The Mazotos fieldschool combines two different entities that usually are not together. It is a school, where divers are taught what nautical archaeology is and how the field work for it should be done. But foremost, it is an archaeological field camp where very important field work is done on a 2300-2500 years old wreck. Hence the name “fieldschool” is slightly misleading, because we are much more!
The fieldschool has a surprisingly large infrastructure, and many different types of people are needed to make it work. I picked six people for a short discussion on what they are doing on this project. There may be many people doing similar tasks each day, but only one person is introduced here.
Barbara keeps a diary of the whole excavation. She writes down all events in her notebook, and then writes them down to the project database. She records EVERYTHING. Who arrived with what RIB at what time, who dives with whom and when and which dive number was it and what was the goal, which device had a hiccup and when, when was the O2 tank changed, etc. She is one of the 1st people to arrive at the site in the morning, and one of the last to leave.
Constantina conserves lifted amphorae and other finds for the future, for display and for research. The main problem with pottery is salt that crystallizes inside the clay, expands, and crumbles the clay. So, she needs to remove that salt. The desalination process might take up to a year.
First, however the just lifted amphora is cleaned from most of the sea life living on the amphora – hardened remains can be left there, but all soft life forms are removed. The amphora is then transported to our conservation room in High View Gardens, placed in a container with 50% sea water and 50% fresh water, and kept there for maybe 2 months, until that water mixture is fully immersed into the clay. During that time it will, of course, be moved to a more permanent conservation site. Then you gradually reduce the sea water contents, and finally you have the amphora in distilled water only – again maybe for two months. After that you dry it slowly, which might take another two weeks or so. While drying, the amphora is kept covered, so that it would not dry too fast. Finally you fix some cracks, and glue in separated parts if they were ever found.
Irene is a 3D-modeler. The Mazotos project is building a comprehensive 3D-model of the whole site, and she is working on that goal during this fieldschool. The final 3D-model would include all amphorae and other tagged finds with their exact dimensions and exact position in the wreck. For this purpose some divers will take lots of photos of the wreck in a very specific way, almost every day, and then someone else will use photogrammetry to build a 3D-model of the wreck for that day. Irene will use such model to locate each find in its exact position, and then tentatively place it in her model. At this phase all amphorae are just plain dummies, because their exact measurements are not know. Once an amphora is lifted, it will be measured exactly, those measures will be entered to the project database, and Irene will use them to make that specific amphora in her model to have correct dimensions and parts. All amphorae are by no means complete.
Katerina monitors the marine life in the Mazotos wreck. She works with Carlos Jimenez, who started this cross-scientific study years ago. They try to find out if the wreck site works like an artificial reef, or does the marine life differ from that around the wreck site?
Their work must be made at the same time with archaeological field work, because the ecological system is destroyed during the field work. The wreck is slowly destroyed, piece by piece, with every excavation. Each amphora is promptly cleaned from its wild life by conservationist.
The ecologists follow how fish and seabed organism types in the wreck vary over time. They also document all wild life on many of the amphorae that the divers bring to surface. Each amphora is covered with different types of wild life and that must be recorded right away, before the conservationist will remove it during amphora clean up.
Mark runs the fieldschool attached to the project.
There is lots of underwater heritage in Cyprus, and many sites require technical diving skills. There are many technical divers in Cyprus and elsewhere in the world, but very few of them are qualified underwater archaeologists. It is easier to train technical divers to do archaeology fieldwork, than to teach archaeologists to become technical divers. Also, there are many international technical divers who would like to have a chance to work on a Cypriot archaeological site.
This fieldschool gives an answer to both these goals, and additionally builds international bridges on which future co-operation is easy to build on. Technical divers are given basic skills on maritime archaeology, and they are using those skills immediately on the Mazotos archaeological excavations. The excavations would not be possible without the technical divers, and the technical divers could not do it without the fieldschool.
It is not easy to have an archaeological project going on simultaneously with the fieldschool, because time is of essence in both areas. This has caused some logistical problems, but nothing surprising has surfaced yet. However, it is not common to learn to use the nautical archaeology tools at 45m depth on a 2500 years old wreck. That has required careful guidance from the instructors.
Stella is trying to understand how all these 500-800 amphorae were loaded in the ship. For this it is important to eventually get the exact positions of each amphorae in the wreck. Then you can make intelligent deductions on where they were originally when the ship was still on surface. This is of course very difficult already for the simple reason that many of the amphorae are still inside the seabed or at least below the currently visible amphorae.
Another goal for the project would be to learn details of shipbuilding techniques of that time. For this, you need to excavate the hull, preferably in many places. So far, the hull has been excavated only in the bow area, but for example the masthead or any signs of the mast has not been located.
These are important questions. Not just academically, but also very much in practice. This whole fieldschool and the overall Mazotos project is based on finding answers to these (and similar other) “academic” questions. These are relevant enough to excavate and destroy this wreck to find the answers to them. Of course the project (and this fieldschool) is doing their best that no essential information is lost, even though the wreck essentially is. All amphorae and other finds will be even more accessible to the public and the researchers in museums, and the 3D model describes their exact original position in the wreck.
There are many other areas that are run by special people taking care for those tasks – far too many to name. Someone takes care of dive safety. Someone is the safety diver. Someone fills up the tanks. Someone sets up the airlifts and someone runs the compressors for them. Someone sets up the wreck site for excavation. Someone does finds tagging and excavation. Someone takes photos for publications and for photogrammetry. Someone uses those photos to build a point cloud and a 3D-model of the wreck. Someone goes through the airlift sieve material to locate finds. Someone measures each amphora. Someone looks for all finds from the mud found inside amphorae. Someone puts all data into the project database. Someone pilots a RIB and someone drives a car transporting people between High View Gardens and the port. Someone gives lessons at the fieldschool. Someone will study those amphorae for years to come. Someone will write scientific papers based on the field work done now. And so it goes on.
Of course, many people work on multiple positions in this web of experts and beginners. There is just an incredible amount of team work done. It has been a privilege to join such a nice team!
Written by Teemu Kerola