Archive for the ‘General’ Category

July 13th, 2011

The routine of excavation

The weather changed significantly on Sunday (10 July), as warmer temperatures and higher humidity settled in for the rest of the week. The humidity is like a damp blanket that lies heavy over the area, casting all in a gray haze that smothers one’s senses and enthusiasm. It blurs the horizon and blends a gray sea with gray sky, rendering the two indistinguishable except for their darker and lighter shadings. The temperature cools little at night and leaves us sleeping on damp sheets moistened both by the muggy air and our own perspiration. Such conditions make sleep difficult and tend to leave us feeling drowsy and poorly rested after we awake in the early mornings.

Isla Grosa, el Farallón, and the horizon are obscured by a gray pall of humidity (photo by M. Polzer).

Regardless of the conditions, the team has settled into its normal excavation routine. We wake up at 6:00 AM and have a light breakfast, typically consisting of yoghurt and granola with honey, and of course some strong espresso coffee. Afterwards, the team loads artifact boxes, collection bags and vials, tags, dive slates, extra pencils and brushes, underwater cameras and housings, and our water and lunch coolers into the van and by 6:50 AM we are on our way to the marina—a short drive of less than 10 minutes. There, team members retrieve their diving equipment from our storage container and set up their dive tanks and kit.

The team's dive kits laid out at the marina, ready for loading into the dive boat (photo by S.H. Snowden).

We dive in three groups of 4–5 divers each. The first two groups head out to the site in the boats, leaving group 3 at the port. At around 7:20 AM, dive group 2 boards Soneya and heads off with Pedro to the site, where they tie up to our mooring buoy and line. Meanwhile, group 1 loads all of the kitted tanks (groups 1 & 2) into the dive boat. At about 7:40 AM, Emilio and group 2 speed out to the site and arrive just before 8:00 AM, at the same time as Pedro. The dive boat hitches up to Soneya’s stern and dive group 1 enters the water. At 8:00 AM, they dump the air from their BCDs and descend down along the anchor and shot lines to the site. Each diver makes his or her way to their assigned grid square, removes and stows their fins, positions their airlift, turns on the air, and begins excavating.

José Lajara Martinez, with grappling pole in hand at Soneya's bow,prepares to snag the mooring line once the boat reaches the site (photo by M. Polzer).

Our dive bottom times are 45 minutes, after which divers surface back up the mooring line, make a 3-minute safety stop at 5-meters depth, and then surface by the dive boat. Meanwhile, divers of the following group have donned their tanks, fins, and mask and are waiting in the water on the surface. As soon as the previous dive team reaches the safety stop, they submerges and head down to the site to begin their own work.

Neil Puckett makes his safety stop on the mooring line after an afternoon dive (photo by S.H. Snowden).

Once out of the water and back into the dive boat, Emilio takes group 1 back to the marina, where they disembark with all of their gear and are replaced by group 3. Then, it’s back out to the site to await the surfacing of group 2. In this way, our three dive groups shuttle to and from the site to make their dives, with no idle time between.

Once back at the marina, divers change out their used tanks for fresh ones and are ready to go for the second set of dives in the afternoon. These begin just before noon, after a 3-hour surface interval to off-gas nitrogen. Between dives, one or two persons from group 1 walk over to the bakery and grocery store to buy fresh bread (pan rustica), ham or other sandwich meat, cheese, and tomatoes for the bocadillo (Spanish breakfast). Team members busy themselves with writing up notes from their dives, copying slate sketches into their notebooks, filling out dive log books, reading, or catching up on sleep with a short siesta. Both sets of dives are typically completed by 2:30 PM, and it is usually an hour later by the time we’ve washed and stowed our gear, loaded cameras, empty lunch coolers, and boxes of raised artifacts into the van, locked the container, and driven back to the expedition house. Then, it’s time for dinner!

Following the Spanish custom, the team eats its large meal of the day around 4:00 PM. Annun is our cook this year, and has made sure that the team keeps up its strength for the diving and other work with a variety of tasty, multi-course meals. These typically end with water or other melon, Spanish flan or custard puddings, or—when they can be cajoled—with mouth-watering cookie, pies, or brownies from Laura and Staci. Finally, all is topped off with espresso coffee.

The team gathers for dinner at the expedition house (photo by S.H. Snowden).

The caffeine hit is certainly appreciated, since immediately afterwards it’s time to get back to work. This is when all of the non-diving, but equally essential, work gets done: artifacts raised during the day are inventoried and recorded; mapping measurements are checked and object positions triangulated; underwater photographs are processed; and specific objects are analyzed, drawn, or otherwise examined.

Juan leads the inventorying effort, assigning lot numbers and initial identifications to all the objects before “bagging and tagging” them and sorting them in labeled boxes.

Jose Mata Mora and Juan Pinedo sort and register pottery sherds raised earlier during the day’s dives (photo by S.H. Snowden).

Arianna Villani prepares artifact tags during registration (photo by S.H. Snowden).

Neil oversees the object photography, providing an immediate digital visual record of each inventoried object. These photographs are used as well to verify the contents of each artifact box before it is handed over to the Arqua staff.

Josh Jones and Neil Puckett arrange artifacts to be photographed (photo by S.H. Snowden).

Staci is responsible for collecting and entering all of the mapping data into the Web program and verifying that the measurements are ‘good’. Once she signs off on a mapped object, the diver responsible for it is free to raise that object at the earliest convenient time (typically, on the subsequent dive). If the mapping program is unable to position the object points within the level of accuracy we have set, then the diver must retake the measurements before the object can be move.

Staci Willis enters the day's mapping data into the WEB program, which triangulates the relative positions of the measured artifacts and provides the spatial data I need to create the site plan (photo by S.H. Snowden).

Josh Jones catalogues and draws an ivory artifact (photo by S.H. Snowden).

Mark Polzer starts up the Bruker Tracer III-V Light Element Analyzer, which he will use to determine the elemental composition of a number of unidentified metallic objects (photo by S.H. Snowden).

Besides the archaeological work, other logistical tasks are tended to, including taking our empty SCUBA tanks to the dive shop for filling, shopping for food, water, or any needed supplies, repairing equipment and dive gear, and—of course—making sure that there is always sufficient money on hand to keep the project going. Kiko and I tend to take care of these tasks, especially since driving team members are few this year. I learned long ago that, when in the field, my job as director is less about doing archaeology myself than it is about facilitating team members in doing such work and making sure that they have whatever they need to document, record, and otherwise capture all of the archaeological field data that we generate. Later, back in my office,library, laboratories, or wherever, is when most of my research will take place and where I will do the necessary detailed analyses and interpretation of the site and finds that all of this field data allows.

Work continues until 8:00 PM, after which time team members tidy up the work spaces and then are free to shower and freshen up, relax, or take care of any personal business—emailing, Skyping with friends and family, or simply surfing the web being the most common of such activities. Fourteen hours of work, including two dives, make for long and exhausting days, but the team does it all, day in and day out, without complaint. They are true troopers!

July 10th, 2011

Crowded house…

Another team member, Basilio Infantes Ormad, arrived Thursday evening. Basi, as we know him, is studying archaeology at the University of Seville and took part in the 2010 campaign. The expedition house is beginning to look like a refugee camp, with beds occupying every available floor space, including in all four bedrooms, out on the upstairs terrace, under the stairs, in the living room (which also serves as our computer work area), and outside on the patio. Accommodations are expensive in La Manga and hard to come by, especially during the summer tourist season, and so lodging has always been a constraining factor of our work here. So many residents in the house puts a major strain on our kitchen, bathroom, living, and storage facilities. Despite the tight quarters, the team soldiers on in good spirits and with a true team mentality of helping out and looking after one another to make sure all the work gets done.


The boy who lived under the stairs…Simon Claeys (photo by S.H. Snowden).

July 3rd, 2011

The “day off”

Sundays are typically the team’s ‘day off’, but the term is really a misnomer…for some, at least. This is the one day each week that we don’t dive, so that our bodies can rest and expel the excess nitrogen that has accumulated over the preceding days of diving (from breathing air under pressure). It is also our house-cleaning day, which usually consumes the morning hours. After that is done, the rest of the day is each person’s to do with as they please. Some catch up on sleep, others read or email or watch videos, while some go to the beach and enjoy a swim or some lazy sunbathing. Neil and I spend most of these days in Cartagena, at the Arqua library, researching the books, catalogues, and site reports of the museum’s excellent Phoenician holdings. In the evenings, I work on the expedition journal and blog, the week’s photos, the site plan, artifact documentation, the next week’s diving roster and site work, or any number of other things that need doing.

The library of the Arqua Museum in Cartagena (photo courtesy of Museo Arqua,

On this particular Sunday (July 3rd), Neil and I stopped at the Cartagena train station on the way back to La Manga and picked up Joshua Jones, a masters student from Flinders University in Australia. Josh is writing his thesis on public interpretation of archaeological sites, and is using the Bajo de la Campana shipwreck and Arqua Museum as his central case study.

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 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 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 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.

June 2nd, 2011

Preparation contines…

Neil and I drove to Cabo de Palos for what we were told was a 7:30 AM appointment with our diving doctor. A mountain of thunderheads towered over the eastern horizon, with pastel yellow light from the waking sun streaming down through breaks in the clouds in a beautiful fan of sunrays. Cabo de Palos was gray, deserted, and still asleep; all we found at the closed dive shop was the resident cat rousing itself from slumber and sleepily stretching its body awake. After waiting a short span, our suspicion that there was a communication mix-up with the time was quickly verified with a text message: our appointment was for 7:30…in the evening! The rest of the team was still asleep when Neil and I arrived back home, so we ambled next door to the café/bakery for breakfast. Although the extra sleep would have been nice, we made the most of our opportunity and enjoyed a quiet, early start to the day with café con leche (espressos with milk), fresh pastries, and a pleasant chat.

Isla Grosa early morning

Early morning view to the east from the beach by the Bajo expedition house. The Bajo de la Campana site is located on the other side of Isla Grosa, the island visible to the left (photo by M. Polzer)

Later, just before noon, the vegetable and fruit delivery service showed up to drop off a large freezer that they agreed to loan us for the summer. With a house full of people, the two refrigerators we have are full of perishables, drinks—especially bottles of water, ice packs for our lunch coolers, leftovers, and all sorts of other food items—so storage space for meat and frozen foods is rather limited. The loaner freezer will help tremendously.

In the mid-afternoon, Neil, Kiko, and I took all the SCUBA gear, air hoses, tank trolley, mooring buoy, fuel cans, and other miscellaneous excavation equipment to our container at the marina so we could free up some space and de-clutter the outside dining and working areas at the expedition house. Later in the evening, Neil and I went back to the dive shop for our diving medical examination—this time at the properly appointed hour. On the way home, we stopped by the grocery store and picked up some bratwurst and fresh bread for dinner. I prepared a German meal of sausages, sauerkraut, and red cabbage for our small group, which we ate outside in the lounge while watching “Bringing up Baby,” a delightful black-and-white film (1938) starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, on Laura’s laptop. By the time we were done dining, cleaning off the table, and washing the dishes, it was late and we all headed off to bed.

Neil at container

Neil Puckett at the marina, standing by Bajo equipment container (photo by M. Polzer).

Equipment container

Diving and excavation gear stored inside our container at the marina (photo by M. Polzer).

June 1st, 2011

More arrivals

This first week of June saw our team grow with the return of several Bajo veterans as well as a first-timer. Neil Puckett, another NAP graduate student from Texas A&M University, arrived on Wednesday. Neil was a stalwart member of the 2010 campaign and is writing his Masters thesis on Phoenician trade and production, so he is keenly interested in the Bajo de la Campana shipwreck and the cargo material it is yielding. Having flown directly from College Station and checked his luggage all the way through, Neil had to pass through customs and so was the very last passenger to emerge from the arrival hall.

The following day, Spanish archaeologist Francisco “Kiko” Bañuelos Fuentes, from Galicia in Spain’s northwestern corner, arrived by car to the expedition house. Kiko and I had met and shared lunch once before, in 2008, but this is the first time that we will have worked together. He is a long-time associate of the Arqua Museum archaeological staff and has participated in many of their projects, including the investigation of two wrecks of Phoenician-period boats at Mazarrón.

The weekend saw the arrival of two young Spanish maritime archaeologists—Javier Rodriguez Pandonzi, from Madrid, and Enrique “Quique” Aragon Nuñez, from Cádiz—that have worked on the project with Juan and me every season since the inaugural one in 2008. Javi and Quique had just completed a contract (CRM) job near Madrid and then driven directly to La Manga. It’s great to have them on board again, and we spent the evening catching up on all of our goings on since last August.

Bajo 2011 prep crew

The bajo 2011 prep crew (L–R): José Lajara, Laura White, Quique Aragon, Javi Pandozi, Staci Willis, and Kiko Bañuelos; not pictured: Neil Puckett (photo by M. Polzer).