Photo Credit: Worth Avenue Yachts
All of us have wondered about the mysteries of the ocean, with its seemingly limitless depths and awesome powers that fascinate and frighten.
Some of us have even gone scuba diving on vacation, experiencing firsthand the magic and beauty of a world humans cannot truly naturally inhabit.
Over the summer, Professor Carrie Fulton, a history instructor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, surpassed any of our scuba diving experiences by taking it to a higher level: she is scuba diving for a living, studying ancient marine sites in the Mediterranean Sea. For her, every single day is a brand new adventure.
Fulton is concentrating on studying ancient trade networks that existed during the early Roman period dating back to 300 CE. Since last school year, she and her team have been busily conducting theoretical research, and now they are ready to roll.
Back in the day, the Mediterranean routes provided a great source of wealth and commercial activity to Europe, all the way from North Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, those trade routes do not exist anymore, and many of them are now underwater. Nevertheless, the routes still have some of their original characteristics. Drawing upon this year’s research, the team has begun excavating the sites and analyzing the matter they uncover.
In an interview, Fulton states: “I’m thinking about that transition in history and how movement of material objects reflects those transitions…. In particular, I’m curious about how we can look at cultural interactions by studying how objects were moved, and how cultural ideas were embedded and changed as objects moved across different regions.” Her work is very hands-on, which will provide much needed 21st-century information about the physical state of objects that humans have only hypothesized to exist.
In the past months, Fulton has been diving off the coastline of Cyprus, studying anchors and ship remnants that will provide clues about the cross-Continental trade. When studying the sites, Fulton and her colleagues are attempting to analyze physical matter in relation to the broader historical record, and rely on written records of the routes. This type of research is first-of-its-kind for the University of Toronto, potentially revealing physical evidence of a time long past.
Fulton states that her research poses “interesting and challenging questions.” She asks, “How do we determine the differentiation of use of these anchorages in different periods? Do these anchorages also interact with sites on land? What can that tell us about goods being moved?”
It is quite difficult to set up research stations under water; the digital technology is very expensive and human errors occur very easily down under. Most of the work required is completed under water, in full scuba gear. When mistakes are inevitably made, it takes a lot of energy to repeat experiments. It is common for Fulton to spend the entire day scuba diving in the exact same location, to make sure that the data she is collecting is recorded accurately.
She states, “we systematically survey the area by swimming back and forth, searching for pottery and other cultural material near the anchors that can give us clues into the frequency of use of the site or the types of materials being transported.”
After months, Fulton’s work is finally bearing fruit. Her team has struck gold.
She tells us, “Most of what we are seeing belonged to transport vessels of some sort…. The other thing that we’re finding are large architectural blocks that weigh up to one tonne. They are similar to a type of masonry used in the late Bronze Age for elite architecture. Would these have been going to some elite building, or was it part of an anchorage system, or evidence of Roman or modern looting of late Bronze Age sites? Next summer, we’ll excavate around them and lift them up. I hope we’ll find clues about what they were used for.”
We at the newspaper sincerely hope so too.