multiple countries, disciplines, and organizations. One of the goals of the project is to unify international archaeological organizations in order to better study the full extent ancient Illyrian coastline (which extends from Croatia to Albania). Likewise, ICEP connects archaeology with ecology as the two disciplines have much to learn from each other (after all, what could be a better controlled habitat for studying the long-term growth of marine organisms than a datable archaeological deposit!).
I joined the group while they were in route up the coast from Albania, with many of the students having just completed the Albania Center for Marine Research Scientific Diving Course based in Saranda. The bus picked me up in Skhoder (Albania), where I met the students for the first time, joked and caught up with the rest of the staff, and prepared for the long but unbelievably beautiful drive up the coastline to our first destination: Zadar, Croatia. For a little fun, we set up a camera on the windshield for the entire trip. Check out the awesome video here!
We are lucky to be hosted in Croatia by the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar (ICUA) directed by Dr. Luka Bekić. ICUA conducts numerous projects in Croatia and boasts some of the best underwater archaeological facilities in the country, including a conservation lab, an education center, dormitories, library, and (soon) a museum. Our first day, Mladen Pešić, director of the education and documentation department, lead the Nautical Archaeology Society Introduction Course, an all-day combination of lectures and diving designed to introduce students to the basic principles and methods of underwater archaeology. Our afternoon dive took place near an ancient breakwater (though no excavation has been done to confirm its date), and students practiced measuring and drawing objects underwater.
Conservation is a key component to any underwater field work in which material is recovered. Once material has been underwater for a long time (much less thousands of years!), it reaches a chemical equilibrium, and its removal without special treatment will result in total destruction. Our second day, we toured the ICUA conservation department, and students learned about the complex process (or is it just magic?) of conserving underwater artifacts. Some of the highlights included some pieces of 3,000 year old oak, 16/17 century C.E. cannons, and a Late Roman glass vase reconstructed with omega clips!
The ICUA also tracks all potential ancient shipwrecks and submerged maritime deposits in the area, including even the whispers of old fishermen. These locations are catalogued in a database, and one mission of the ICUA is to systematically dive and explore them. We spent the entirety of our third and fourth days in Croatia diving on two different potential sites. The goals of the dives were simple: introduce students to what ancient material looks like underwater (and particularly when it is covered in thousands of years of marine growth) and how to conduct basic transect surveys underwater (basically just spreading out in straight line at a certain depth like that time you lost your keys in the park). Though we didn’t find any huge shipwrecks, there were plenty of loose Roman amphora sherds to inspect!
Our last day of diving in Croatia was devoted almost entirely to ecology. Students practiced methods of quantifying the benthic habitat and recording the distribution and abundance of fishes in an area near Pasman Island. This requires setting up meter tape underwater and recording the components of the sea floor at consistent intervals as well as observing the different species and numbers of fishes. Students also received an introduction to side scan sonar operations on the ICUA research vessel. Side-scan sonar is one of the best methods for conducting preliminary underwater archaeological survey. Basically, side-scan requires a device which emits a sonar pulse allowing for a preliminary map of the sea floor. Conducting side-scan sonar is a little like mowing the lawn. The best method is to sweep likely shipwreck areas in transects and when you see a suspicious anomaly on the sea floor, to dive in and investigate.
We capped our time in Croatia with a day of lectures on such topics as archaeological ethics, archaeological career building, marine ecology in the Mediterranean, marine ecopsychology (how can you use the environment to help you find shipwrecks. Hint: follow the fish!), and ancient ship construction. I gave a short lecture on my research at India Point and how to approach archaeological research questions. Overall, it was a lot of activity in Croatia, and the team is very excited to move on to Montenegro next week!
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July 21, 2013
The wind, they say, it is a song, harbors through the winter
The wind, they say, it is a door, bids the soul to enter
Let us sail the seas good friends, let us sail together
The singer lasts the season long, but the song, it lasts forever
-“The Wind Song,” Traditional Sea Shanty
It is not hard to figure out how Montenegro got its name. Heading south towards Bijela, dark mountains do indeed loom over the clear water. Protected bays abound, safe from wind and tide on one side and guarded by the natural rock fortress on the other. Needless to say, it is an impressive landscape which almost certainly churned a few invading Roman’s stomachs.
Entering the second leg of the Illyrian Coastal Exploration Underwater Archaeology and Ecology Field School, we arrived at the Regional Center for Underwater Demining (RCUD), our hosts for the week. We spent a day in transit, with stops in Split, Croatia, the only coastline of Bosnia and Herzegovina (because even if the coast is only 20 km long, we wanted to be able to say that we had lunch in Bosnia and Herzegovina!), and Dubrovnik, Croatia. Spit is the home of the Roman Emperor Diocletion’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Monument which is absolutely massive and demonstrates the true power of the Romans in this area at the beginning of the 4th century C.E. I will only say this about Dubrovnik: that place is so beautiful, one wonders whether it is better to just drop everything and pick up any available job just to live there.
As soon as we made it the RCUD facility, it became clear that we were in for a few impressive days diving in Bijela. The RCUD is a unique organization dedicated to multiple important causes. Their primary work is to systematically locate and defuse underwater explosives remaining for previous wars in many areas around the world (often to at extreme depth) for the benefit of everyone else (which in addition to being outrageously cool, is also quite admirable). RCUD also serves as the main diving center in the region, hosting regular dive courses and coordinating with maritime archaeologists in order to protect submerged cultural resources.
On our first day, RCUD Director Veselin Mijajlovic led an orientation dive in Boka Bay as well as a trip to a wreck site the RCUD has used for training in previous years. The site consists of a WWII torpedo boat which was purposefully sunk in the 1970s as part of a military demonstration. It lies perfectly on its keel on the sea floor, and upon descent, seems to appear suddenly in the ghostly water. As an exercise, the staff and I helped lead the students in discussion about different methods of recording the ship both archaeologically and ecologically, divided up the team, and made a dive plan.
The next day, we transitioned to a very different habitat. Though submerged caves are often the focus of National Geographic lenses and adventure junkies, archaeologically they remain a largely understudied resource. In antiquity, caves and springs were often important in ritual use. Likewise, many submerged caves were not underwater during the Paleolithic and show evidence of earlier habitation. Boca Bay includes a fairly extensive system of submerged caves and wide caverns, many of which were likely open air at one point. After we discussed with the students how to identify whether a cave was ever open air and the types of material they might find, we conducted a survey along with the RCUD staff for any archaeological evidence of activity. The dives also gave students a chance to observe the flora and fauna of a new ecosystem.
Our final day in Bijela may have been our most exciting. Located in the northern, innermost portion of the Bay of Kotor, the ancient port city of Risan represents one of the earliest inhabited sites in the area. Originally an Illyrian settlement, Risan (or Rhizon) is first mentioned in textual sources as the site where the Illyrian Queen Teuta sought refuge during the Illyrian Wars (3rd century B.C.E.), eventually making the city her capital. Following Roman invasion, the city is described as an oppidum civium Romanorum, and city infrastructure expanded. Of course, the terrestrial remains of Risan are not the only evidence of occupation, and alongside the RCUD team, we led a dive at an undocumented anchorage just off the coast full of amphora sherds and other artifacts. Students practiced photographing, measuring, and drawing artifacts, as well as marking finds with surface marker buoys in order to collect GPS coordinates for future work in the area.
After saying goodbye to the RCUD team, we headed further south to Bar, Montenegro to visit another exciting site. In the shallow water of a beach in Maljevik, several large marble columns were recently discovered by a vacationing family. Though difficult to date, these columns were likely part of the cargo of an ancient shipwreck, and because of the shallow water, much of the rest of the wreck and its cargo were probably salvaged in antiquity, leaving only the immovable marble. As the climatic exercise of the ICEP field school, we transported the students to the site, gave them the necessary equipment, and asked them to design and complete a preliminary survey of the site. This exercise combined everything that the students had learned including survey transects (to find the site in the first place), measuring techniques, documenting artifacts, etc. The rest of the staff and I were of course available for questions and to give suggestions, but we tried to let the students do as much as possible. I’ll admit, after handling logistics, giving lectures and demonstrations, leading dives, transporting and managing equipment, and monitoring everyone’s safety for the last few weeks as a crew chief, it was incredibly gratifying to see the students spring into action and to demonstrate their new skills. In the end, while I’m here to learn and to conduct research, mentoring students might be the most fun.
Next week, we head south to Saranda, Albania to begin the Albanian Center for Marine Research Underwater Archaeology and Ecology Field School! While some of the students will be tagging along, I am excited to meet the new students and to continue with our exciting projects.
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July 28, 2013
“Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me…on that summer’s day, when my eyes were opened to the sea.”
I’m not quite sure what it is about Albania in particular, but every time I return there I feel revitalized in my studies. Albania is one of the most unique places I have ever been. On the one hand, the jagged cliffs and sea foam invoke something ancient, but that stands in contrast to a culture very much in the throes of a developmental revolution. Only twenty years removed from Communist dictatorship, the country is still in the midst of reinventing itself socially, politically, and economically. It is an exciting time for Albania as it reenters the world stage and as tourists and researchers rediscover its beauty.
In terms of maritime archaeology, opportunities are endless in Albania. Having completed the ICEP Underwater Archaeology and Ecology Field School, the rest of the staff and I transited to Saranda (located in southwestern Albania) to begin the Albania Center for Marine Research (ACMR) Underwater Archaeology and Ecology Field School. ACMR is the leader in underwater research in the entire country, and I am happy to work with them again after a successful summer last year.
In addition to conducting field schools (including a Scientific Diving Course), ACMR runs multiple projects along the southern Albanian coastline focused on the archaeology and ecology of both ancient and modern sites. After a day of introduction, we headed out for some orientation dives on a few modern ships. Our first dive took place at Ksamil Bay, home of Albania’s seminal artificial reef project: five Albanian Naval vessels sunk in 2010 to create a habitat for reef organisms and diving opportunities in the future. In particular, we dove on a torpedo boat given as a gift by the Chinese government and used on the Albanian coastline during the 1960s and 1970s. Next, we headed into Saranda Harbor to dive on the SS Probitas, an Italian hospital vessel bombed and sunk by the Germans during World War II. The SS Probitas is a particularly interesting wreck to dive because it rests on its side, meaning that as you swim up, you pass a deck with plenty of projections (railings, etc.) for marine organisms to set up shop. Even after only one year (the last time I dove these sites), it was amazing to see all the new growth on the ships!
The next day, we practiced some basic underwater measurement and recording techniques including baseline offset and trilateration. These are good skills not only because they are so commonly practiced in underwater archaeology, but also because they require incredible teamwork and coordination between dive partners and the entire dive team. We headed north to record a pier structure, allowing the students to organize their dive plan (with only minimal guidance). As a pair of circling stingrays looked on, we completed our map and also conducted some experimental archaeology. Much to the students’ surprise, ACMR archaeologist Peter Campbell managed to drag a replica of an ancient Roman anchor (which he poured himself) and a small modern anchor through customs, Croatia, and Montenegro in order to demonstrate how the two differ in their design (for example, how they drop in the water, come to rest, and engage the substrate). Experimental archaeology in general is a big part of this course, and we are also trying our hand at making some garum, an ancient condiment made from fermented fish often carried overseas in amphora. So yes, we put a bunch of fish and salt in a bucket with a plan of leaving it on a rooftop in the sun for two weeks. And people say archaeologists are weird…
Transitioning from modern to ancient wrecks, our next few dives took place near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Butrint. Scattered along the slanting sea floor lies the amphora cargo of a third century B.C.E. shipwreck. The wind can change suddenly in this area, and most likely these ancient sailors were caught by surprise, crashing into the rocks and spilling their cargo down the slope. In addition to locating the amphora, we created three-dimensional visualization models of some of the Corinthian type amphora using a combination of measurements and photographs. This is a fantastic technique both for presenting to the public (people love spinning graphics!) and for calculating things like amphora volume, weight when full, etc.
No trip to southern Albania is complete without a visit to the famous Blue Eye fresh water spring system. Taking a break from diving, we headed to the mountains to an area rich in archaeological history. The term “Blue Eye” refers to a particular circular area of the fresh water spring where for thousands of years travelers have come for a refreshing drink and to offer ritual sacrifices (ACMR has discovered, among other things, burnt animal bones from inside the spring). The Blue Eye Spring also comes with not one, but TWO oral legends involving a rampaging dragon!
Finally, we decided to end the week with a double UNESCO World Heritage Site visit! Our morning began with a tour of the terrestrial remains of Butrint from the ACMR Executive Director Auron Tare. After some quick lunch, we headed to Gjirokasta to tour the castle and the try the regional delicacy, frog legs! Next week we dive one of the most amazing intact ancient shipwrecks in the world and become the first archaeological team to work on an underwater Roman aqueduct!
Check out the ACMR Facebook page for more photos!