The discovery of ancient history in the deep sea using advanced deep submergence technology
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The Skerki Bank Project was the first interdisciplinary effort to determine the importance of the deep sea to the field of archaeology. Over a nine year period from 1988 to 1997, its various field programs resulted in the discovery of the largest concentration of ancient ships ever found in the deep sea. In all, eight ships were located in an area of 210 km(2), including five of the Roman era spanning a period of time from 100 B.C. to 400 A.D., documenting the existence of a major trading route in the central Mediterranean Sea between ancient Carthage, Rome, Sicily, and Sardinia. The project involved the use of highly sophisticated deep submergence technologies including towed acoustic and visual search vehicles, a nuclear research submarine, and an advanced remotely operated vehicle. Precision navigation and control permitted rapid yet careful mapping, both visual and acoustic, of each site with a degree of precision never attained before. Advanced robotics permitted the recovery of selected objects for subsequent analysis without intrusive excavation. This multi-disciplinary effort of archaeologists, oceanographers, and ocean engineers demonstrated that deep water archaeology has great promise and can be done without the exploitation of ancient sites for private gains. The Project also demonstrated that in the absence of evolving laws of the sea, a great deal of human history may be at peril. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.