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Aboard the R/V Knorr

Brendan Foley, who holds a Ph.D. in the history and archeology of technology from MIT, is chief archeologist aboard the R/V Knorr, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research vessel, on an expedition to navigate and scan archeological sites on the deep sea floor of the Mediterranean. Below are excerpts from his on-board journal.

Thursday, Aug. 14

Over the past 12 hours we conducted imaging runs on both wrecks D and F with Argus and Lil Herc. We saw new things on both sites, and are anxious to explore further. On wreck F, we could see metal objects all but buried near the collection of large stone blocks and column blanks. We can't tell what they are, but some careful snuffling with Herc's excavation kit should provide answers.

The seas are still flat calm, and it's still hot. The food is great, and the other day the crew filled the salt water "pool" on the 02 deck. It's a wooden box about 5 x 3 x 4, painted blue with sea creatures and fed with a hose from the sea. Hardly a swimming pool, but a fun diversion.

Tuesday, Aug. 12

We're still sitting placidly over the wreck sites near Skerki Bank. Seas are flat calm, it's still hot at 2:15 a.m., and we collected beautiful imagery this morning on wrecks D and F.

Early this morning when we were on Wreck D, the hi-def strutted its stuff. Among the amphoras in one section of the wreck, we could see a collection of artifacts. In 1997 we thought they were just broken ceramics. This year, however, we got a better view. Maybe slight benthic currents had wicked away a little sediment, or maybe the imagery is just that much better: probably both. Instead of broken ceramics, we realized we were seeing a new cargo element. This ship was carrying an assortment of oil lamps. We could see the outlines of dozens, nestled in the sediments among other objects.

Other areas of the wreck are also giving up secrets, and we have not even begun to excavate. These next imaging runs will allow us to document the sites, an essential preliminary to snuffling.

Monday, Aug. 11

We're sailing through the Mediterranean Sea right now, just passing south of Malta en route to an area between Sicily and Sardinia called Skerki Bank.

This is not where we thought we would be two weeks ago: we're supposed to be in the eastern corner of the Med, working on two Phoenician shipwrecks dating to the eighth century BC. However, the Egyptian Ministry of Defense revoked our research permit shortly before we were to sail. We quickly regrouped, had data sent from WHOI, and are headed for Skerki Bank. Deep water archaeology has a long history at that site.

I am happy to return to Skerki, as I was on a 1997 cruise there as a graduate student. This time, Bob made me chief archaeologist. There are three other archaeologists aboard Knorr, all experts on the Phoenician sites we were to go to. They had to switch intellectual gears with the change in plan, but fortunately they all have loads of experience. Together we are shaping our research design for the Roman wrecks at Skerki.

The expedition has a website, broadcasting live video images (and audio from 9-5 EST): Log on and check out the fun.

All for now,

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