Underwater archaeology is a special branch. It has its own methods and equipment. Besides the knowledge of the ages, it needs a different skill set for whom dedicated to find history at the bottom of blue waters.
Archaeological ground excavations generally bring the monuments, art and architecture of ancient civilizations to light. We study new information, find connections with previous discoveries and consolidate data by adding a pinch of imagination. Voila! Now we are able to learn about their technology, art, rulers and gods as well as their social hierarchy.
Don’t you feel we are missing something?
Archaeology under the waters is quite different, however. An underwater site has always been protected by a great natural obstacle: the depths. Thieves and amateurs have been plundering monuments, palaces and tombs for centuries but they didn’t have necessary technology to claim ancient treasures hidden under the seas or lakes.
A ship wreck, for example, may contain daily items belonging to ordinary lives of the ancient people. Cargo of a ship can tell lot of things about their economy. Their demands, supplies and production technologies suddenly may become visible. Similarly, treasures provide extremely important information on dynasties, rulers and their relations with other nations.
Who does not enjoy a good, aged wine? Humanity has some from 3,000 years ago. That’s what underwater archaeology brings; a complete new angle to make our past clearer.
Bodrum was completely different place in 50’s. Neither city nor travellers were aware of its potential as a tourism centre. The economy was depending on olives, fruits, fishing and sponge diving.
Seamen were casting their nets into the sea wishing for a good hunt and probably cursing when they caught amphorae instead of something edible. Natives were using them to keep their fresh water cold in their households.
The change has started in 1953. A sponge diver from Bodrum has found a bronze statue of a woman near Marmaris. This creepy statue was Demeter, the goddess of the harvest in ancient Greek. When the historical value of the new finding was understood, Izmir museum bought it for its collection. It was the first time when this small fishing town took world’s attention.
Small groups of divers started to stop by the town. While they were wondering how Bodrumians were diving for sponges without diving equipment, they started to make friends among locals.
In local’s point of view, these strangers were weird. They were highly interested in the amphorae that can be used for nothing but to store water. They were even ready to pay real money. What a business! Soon enough rambling amphora exhibitions started to appear at the harbour.
An American journalist, Peter Throckmorton came to Bodrum in 1958. He was the pioneer in underwater archaeology and started his career as archaeologist in Bodrum. He mingled with the sponge divers and started to dive around Turgutreis with them. He found 15 ship wrecks and countless number of amphorae coming from very old times.
Throckmorton had heard rumours about a sunken ship at the offshore of Gelidonya Cape to the south of Antalya. He rented a boat to go there and found out that the rumours were true. The wreck was dating back to Bronze Age.
It was just the beginning. There had to be done a lot to reveal underwater archaeology potential of these waters of Mediterranean. Throckmorton got in contact an archaeologist from Pennsylvania University, George F. Bass, and convinced him to carry on researches around Bodrum.
Bass was a young and passionate scientist. He didn’t even know how to dive. He never gave up and eventually learned it. Still he knew he was going to need a professional touch if he had to work under the sea surface for further discoveries. Bass invited Frederic Dumas to his team. Dumas was a professional diver and a member of famous Cousteau team.
The first underwater excavation started at Gelidonya Cape in 1960. The items and artefacts carried over the surface were transported to Bodrum and kept in the castle. This was the first step in founding Museum of Underwater Archaeology.
Gelidonya wreck was a Syrian merchant ship carrying raw materials from Cyprus to Asia Minor. The research carried on at this site was the first systematic underwater archaeology excavation of the world.
In 1962, a retired school teacher Haluk Elbe was appointed to establish a museum at Bodrum Castle. He was an experienced curator. He used to be the director of Bergama museum before his new responsibility.
It’s a pity that I couldn’t find enough information about Haluk Elbe but it seems he also left his mark back in Bergama as he did in Bodrum. There are some local internet pages from Bergama mentioning his name with a great respect. As a matter of fact, I took the above picture from the official internet site of BEAFSAD – Bergama Society of Amateur Photographers (www.beafsad.org).
Elbe organized and led a detailed restoration work and the castle has opened as Bodrum Museum in 1964. The small stone building before the museum entrance still carries the name of its founder; Haluk Elbe Art Gallery.
In 1978, a new director has arrived. His name was Oguz Alpozen. I have mentioned his name various times because his books about the castle and the museum are some of the references I used in creating my own Bodrum story.
In 1979, Alpozen has officially changed the name of the museum as Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. According to his biography, he remained as the director of the museum for over 25 years.
§ Underwater Archaeology and Bodrum (this is where you are)