So they let me come back…
Having experienced last year’s fieldschool at the Xylophagou anchorage site in a mere 13 metres of water and situated close to the shore, 2016’s project is an altogether different challenge.
One of the highlights of the 2015 field school had been Stella, our archaeological director’s presentation on the Mazotos wreck, the remains of a Classical period ship sitting in 45 metres of water. This enigmatic wreck was unlike anything I had ever seen before, far removed from the steel and iron hulks that were my usual haunts in British waters. Therefore when I was told that this years’ school was not only to be held on the Mazotos wreck itself but also was to including training and working on a full scale archaeological excavation, I jumped at the chance. The build up to the school has involved 3 technical diving courses, project work in Portland harbour in April ( in a chilly 6 degrees C ) and many a weekend spent getting experience at deeper diving than I was used to.
I was therefore very excited to get my first glimpse of the Mazotos wreck this morning… the hard work had finally paid off…
We are an altogether different group from last year. The change from mostly students of archaeology ( and me as an ex student of archaeology ) to a group of gnarly technical divers was most apparent in the time it took us to fill the inflatable boat taking us to the site and Christos, our chief diver, is unlikely to loose hair or sleep over the quality and safety of the diving.
We began the day with the tour of the Zenobia Queen, our base at sea for the next two weeks, a very luxuriously appointed dive boat, well anchored ( a relief as a very bad sufferer of seasickness ). We then moved on to the main fieldwork tasks for the day, preparing the airlift and making our first dive.
Getting ready for the dive, my excitement was tempered by the searing heat, drysuits were the order of the day for the majority as despite highs of 33 C, the seabed was a relatively chilly 21 degrees and we would be spending extended periods on decompression stops.
Getting in the water was therefore a massive relief. We descended and were had our first glimpse of the Mazotos wreck itself. As I hovered above, to my amazement it looked like a ship, despite the passage of 26 or so centuries since it foundered. As there has been limited interference with the wreck from humans or the weather, it has kept its shape as the timbers rotted.
Today’s dive was just a taster before the real work of the coming week. We will be experiencing excavation and survey on full decompression dives, alongside conservation and post-excavation analysis of our finds and the full range of topside tasks to keep the project running. Diving will only be a small part of the working day and will probably be the most relaxing aspect of it!
After returning to dry land and a quick shower, we started with the classroom sessions. This focused on the surveying skills which we will not use on the fieldschool due to the depth and complexity of the wreck but are a key skill and as Mark explained to us, are very useful in the UK where the waters are not as clear as the Mediterranean.
Tomorrow as well as diving I get to learn how to use the compressor on board the boat – something that I particularly wanted to do whilst I was here.