Plymouth State Professor Serves on Greek-American Underwater Research Team

October 7th, 2005 by Adam

Last summer, Plymouth State Professor Emeritus and marine archaeologist David Switzer traveled to Greece to serve as a member/observer of The Chios 2005 Expedition Team. At the invitation of the Ephorate (directorate) of Underwater Antiquities, a department of the Greek Ministry of Culture, a team of computer experts, archaeologists and technical support staff from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and MIT partnered with the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) to document ancient shipwreck sites using an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). The project leader, Dr. Brendan Foley of WHOI, was the lead American archaeologist. A UNH graduate with an advance degree from MIT, Foley has been a PSU nautical archaeology field school student under Switzer’s direction, and they have worked together on underwater surveys in New Hampshire.

Says Switzer, “One of the Chios project goals was to determine additional ways to employ the AUV’s advanced technologies in performing deep-sea archaeological research. The AUV was designed and built at Woods Hole in conjunction with MIT especially for marine archaeology, and among its many capabilities, it can take high-quality digital images and simultaneously transmit them to computers on board the research vessel.”

A shipwreck was found during a 2004 sonar survey conducted by HCMR scientists and Ephorate archaeologists. The site is located between the islands of Chios and Oinoussia in the eastern Aegean Sea at a depth of approximately 300 feet, too great for SCUBA diving expeditions. Determined to be a merchant ship, its cargo most likely was wine from Chios and olive oil from Samos. Many of the amphoras or transport containers are still visible.

“A grid of the wreckage area was created, and the AUV was programmed to methodically survey the site from different angles,” Switzer explains. “Four data-collecting missions were conducted over two days. In one day alone 3100 digital images were collected. Back onboard the research vessel Foley, using a computer, arranged images in mosaic fashion to get a complete picture of the site.” Results of the project will be presented at professional conferences and published in scientific journals.

Says Switzer, “While the depth of many wreck sites in the Aegean are beyond the limits of safe SCUBA-equipped wreck divers, the recent availability of deep-diving remote vehicles has made deep-water wreck sites accessible for looting. The Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities hopes that by studying and mapping these Classical-era wrecks via the AUV, they can develop better ways to protect them. The project was a superb example of international collaboration.”

Project leader Foley will present preliminary results at the American Schools of Oriental Research conference in Philadelphia this November.