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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Season for maritime discoveries

Archeologists mounting 17 international expeditions
27 March, 2007 - 00:00

The Black Sea is a real bonanza for archeological discoveries. Experts claim that the Ukrainian part alone contains over 2,500 objects, very often unique ones that lie on the sea bottom, waiting for archeologists to study them. Specialists and history buffs will find unique historical artifacts, ranging from wrecked ships and World War II aircraft to ancient Greek crockery from the pre-Christian era.

The Black Sea bottom remains understudied. For various reasons, there have not been many archeological surveys here. For example, only three scientific expeditions were mounted in the Black Sea last year. Fortunately, our researchers are not being left to their own devices: this year their American and German counterparts will help by providing the lion’s share of funds.

Ukrainian archeologists are planning to launch 17 joint sea expeditions. “Each expedition is very interesting and may lead to a discovery,” says Serhii Voronov, director of Ukraine’s Underwater Heritage Department. “We are going to open our archeological season with an expedition to the 1986 shipwreck of the Admiral Nakhimov. We also hope to find a lot of arms and military gear on a battleship that sank in 1908. Of great importance will be the expedition to the Bosphorus, where a sunken Byzantine ship has been resting on the seafloor for centuries. This expedition has aroused great interest in the scientific world and is expected to be funded by a team of German archeologists. We also attach special importance to examining the sunken battleship Catherine II, resting at a depth of 110 meters. The expedition will take place under the aegis of UNESCO.”

All 17 expeditions will cost Ukraine 200,000 hryvnias. These funds are well below adequate levels, but for now no one can estimate the exact amount required for exploring the Black Sea floor. If not for this foreign assistance, very little could be accomplished. According to Voronov, archeologists will be using the German-made diving equipment that was used to examine the Titanic. The expeditions will only use state-of-the-art equipment, including a remote- controlled device furnished with a video camera, special lighting, and even special “paws” to dig up, lift, and turn over archeological findings. The apparatus also has a special elevator to bring the artifact on board the vessel for preservation. The explorers will be using this guided robot at very low depths, where divers cannot descend. The lower depths of the Black Sea are of great interest to specialists because they contain a hydrosulphuric layer that acts like a preservative to keep manmade objects from destruction.

Professor Denys Kozak, deputy director of the Institute of Archeology, notes that only 10 percent of found objects will be lifted to the surface, namely, weapons, amphorae, and anchors. There are plans to open a museum of sunken ships’ anchors in Odesa. The rest of the artifacts will remain in a preserved state on the seafloor, from where the robot will transmit televised pictures.

History buffs are familiar with the name of the American marine geologist and oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered and later studied the wreck of the Titanic. Last year, during a Black Sea expedition, he came across the sunken Soviet liner Lenin, and a few submarines and helicopters. The researcher is convinced that the Black Sea waters still conceal many surprises, so he is going to participate in several expeditions this year. He intends to record a new television program on board the ship, but not with Ukrainian documentary film makers.

“I wonder why it is such a great problem for Ukrainian TV channels to make at least one documentary on Black Sea archeological surveys,” Voronov says. “Whenever we go on an expedition, we reserve places for journalists on our ships. But for reasons unknown, nobody cares enough to come. Even with extremely interesting material on 20 discs that we recorded by ourselves, we still couldn’t persuade even one television company to air it.”

Voronov maintains that, since the sea bottom was rarely explored until recently, many objects have never been recorded or granted museum exhibit status. For the sake of fairness, it should be noted that the Underwater Heritage Department of Ukraine is completing an official register of these objects, which will fill two large volumes. Then the Ministry for Culture and Tourism will take the next step and approve the register.

There has also been an acute problem of “scavenger divers,” who prowl the Black Sea depths, primarily hunting for sunken weapons. In the opinion of experts, their activities have had a deleterious effect on Ukrainian science. This year archeologists are pinning hopes on their cooperation with a special service set up last year to protect historical monuments: it will comprise Security Service and police task forces that will keep watch over Black Sea waters.

By Oksana MYKOLIUK, The Day