Archive for June, 2011

June 29th, 2011

A visitor from ‘down under’

I was most pleased to welcome to the expedition Prof. Alistair Paterson, Head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Western Australia and my doctoral advisor. Al had originally planned to visit the excavation last week and make a few dives to the site. Unfortunately, the ash cloud from an erupting volcano in Chili grounded him in Perth for the better part of a week and forced him to reschedule his entire trip to England and Spain, leaving him but a single day to spend here with us. He arrived Wednesday night on the train from Madrid and spent Thursday with me at Arqua. There, we were graciously hosted by Rocío Castillo and Milagros Buendía, who showed us all of the Bajo material and took us through the museum. Al was genuinely impressed with both, and thoroughly enjoyed his all-too-brief visit.

Prof. Alistair Paterson examines an enigmatic stone disc found on the shipwreck site (photo by M. Polzer).

Alistair Paterson and Mark Polzer look over some of the Phoenician pottery from the shipwreck site in the Arqua Museum’s conservation laboratory (photo by R. Castillo).

On Thursday morning we also bid a sad farewell to Faith, who flew back to Turkey to spend a few days in Bodrum before heading home to Connecticut. It was a real pleasure diving and working with her again, and I especially appreciate all of her help getting the site set up. “Adiós, Faith, and hasta luego!”

Faith Hentschel at the Murcia-San Javier airport (photo by M. Polzer).

Meanwhile, back at the site…

A stiff easterly wind had come up overnight and never let up, so, despite an attempt, the team was not able to dive. Instead, Juan and company registered all of the ceramics raised from the crevasse and then Juan gave Laura, Staci, and Neil a tutorial on Phoenician, Punic, and Roman pottery. Tiko and Pedro grilled some sardines and lamb for lunch, which the team enjoyed along with tortilla (Spanish omelet) and sangria, topped off with a delicious bread pudding for dessert, courtesy of Laura.

Laura and Staci have delighted the team with many a delicious dessert, including brownies, cookies, bread pudding, and pies (photo by S. Snowden).

June 28th, 2011

Back to work

Back in Spain, having rejoined the team, we continued moving rocks and clearing the site. On Tuesday, dive group 1 finally moved the last huge boulder from the crevasse, while Susannah and I captured the action with photographs and video, respectively. After three years of work, the crevasse is now finally emptied of all surface boulders and can be fully excavated. There is already an impressive amount of material visible. In the barrier wall formed where the boulder once sat, this includes well-stratified pottery from all three ancient shipwrecks—Roman, on top; Punic, beneath; and Phoenician at the bottom. The latter material includes the mouth of a western Phoenician amphora, a small tripod bowl, and the tip end of an elephant tusk.

VIDEO: La Madre de todas las Piedras (Bajo de la Campana 2011)The team removes a massive boulder from the crevasse to allow for excavation in this important area.

Members of dive groups 2 and 3 put down airlift pipes and continued installing the site grid, while Neil and Laura recorded the crevasse pottery with sketches and photographs.

We were also happy to finally and officially welcome Ernesto (‘Tiko’) to the excavation. Ernesto was contracted by Arqua to help fill tanks in the morning, which he then brings to the marina during our surface interval, and to help Emilio pilot our dive boat in the afternoon.

Josue Mata Mora loads airlift pipes onto the top of the van for transport to the marina and then to the site (photo by M. Polzer).

(L) Neil Puckett carries a large rock off site with his hands; (R) Kiko Bañuelos and Juan Pinedo employ one of our Subsalve lift bags to move a large crate of rocks (photos by M. Polzer).

Ceramic material in the crevasse (photo by M. Polzer).

June 26th, 2011

Spain, Germany, and Phoenician Seafaring

I left the excavation on Wednesday to fly to Germany to attend the symposium “On Sea and Ocean: New Research on Phoenician Seafaring” at Philipps-Universität in Marburg, which, founded in 1527, is the oldest Protestant university in the world. My trip once again turned out to be quite the adventure, as powerful storms around Frankfurt caused the cancelation of many flights, including my own from Madrid. Although Iberia Airlines certainly cannot be blamed for the cancelation, they didn’t handle the situation well and left us sitting and waiting without providing us with any news or information on our flight status, other than that it was delayed, nor any reason for the ultimate cancelation. Even after the cancelation, the departure board only said that the flight was delayed indefinitely, and that passengers should go to the customer service desk for further instruction. The plane’s full load of passengers mobbed Iberia’s customer service counter, trying to reschedule connecting flights or make other contingency arrangements, and the scene quickly degenerated into a mass of frustrated and angry people jostling one another and shouting at the airline representatives. The latter responded by shouting back and lowering the shutters of their windows, which only irritated and inflamed the situation further. Finally, airport security was called in to restore order and keep things from escalating. In the end, after more than 6 hours of standing in line, everyone was put up in a dingy old hotel not far from the terminal and rebooked on another flight in the early morning.

Cryptic message on the flight status board for flights to Frankfurt (photo by M. Polzer).

The crowd grows at the Iberia desk as more passengers realize that the flight is canceled (photo by M. Polzer).

At the crack of dawn the next day, we were all bussed back to the airport and put on a special flight to Frankfurt. From there, I traveled by train to Marburg and then by taxi to our hotel, which was located outside of town. I was to give the plenary address at the opening night of the symposium, and just did have enough time after arriving to check in, shower and change, and then catch a taxi back into town to the University for my talk and the following welcome reception.

Marburg, on the River Lahn in Hessen, Germany (photo from

The symposium was organized by Texas A&M University Nautical Archaeology Program alumnus Dr. Ralph Pedersen, visiting professor of nautical archaeology at Philipps-Universität Marburg. It was a thoroughly enjoyable few days of meeting new and old colleagues, making new friends, and listening to interesting presentations on various aspects of Phoenician seafaring, including Phoenician harbors and lighthouses, shipwrecks, trade and commerce, colonization, and culture contact with the indigenous peoples of the lands where the Phoenicians settled. Ralph and all of the supporting faculty and students at Philipps-Universität, as well as the Mayor of Marburg, are to be credited for the warm hospitality we received and the well-run conference we all enjoyed; hopefully, the first of many more.

I received word that, back in Spain, the team was unable to dive on Friday and Saturday (June 24–25) due to high Levante winds; valuable time we can ill afford to lose.

June 21st, 2011

Faith and Fotos

On Monday, the team welcomed two new additions: INA’s own Prof. Faith Hentschel, who arrived from Bodrum and will work with the team for the next 10 days; and Susannah Snowden, our photographer for this season. Susannah served as photographer at both the INA Kizilburun and Cape Gelidonya projects.

Susannah Snowden (L) and Faith Hentschel (R) on their way out to the site for their first dive (photo by M. Polzer).

June 18th, 2011

“Let there be rock…(moving)”

As in seasons past, the first three weeks of our work underwater were spent clearing the site of rocks, boulders, and sea grass; laying out our excavation grid; placing, anchoring, and triangulating the datum towers and control points that we will use to map the site and artifacts; and setting up airlifts, along with the air supply manifold and hoses.

Javi Pandozi prepares to move a crate of small rocks from the site (photo by M. Polzer).

Color coordinated

Color coordinated…Javi and Quique go with a yellow lift bag for this job in order to match their yellow fins, tanks, and regulator hoses (photo by M. Polzer).

Here is a video clip showing some of this work in progress:

VIDEO: Rocks & Boulders (Bajo de la Campana June 2011)Our rock-moving team hard at work clearing rocks (by hand) and boulders (with lifting bags) from the site. This work was only possible thanks to the generous donation of underwater lift bags by Subsalve USA of North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

June 10th, 2011

Exploring Cartagena…Carthago Nova

Since we didn’t dive on Friday, I took the team to Cartagena after we’d finished the weekly house cleaning. We spent the afternoon exploring the back streets of the city and visiting the Roman Theater, one of the earliest and best preserved in Europe.

Cartagena street art 1

The exposed walls of empty building lots provide expansive canvases for Cartagena’s talented street artists (photos by M. Polzer).

Laura White (L) and Staci Willis (R) get into the spirit of this particularly amusing wall graffiti (photo by M. Polzer).

A building shrine at the intersection of two back streets (photo by M. Polzer).

The Roman Theater (photo by M. Polzer).

The medieval church built over the Roman theater (photo by M. Polzer).

Team members Neil Puckett, Laura White, Javier Pandozi, Enrique Aragon, and Staci Willis atop the Roman theater (photo by M. Polzer).

A reconstructed portion of the Roman Theater (photo by M. Polzer).

Cartagena is now a small regional city, but is home to the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology of Spain (Arqua), the Spanish Navy’s submarine fleet, the Navy Diving Center (CBA), and the University of Cartagena. It also boasts a municipal Archaeological Museum that has an excellent exhibit on Roman mining, as well as a small Naval Museum and an impressive new conference center that is nearing completion.

A view of the harbor of Cartagena looking south (photo by M. Polzer). At the base of the promontory on the right is the former location of the National Museum of Maritime Archaeology (now Arqua). In the distance, to the left, is the island of Escombreras (the ancient Scombraria), where my co-director Juan rescued six Roman shipwrecks during the construction of the oil loading terminal seen in the photograph. The material he recovered is now on display in the Arqua museum.

The main entrance gate to the Navy Arsenal in Cartagena (photo by M. Polzer).

One of the Spanish Navy’s diesel submarines in dry dock in Cartagena (photo by M. Polzer).

The city has an ancient and proud tradition, and was once a prosperous mining center and home to Spain’s Mediterranean fleet. Because of the latter, it once also was the most heavily fortified and defended naval harbor in all of Europe. Most of the fortifications and gun batteries that guarded the approaches to the harbor are now open to visitors.

The Gran Hotel, one of the beautiful and ornate buildings constructed during the mining boom in the 19th century (photo by M. Polzer).

An ornate bronze street lamp from more affluent times (photo by M. Polzer).

Cartagena’s beautiful City Hall at night (photo by M. Polzer).

Like Rome, Cartagena is built on seven hills. The city’s name derives from the Latin Carthago Nova (New Carthage), Carthago being the Roman translation of the city’s original Punic name, Qart Hadasht (which itself means ‘New City’). Originally there was an indigenous settlement on the hills surrounding the excellent natural harbor, and perhaps a Phoenician presence as well, although this is not well established from archaeological finds. The Punic city was founded in 228 BC by Hasdrubal, a member of the powerful Carthaginian house Barca and younger brother of Hannibal, the scourge of Rome. Qart Hadasht was the capital of the Carthaginian empire in Iberia and the source of money and supplies that sustained Hannibal’s assault on the Italian peninsula in the second war with Rome. It was from here that he set out with his army and war elephants on their legendary march across the southern Alps and into the Roman heartland in 218 BC. The city passed into Roman hands during the Second Punic War, when Scipio captured it in 209 BC.

In more recent days, there have been protests across Spain, mostly by students and the many unemployed young people facing bleak futures with few prospects for work, at least in the near term. Though the sit-ins and protests in Cartagena have been small and mild in comparison to those in the major cities, there are still people camped outside City Hall and plenty of graffiti expressing the frustration and anger of the people against their government and a financial system that has largely failed them.

Tents of the remaining protestors camped outside City Hall (photo by M. Polzer).

Expressions of anger and disaffection (photo by M. Polzer).

June 9th, 2011

Work stoppage already…

Alas, we had no more than started when Emilio, our dive boat captain, left for a long holiday weekend in Amsterdam with his wife and son, who is studying there on a student exchange program. We also received word from Pedro that he has a problem with his propeller shaft and is dead in the water for the rest of the week, and that apparently there is a further delay in the delivery of our compressor. All of this meant that we were without transport to the site. Hoping to avoid losing precious dive time, especially when the weather is as good as now, Juan called around town to see if he could round up another boat for the latter half of the week. Things2Dive, the dive shop in Cabo de Palos that is filling our tanks this summer, generously lent us the use of their boat on Thursday, but Friday, a regional holiday, and the weekend were lost, since the shop’s dive tours were booked full with paid customers.

Marco Rodríguez pilots our replacement dive boat from Things2Dive (photo by M. Polzer)

Javier Pandozi, Enrique Aragon, and Staci Willis on the way to the site in the early morning (photo by M. Polzer).

June 6th, 2011

Into the Drink!

Today couldn’t have come soon enough. After all of the cleaning and organizing and running around procuring equipment and supplies, the official start date for the excavation—and the diving, in particular—finally arrived. Emilio met the team at the marina with our diving boat, Arqua’s 7.3-meter-long Bombard Explorer DB730 inflatable boat powered by a 200 hp Evinrude outboard motor. We loaded our gear and selves into the boat and headed out to the site.

Staci Willis, Laura White, and Neil Puckett—the A&M contingent—waiting at the marina (photo by M. Polzer).

Our other vessel is Soneya, a small boat owned by Pedro Sanchez. Pedro has worked with us since the initial excavation season in 2008 and has been a hardy, dependable member of our team. His primary role is to moor Soneya over the site and run the air compressor that powers our airlifts, as well as the generator for the underwater light we use for film work. We also use Soneya to transport large equipment to and from the site. During the initial site-clearing period, before we begin airlifting, we use the compressor on Pedro’s boat to provide fill air for the large lift bags we use to move the more sizeable boulders. Unfortunately, this past Friday, the equipment rental company delivered the wrong compressor to the harbor, one that didn’t fit in the compressor sump in Soneya’s stern cockpit. They informed us that they wouldn’t have one of the correct size until mid-week at the earliest. So, for now, Pedro remains in port.

The only ‘work’ we performed today was to establish the mooring line and buoy for our surface vessels. The main purposes of the dives were to allow everyone to check out their gear and to orient the new members to the excavation site, as well as the Roman site to the north and the Bajo environs in general. The windy weather over the weekend had stirred up choppy seas, and there was still a good deal of sediment suspended in the water column that made the visibility somewhat poor. Of course, much like art, visibility is in the eye of the beholder and relative to the particular conditions and environment to which one is accustomed. Some of our team have dived mostly in murky lakes, so to them the visibility was remarkable. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by all my previous years working in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey, where the water clarity is pretty close to perfect.

Annotated view of Isla Grosa, El Farallón, and Bajo de la Campana (photo by M. Polzer).

When we arrived at the site, we found half a dozen or more moonfish (as they are known here) floating at the surface with their dorsal fin flopping out of the water. These unique creatures are, in fact, ocean sunfish, of the family Molidae, and can only be described as odd, even ugly…but adorably so. They look like only half a fish, since their bodies come to an end just behind their dorsal and anal fins. Apparently, their behavior at the surface is meant to attract the attention of gulls or other seabirds (of which there plenty at the Bajo, since their nesting grounds are located on nearby Isla Grosa), which dig worms and other pesky parasites out of the molid’s skin. We typically will see one or two moonfish each season, but never so many at the same time. This was an auspicious beginning to our season, and hopefully one that bodes well for the whole of the summer. In any case, the diving got underway, and on the scheduled date, which is always a positive start.

Photograph of a molid, or ocean sunfish, in an aquarium (photo from

Xavier Nieto makes first dive

Xavier Nieto, the director of Arqua, joins the team for his first dive on the Bajo. (L–R) Laura White, Staci Willis, Kiko Bañuelos, Xavier Nieto, Emilio Peñuelas, Juan Pinedo, and José Lajara (photo by M. Polzer).

Arriving at the site

The dive team arrives at the site. El Farallón rock, Isla Grosa, and La Manga are visible in the distance. (L-R) José Lajara, Kiko Bañuelos, Emilio Peñuelas, Enrique Aragon, Javier Pandozi, and Mark Polzer (photo by L. White).

June 5th, 2011

Scenes from La Manga

Some of the sites around the Mar Menor and La Manga, where we call home during the summer months.


C/ Isla del Baron No. 10-P/No. 5

The expedition house and van at Calle Isla del Baron, in La Manga (photo by M. Polzer).

Mar Menor

Looking northeast across the Mar Menor to La Manga (photo by M. Polzer).

Some of the melon fields around the Mar Menor. The area is a major producer of fruits and vegetables, much of which is exported to northern Europe. The early weeks of summer are when melons are harvested, and the sweet aroma of ripe melon permeates the air (photo by M. Polzer).

The Mediterranean coast of La Manga stretching off into the horizon. To the east (far right of the picture) is Isla Grosa and El Farallón; Bajo de la Campana is located just at the edge of the frame (photo by M. Polzer).

June 3rd, 2011

Geared up

I roused the team a bit earlier today and, after some coffee and a light breakfast, we drove first to the Arqua Museum in Cartagena to pick up artifact boxes and other materials, and then to the Polígono Indústriale (Industrial Park), where the Museum’s new conservation and storage facility (called Arqua Tek) is located, to collect extra diving equipment—regulators, a few BCDs for backups and guests, diving weights and belts, and various other miscellaneous items. I introduced the new team members to the Museum staff: Rocío Castillo Belinchon, head archaeologist; Mila Buendía Ortuño, Juan Luis Sierra, and Carlos Gomez, conservators; and Emilio Peñuelas González, boat captain and equipment coordinator. The team also got a quick tour of the Museum’s excellent library, archaeological workspace, and conservation laboratory before loading all of the gear. The Museum’s primary function is the conservation and long-term storage of the artifacts recovered by the excavation, and ultimately their display in the beautiful National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (Arqua) in Cartagena.

Loading artifact crates

Neil, Staci, Laura, and Juan load artifact boxes into the expedition van (photo by M. Polzer).

Leaving Arqua, we followed Emilio over to the Polígono and picked up the diving equipment. While there, we met Ernesto “Tiko” Ruiz Muñoz, another boat captain that the Museum has hired to assist with our summer fieldwork. He will be joining us in couple of weeks, once his contract is processed and signed by the Ministry of Culture.