Entering a 45m below sea level time capsule!

As the Mazotos ship wreck 2016 excavation project runs day by day, this breath taking merchant ship lying in silence for at least two and a half millenia, keeps revealing its secrets triggering the enthusiasm and agony to all participants of this well organised project by the University of Cyprus Research Centre-MareLAB, and the Nautical Archaeological Society.

The feeling of diving to 45m and the sight of at least 800 Chian amphorae lying, intact at their original position, or smashed in pieces, as they were packed up for the long and grinding journey from the Aegean towards the East Mediterranean, is like entering a time capsule piercing shivers to all participant divers while they are descending to approach it in order to accomplish their tasks.

Bottom time is very restrictive to achieve productive work, as sometimes the 20 minutes won’t last to complete all tasks planned on the surface. Where parameters like nitrogen narcosis that affects most divers (sometimes not even realising it) along with low visibility conditions due to bottom sandstorms, make the job more complex.

All procedures are now pretty much standardised for all three teams, one at the Bow and two for the west side trenches in the middle of the ship, team A and team B. Procedures include mostly confirmations of the position and tagging according to last excavation periods, photo documentation of each artefact separately as well as the whole trench. Carefully excavating with the air-lift, tagging new revealed amphorae and recovering some to the surface for further documentation and investigation.

From the beginning of this year’s excavation I am assigned in team B, feeling honoured and lucky at the same time because our trench has the highest concentration of amphorae. Today my team was assign to clear the top level of loose amphorae from the trench in order to continue with the excavation process with the air lift, in turn making it more efficient.

First dive group of the team was Costas Mardacoftas and Christos Iliades who manage to carefully remove large pieces of broken amphorae to the storage pit next to our trench in order to be recovered to surface on an another scheduled dive. They also brought to surface a couple of pieces from our trench which they were later photo documented and prepared by the field conservator Konstantina for the desalination process that will last about a year. Dive two for our team saw me and Robert excavating our area in trench B where we revealed glimpses of more amphorae, whether they are whole or not we do not know – we will need to excavate more to find out!

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Costas, one of Trench B team explaining his dive to Dr Stellla

Class sessions in the evening were carried out by the chief conservator of the Cyprus department of Antiquities, Eleni Loizides. She explained to the audience the process of desalination and the complexity of dealing with different surviving materials that had been recovered from an underwater environment, like wood, metal and ceramic. Later it was Irinis Katsouri’s turn to give us an introduction of how artefacts get orientated and georeferenced into a 3D model with the help of the site point cloud resulted from photogrammetry by the team surveyors. Last to speak was Dr. Dimitrios Skarlatos who presented iMareCulture, an H2020 project about underwater VR museums (www.imareculure.eu).

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My brain hurts – creating 3D digital amphora with Irene

Day by day, this time capsule keeps revealing more artefacts and more clues that would help the investigation of this 2500-year riddle. My enthusiasm can’t be described and I am definitely coming back after this field school ends to continue with this investigation.

Written by Zorpas Eleftherios.

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