Largest expedition of this kind in Black Sea
An international expedition mapping the submerged ancient landscapes at the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea has been making astounding discoveries.
The largest expedition to date of this kind, the team of researchers is led by University of Southampton’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology (CMA) and funded by the Expedition and Education Foundation (EEF), a charitable organisation for marine research. They are seeking answers that would shed light on the areas past when the water levels rose following the Ice Age thousands of years ago.
According to Professor Jon Adams, CMA’s Founding Director and Principal Investigator on the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea MAP), “We’re endeavouring to answer some hotly-debated questions about when the water level rose, how rapidly it did so and what effects it had on human populations living along this stretch of the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea.”
The main focus of the project is to conduct geophysical surveys to detect former land surfaces buried beneath the seabed, to extract core samples so as to characterise and date them, and to create a palaeo-environmental reconstruction of Black Sea prehistory.
The research team is based on board the Stril Explorer, an offshore vessel carrying some of the world’s most advanced underwater survey systems. Beneath the waves, two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are put to work. One of them is optimised for high-resolution 3D photogrammetry and video. The other ROV, called “Surveyor Interceptor”, can move at four times the speed of conventional ROVs and is equipped with a suite of geophysical instrumentation, including lights, high-definition cameras and a laser scanner.
Over the course of the expedition, the team also discovered more than 40 shipwrecks, including some from the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires. Describing the wrecks as a “complete bonus”, Professor Adams added that they were “astonishingly preserved due to the anoxic conditions of the Black Sea below 150 metres.”
Many of these wrecks provide the first views of ship types known only from historical sources, and had never been seen before. They also provide a glimpse into the maritime interconnectivity of Black Sea coastal communities and the ways of life stretching back into prehistory. The research team had used the latest 3D recording techniques for underwater structures to capture images of the wrecks without disturbing the seabed.
Professor Adams concludes: “Maritime archaeology in the deep sea has often been a contested domain, but this project, the largest of its type ever undertaken, demonstrates how effective partnerships between academia and industry can be, especially when funded by enlightened bodies such as EEF.”