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Dr. Robert Ballard : Shipwreck Enthusiast

Dr. Ballard's interview with 20/20

Dateline: 08/05/97

Friday, on ABC's 20/20, Dr. Robert Ballard said he hopes to find at least one shipwreck from each century. No, he wasn't voicing a sadist's dream. As he explained, he wants to find them so we'll have a complete historical panorama -- since everything man produces is shipped somewhere, eventually.

Friday's show dealt with the artifacts in one shipwreck found along the direct Mediterranean shipping route from Rome to Carthage. Before his discovery, it had been thought the mariners hugged the coastline.

As Hugh Downs dived with professionals, we saw, crisscrossing the wreckage, grids marine archaeologists would use to determine from debris concentration where the cargo hold had been. We also saw the care with which ancient artifacts must be treated: sludge from one amphora dripped out to determine whether there were olive pits (from oil) or grape seed (from wine); each amphora stored in a container full of water lest sudden drying crack it. We saw what is purportedly the oldest book which looked like two enormous slabs of slate hinged with two large ivory pins.

It's not just the discovery of a couple (according to Ballard, their artifacts will comprise America's largest displayed collection from Roman antiquity) of remarkable artifacts that makes this expedition extraordinary. The equipment they used includes a US nuclear submarine that can go 2000 feet below the surface and hover there for more than a month or drive along the bottom on special tires. Earlier shipwreck sites could only be explored in water less than 200 feet deep. It's because of the submarine and a computerized robot, that the marine archaeologists discovered the large concentration of ships in the Mediterranean, some of which date from 100 B.C. and all 2500 feet below.

Ballard is president of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut. His earlier ventures include the discovery of the Titanic. His next site will be the Black Sea where he hopes that because there is no oxygen, ancient artifacts will be better preserved.

Online Resources

  • Divers recover ancient wonders
    Marine archaeologists try to lift one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the lighthouse at Alexandria.
  • (< www.jasonproject.org/ >) The Jason Project
  • (< archive.abcnews.go.com/dispatches/bureaus/shipwreck731/index.html >) 2,000 Years Under the Sea
    By Barry Serafin, ABCNEWS Correspondent

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