ROVworld Subsea Information

Shipwrecks offer clues to ancient cultures
Date: Monday, January 04, 2010 @ 09:00:00 EST
Topic: GENERAL NEWS


Modern deep-sea vehicles expand vistas to see into the past

Brendan Foley hunts for shipwrecks, but he’s not searching for gold or jewels. The sunken treasure he pursues comes not in chests, but mostly in curvaceous clay jars called amphorae — the cargo containers of the B.C. world. Holding remnants of goods and foodstuffs produced and traded by ancient civilizations, they are rare and valuable puzzle pieces, strewn and preserved on the seafloor, which scientists could piece together to reconstruct the agriculture, technologies, economies, art, and geopolitics of long-lost eras.



“Ships carry not only economic goods, but the ideas of people,” said Foley, researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). “Even today, something like 85 percent of all goods are carried across water at some point, and that proportion was higher as you go back in time, because there were few roads and no airplanes.”

Some proportion of those ships that set sail never made it back to port. So Foley believes the sea is full of shipwrecks too deep to be discovered by human divers. Over the past decade, advances in deep-sea vehicle engineering and DNA sequencing are giving scientists new abilities to search for, survey, and analyze these potentially fruitful archaeological sites, he said. Put another way, technological leaps forward are opening new vistas for scientists to make leaps into the past.


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