All About the Bottom Time

Dive & Dig Blog by Lauren Tidbury

Amphorae on the Mazotos ship, image courtesy MARELab, University of Cyprus.

Episode Two of Dive & Dig – “All About the Bottom Time” – was equally fun and fascinating to work on. We decided to further explore technology and how this has been used in the field of maritime archaeology to discover and document underwater cultural heritage.

When Honor Frost was working off the Sicilian coast on the Marsala Punic Ship in the 1970’s, they used simple line survey searches with divers to hunt for signs of archaeology on the seabed. In this episode we find out more about some of the ‘toys’ being used today, meaning maritime archaeologists don’t even have to get their feet wet to explore sites under water! Saying that, I would rather be diving off the coast of Sicily any day!

We talked again to Timmy Gambin to find out more about how he documents the Phoenician shipwreck with only 12 minutes on the seabed. He explains how he uses photogrammetry, taking over 2000 photographs of the site per day, which they then stitch together to make a scaled 3D model.

Jon Adams is further interviewed in this episode. He talks about the digital revolution which has had a huge impact, allowing maritime archaeologists to work faster, more efficiently and more accurately underwater. How we have moved from making detailed drawings by hand, to aligning photographs, making models and even producing 3D printed models of ships in a matter of hours. When Honor was working on the Marsala Punic Ship the team were meticulously drawing the timbers with pencils and tape measures.

We couldn’t have an archaeological podcast without talking about stratigraphy! We found a clip from a 1993 Radio 4 interview with Honor where she used a great analogy, throwing rubbish into a waste paper basket to describe the formation of layers and hence the sequence of dating archaeological sites.

Back to technology, we began to think about how sites are discovered through the aid of marine geophysics. The best person to speak to about this was Marty Klein, the inventor of side scan sonar! This technology has been responsible for finding many sites, including the Phoenician shipwreck that Timmy Gambin is researching. Marty Klein talks about how sound has been used to find things on and below the seabed. Bob Ballard, most well known for discovering the Titanic, then joined us to tell us about the underwater vehicle systems he uses to explore the ocean. He now uses even newer technology, deploying unmanned, autonomous vehicles to explore several thousand metres below the surface.

The technology Bob Ballard used also identified two Phoenician shipwrecks off the coast of Israel. He was able to identify the wrecks as Phoenician based on the type of amphorae the ship was carrying. Lucy admitted that ceramics were really not her cup of tea, she is more of a self confessed boat nerd, so to talk about amphorae we invited Stella Demesticha from the University of Cyprus to join the podcast!

Stella has been working on a fascinating site off the coast of Cyprus, the Mazotos shipwreck. She describes amphorae to us, their shape and what they contained. These types of vessels have been used for millennia and the typology (mainly the shape) has allowed us to understand pottery traditions and where they were made and came from. So even if we just have an underwater image of a shipwreck carrying amphorae we can gain initial clues as to the date and of the ship and where it may have come from. Timmy’s Phoenician ship had around 14 types of containers on board, some contained wine and some contained foodstuffs. Exploring these ceramics and their contents can begin to unveil dynamic networks of trade across the Mediterranean over 2500 years ago. Perhaps we can convert Lucy to get a bit more excited about pottery one day!

To listen click here 

To explore more about Timmy’s Phoenician Shipwreck project, check out –  

We have worked with the Nautical Archaeology Society on a webinar series, in March 2021 where Timmy and Marty talk about side scan sonar. Click here to watch on youtube

Bob Ballard is releasing a book about his work, called ‘Into the Deep’ click here for more information

And to find out more about the Mazotos site which Stella Demesticha is working on, check out our website

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