Underwater Archaeologists from Bulgaria, UK, USA, Sweden, Greece Launch ‘Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project’

The Greek research vessel Aegaeo has set off on a 30-day voyage in the Bulgarian waters in the Black Sea as part of the international project Black Sea M.A.P. Photo: BlackSeaMAP.com

The Greek research vessel Aegaeo has set off on a 30-day voyage in the Bulgarian waters in the Black Sea as part of the international project Black Sea M.A.P. Photo: BlackSeaMAP.com

A landmark maritime archaeological study of the Black Sea, The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea M.A.P.), has been launched by in the Bulgarian exclusive economic zone by several underwater archaeology institutions from Bulgaria, the UK, the USA, Sweden, and Greece.

The three year project, which is funded by the Expedition and Education Foundation (EEF), also sees the first collaboration between the Center for Maritime Archaeology, University of Southampton, the UK; and the Center for Underwater Archaeology in Sozopol, Bulgaria; assisted by the Bulgarian Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia; the University of Connecticut, USA; the Maritime Archaeological Research Institute, Södertörn (MARIS), Södertörn University, Sweden; and the Hellenic Center for Marine Research, Greece.

The start of Black Sea M.A.P has been formally announced to the media by its organizers shortly after the Greek research vessel Aegaeo arrived for the start of the expedition in Bulgaria’s Port Varna.

The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea M.A.P) is one of the largest interdisciplinary maritime archaeology projects ever attempted, the organizers have pointed out in a media release.

They note that the project is the first major exploration of the Black Sea and the first time that Bulgarian waters have been investigated on this scale, with the aim of mapping the submerged cultural heritage of Bulgaria, and contributing to the building of the prehistoric and historic environmental record of human activity in this region.

The organizers remind that the Black Sea is considered to be one of the world’s finest underwater laboratories due to the anoxic layer which preserves artifacts better than any other marine environment.

The region in general is pivotal to the story of human development and global dispersal from the Lower Palaeolithic onwards.

The term “anoxic" refers to the fact that the Black Sea is a semi enclosed sea comprising effectively two layers, a fresh water upper layer from rivers such as the Danube above a salt water layer due to salt water influx from the Bosporus Strait. This creates what is called an anoxic layer, a base layer of water without oxygen which therefore prevents organic matter from decaying.

The project aims to conduct a detailed survey of Bulgarian waters and will shed light on areas from early Prehistory to late post-medieval and/or modern shipwrecks of historical significance, the organizers say.

They add that Black Sea M.A.P. also has the potential to answer some of the biggest questions in archaeology: at what rate and when did the Black Sea re-connect with the Mediterranean sea and the world oceans, respectively, and how did it effect the development of coastal populations.

We are excited by the prospect of not only what data can be retrieved from this in-depth 3 year project but we are also very much looking forward to working alongside our scientific partners on this project from the University of Southampton and other international institutes. Working in such a collaborative manner provides an unprecedented opportunity to apply new, cutting edge, archaeological research techniques for the future benefit of Bulgarian underwater archaeology. The project will enrich our knowledge as to the history of the Black Sea region and will help us to further understand how human civilization has reacted to climate change," Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Head of the National Archaeological Institute and Museum (NAIM) at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS) and director of the research, is quoted as saying.

“This expedition provides the perfect opportunity to bring together existing research from previous projects conducted in the Black Sea, and take advantage of other projects around Europe including SPLASHCOSSubmerged Prehistoric Archaeology and Landscapes of the Continental Shelf – a four-year research network (2009 to 2013) funded by the European Commission under its COST program (Cooperation in Science and Technology) as COST Action TD0902, in order to build the most comprehensive picture possible of our submerged landscapes which will help us to fully understand our wider cultural heritage," says in turn leading Bulgarian maritime archaeologist on the expedition, Hristina Angelova from the Center for Underwater Archaeology in the Black Sea town of Sozopol.

The international science team led by Professor Jon Adams of the University of Southampton’s Center for Maritime Archaeology has chosen an optimum area of over 1,000 square km of Bulgarian seabed for research with one deep sea marine vessel and one inshore coastal survey boat.

In year one the primary emphasis is on geophysics to map the area. In year two the focus is on an extensive core sampling program and more detailed investigation of data sets developed in Year 1. In year three the team will delve deeper and conduct an even more detailed investigation of selected sites using state of the art technology including ROVs, AUVs and manned submersibles.

The Black Sea M.A.P. will be carried out in full compliance with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001) in accordance with Bulgaria’s status as one of the original signatories of the Convention.

The project is designed to exemplify international best practice as a response to the various threats to the UCH that are prevalent in other parts of the world. On behalf of the Bulgarian government, the project has been approved by the Ministry of Culture who have issued all relevant permits.

The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project will aim to: reconstruct the Quaternary Palaeolandscapes (relict landscapes that survive from the most recent geological period that extends back to c. 2.59m years BP) of the Bulgarian Shelf; locate, map and record any evidence of prehistoric and historic human activity such as settlement and industry; locate and identify remains of maritime connectivity including shipwrecks and associated infrastructure; investigate evidence of human response to water level changes in the Pleistocene and Holocene (the two most recent geological epochs that together comprise the Quaternary period, spanning 2.59 million years – 11,700 years ago and 11.700yrs – present respectively); enhance the existing sea level curves for the Black Sea

“Our overall approach to our research is one of exploration as opposed to excavation using state of the art techniques to map the seabed. This is a ‘milestone’ project for maritime archaeology, comprising the most extensive survey ever attempted of the region in which key sites will be investigated in greater detail in years 2 and 3 of the project," Prof Jon Adams from the University of Southampton has commented.

The ground-breaking science undertaken by Professor Jon Adams and his team will also be the focus of a major documentary film project. A leading documentary team will follow progress throughout the 3 years of the expedition.

David Belton and Andy Byatt, Executive Producers of Black Sea Films, have formed a team of leading creative talent, whose multi-award winning producer and directorial credits include the BBC’s Blue Planet, Planet Earth; PBS’s “God in America"; Channel Four’s “Dispatches"; the Theatrical Features “Shooting Dogs", “Deep Blue", “Ten Billion", and in full 3D “Hurricane".

With core expertise in underwater filmmaking, the documentary team will develop bespoke deep-water techniques alongside Adams’ team, bringing scientific secrets from the depths of the Black Sea to the screens of a global audience.

The team will ensure that the documentation of this extraordinary scientific international and Bulgarian collaboration inspires viewers of all ages and nationalities, serving as a legacy for the expedition over many years to come.

The expedition has launched its first field season on September 12, 2015, and will be at sea for 30 days after which all data will be studied, interpreted and presented to the Bulgarian government in the spring of 2016.

The results from the first field season will provide the essential background data to support: a coring campaign in year 2 of the project; more detailed geophysical investigations (including if appropriate high resolution sub-surface imaging); and ROV and diver based in situ investigation.

The successfully acquired cores will be subject to the full range of paleo-environmental analysis (e.g. micropalaentological and macropalaentological studies, sediment and geochemical analysis) and appropriate dating (principally radiocarbon/AMS, dendrochronology, radionuclide and OSL).

The Black Sea M.A.P. was formally agreed upon in May 2015 by the Sozopol-based Center for Underwater Archaeology at the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and the Center for Maritime Archaeology of the University of Southampton.

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Learn more about the Black Sea M.A.P. on its website, http://blackseamap.com/

Check out some of our other stories about underwater archaeology in Bulgaria’s Black Sea section as well as other parts of the Black Sea:

Bulgarian MPs Move to Protect Sunken Black Sea Ships as Underwater Archaeology Sites

Underwater Archaeology Harbors Great Tourism Potential for Bulgaria, Expert Says

Bulgarian, Romanian Archaeologists Find Sunken Wooden Ships, Soviet U-Boats in Underwater Explorations

Large Sunken Byzantine Ship Discovered in Black Sea off the Coast of Sevastopol on Crimean Peninsula