Divers Up!

A 450lpm compressor is working right next to you, while a bunch of people, of different age, race and origin are smoothly working together, sometimes silently, sometimes in a loud manner, while a distinctive, authoritative announcement goes out….

“DIVERS UP – DIVERS UP!!!”

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Immediately, some will make way for the divers to sit and rest their gear, some will be ready on the ladder to pick up their fins and cameras, and some will bring up their previous cargo they are carrying.

These are the images, I have been blessed to witness and experience every day, since joining the fieldschool, under the guidance and instructions of the NAS team, along with the directions and supervision of the Director of Maritime Archaeology at the University of Cyprus, Dr. Stella Demesticha and her team.

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Our dive briefing with Dr Stella Demesticha from the University of Cyprus

Looking back at how things evolved, I am extremely amazed at how much I have learnt from this experience and what the future will be like.  It is now that I understand why we had to do things in the manner we did, feeling very naive at thinking that I knew best before…..

Since joining the team at the Larnaca Marina, where I took part in loading all the compressors and gear on board the “Queen Zenobia” vessel, and then working with the RIB boats and other members to bring her to the right position on top of the Mazotos wreck, myself and 11 other participants have been waking up very early in the morning, getting onboard the RIB’s which would take us out on the supporting vessel which was right on top of the wreck, and then we would dive down to 45meters on air, working for 20 minutes, most of the times in bad visibility trying to complete the tasks we were given during pre-dive planning from our supervisors.

 

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The Queen Zenobia – our home for the fieldschool

We would dive in groups of 4 divers, buddying in pairs, and we would then follow a specific decompression profile before we got to the surface.  Those who dove earlier would either be working the compressor to fill the empty tanks, stand by as safety diver, boat skipper, work the pulley system with the ropes to bring up the artifacts, or help the archaeologist to examine, record, and document each finding brought up by the previous team.

I must admit that the first couple of days, were very easy, as we were to dive and make ourselves comfortable with depth, the deco profile, the surface supplied O2 and Nitrox mixes, but most importantly, the Mazotos Wreck itself.

 

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Our O2 mixes for the decompression stops

This wreck is something that will take your breath away.  It is dated around 500 – 600 BC, and its cargo was mostly Chian Amphorae, which was the main way of transporting goods at the time, mostly wine, oil etc.

I was shocked to see the sheer size of some of these amphora’s, although I was told that there are others, which are much larger than these.

The Mazotos wreck, has so much to tell.  Where was it traveling from and to where? What was its cargo? How big of a ship it was? How was it built?  Did they use a known technique to build it, or did they use a different method?  How did it go down? Was it bad weather, was it a crack in the ship’s hull, or did its crew survive or not? Was it daytime or night.  Just by being on the support vessel, waiting for your turn to enter the water, these are thought that continue to go through your mind.  Especially as land is on 1.4 miles from the spot your are.  You cannot help but wonder, what happened?

 

Especially when you touch those amphora’s, when you used the lift bag to bring one back to the surface, you cannot help but to wonder as to the person who was just previously holding and using that item…. it is then that you realize the importance of the artifact you have in your hands….

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Recovering an amphora from the wreck

 

After the diving, we would use the RIBS to get back to the base camp, get a shower, and get to the daily lectures on how to photograph the artifacts, how to record them, how to take measurements underwater, how to use specific software to either created 3D modeling of the artifacts and the wreck itself, or how the use and importance of photogrammetry plays a major role into this project.

 

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3D modelling of the amphora to help understand how they were stacked on board

 

We had different lectures each day, and by the time we finished, all participants were pretty much exhausted, we would go for dinner in a local restaurant, and off to sleep.

 

However, the management team, would stay behind and evaluate the daily findings, recordings, and especially the photographs, as these would have shown if the tagging on the artifacts we did previously was clearly shown on the pictures, so they could then proceed and decide which amphora’s were to be lifted the next day.  So next day’s plan would come out very late.

You cannot appreciate the maritime archaeologist work and effort spent on such projects, unless you join in on such a course, or join in on the excavation project.  After a few days, you come to realize why things happened the way they did, as it was a carefully and well executed plan, in order to make us, people with no previous knowledge of such issues, work and support a whole excavating project, with an amazing perfection!

The people I mention earlier, being in different positions onboard the supporting vessel, even the divers diving underwater, make a team, which work perfectly with each other, as a clock’s cogs, would work together producing the result.  That is how everyone performed.

I feel very proud for taking part on to this year’s excavation, completing my NAS 1 course and being given my certificate in a special ceremony that was held in the local village.

Furthermore, I feel very attached to the wreck itself.  This has to do with our history, our culture, and more needs to be done.  I honestly feel that there is so much more to be done, and archaeologists should be getting more support, as it is them who would go to extreme depths (in this care the term is used literally!) to uncover the truth of how things happened.

Did the crew make it to the shore, did they mix with the locals and stayed there?  Did they not?  Was the cargo for some specific project, etc. So many questions……..

One cannot wonder as to how compact the cargo is still on the bottom, below 45 meters from the surface.  It is as if the ship went down very quickly, and it sat there.  Off course, wood not being covered is gone, but a big part of it has been protected with mud, sand and all other sediments through the centuries, and this is what we are hoping to reach at some point.

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Cleaning out one of the amphora looking for the smallest of clues to the past

This has also been a wonderful experience, because I met people I never saw before, and although these would disappear back to their countries, I get feel that we had a great bonding together, and that new friendships have been established.

We all worked for the same cause.  That created a very good bond between us.  I really think that all participants have given all their energy as their contribution into excavating the wreck, along with completing the course.

Group photo

The class of 2016

I am also shocked at how much I have learnt so far.  One thing is for sure. Before we would find little artifacts all around Cyprus, as it is an island, and with a rich history and trade, conquerors, wars, kingdoms, etc. It was the easiest thing to lift something up.  Now, things are different.  I believe that awareness should be raised, as to educate people on such matters.  People believe they are protecting an item, by bringing it up on the surface, while this would be wrong, and they would now know the damage they would have caused to the whole site.  While if recorded properly, and then raised, then we have more chances as to establish as to what happened to this wreck, and why the artifacts are found down there.

I can go on for hours, but one can only evaluate and understand once he or she takes up the challenge to participate in such a course.

I cannot thank everyone enough for making this happen for me. This was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had so far… It just blew my mind away….

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Spyros A. Spyrou

 

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