When Don Frey volunteered in 1969 to work on the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s excavation of a Late Roman shipwreck at Yassi Ada, Turkey, he had no idea that he was on the threshold of beginning a four-decade relationship with George Bass that led to his presidency of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. Up to that point Don's academic training and experience was as a professor of physics, with no training in archaeology. After three months excavating the Roman shipwreck with George, he went back to teaching physics at Istanbul's Robert College, now Bogazaci University. But the following summer he was drawn back to underwater archaeology and worked with Peter Throckmorton in Greece. Then in 1971 he initiated a series of side-scan sonar surveys along the Turkish coastline between Bodrum and Antalya, again for the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
That same year Don received a prestigious grant from the American Council of Learned Societies which allowed him to spend two years in Oxford combining his background in physics with his new interest in archaeology. Working with Dr. E. T. Hall, Director of the Oxford Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, Don developed computer programs to provide archaeologists with "user friendly" displays of archaeomagnetic survey data. He also developed a course in the Applications of Physics to Archaeology which he taught the following year at the University of Wisconsin.
In 1975, after participating in other archaeological projects in Greece and Turkey, Don joined the newly formed Institute of Nautical Archaeology and in the years following worked with INA at Lipari north of Sicily, at Mombasa in Kenya, at Pedro Shoals in Jamaica, and on all the INA excavations in Turkey, where he still lives, and where he and his Danish wife Suzanne raised their two daughters.
In addition, his annual surveys of the Turkish coast were particularly fruitful. With his knowledge of Turkish, he visited the sponge divers off season to learn about anything unusual they had seen under the sea. Don was particularly interested in the Bronze Age copper trade and always showed the divers a sketch of a four-handled ingot typical of the period, asking them to be sure to tell him if they ever saw one. In 1982 diver Mehmet Çak?r came up from very deep near Uluburun and told his sponge-boat captain about "strange metal biscuits with ears" he had seen on the seabed. The captain knew Don and, realizing the possible importance of what the diver had found, told Mehmet to report his find to the archaeologists in Bodrum, which he did.
Finds from INA's decade-long excavation of that Late Bronze Age site at Uluburun not only have rewritten much of the history of the Bronze Age Mediterranean, but are featured in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, and have been displayed as loan exhibits both in Germany and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In 1982 Don became INA’s second president. During his six-year tenure INA acquired the land and constructed the first building for its Bodrum Research Center. Both before and after that role, his contributions to the Institute have been many: he is one of INA's chief language experts (he speaks four languages comfortably), he has designed measuring and recording equipment for divers to use under water, he directed annual surveys that located many of the two hundred ancient shipwrecks in INA files, and he became INA's principal photographer and videographer through his excellent work on many projects. His underwater photographs have been featured in American and European magazines such as National Geographic, Time and L’Express, and his underwater filming has been featured on Turkish television and in both National Geographic Explorer and ABC 20/20 TV programs in the United States.
As a former president, vice president, and now as a research associate and INA honorary ambassador, Don is still involved in generating increased interest in INA, expanding INA's Board of Directors, and in seeking additional sources of funding for INA projects around the world.
And he is still looking for another Bronze Age shipwreck…..