Shoot­ing the ex­ca­va­tion of an­cient ship­wrecks is all in a day’s work for this pas­sion­ate un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­ol­o­gist

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Contents - By Su­san­nah H. Snow­den-Smith

Doc­u­ment­ing un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sights as they are be­ing ex­ca­vated is all in a day’s work for this pas­sion­ate pho­tog­ra­pher

I hover above the an­cient mar­ble col­umn about 45 me­tres be­low the sur­face of the Mediter­ranean Sea. Hold­ing my un­der­wa­ter cam­era housing in one hand, I use the other to di­rect my dive model through the azure wa­ter. The pho­to­graph I have vi­su­alised in my mind’s eye, and metic­u­lously planned, comes to­gether. I lift the cam­era and click the shut­ter. Two thou­sand years ago a Ro­man ship sank, lost and for­got­ten off the coast of Turkey. Today, I am here to pho­to­graph its ex­ca­va­tion.

My jour­ney be­gan when I was 11 years old, study­ing a seg­ment on oceanog­ra­phy in my sixth grade science class. Buried within the book were two short pages on un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­ol­ogy. Upon read­ing them, I de­cided then and there that that was “what I was go­ing to be when

I grow up”!

I be­gan gath­er­ing the pieces I would need. I earned my Open Wa­ter cer­ti­fi­ca­tion dur­ing high school in 10-cen­time­tre vis­i­bil­ity off New York City. To prac­tise un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy, I burned through rolls of film shoot­ing flu­o­res­cent orange golf balls in the lo­cal pool us­ing my first “real” cam­era, a Sea&Sea Mo­tor­ma­rine 35mm. In col­lege, I ma­jored in an­thro­pol­ogy with a fo­cus on ar­chae­ol­ogy and a mi­nor in art his­tory. My goal was to work with the In­sti­tute of Nau­ti­cal Ar­chae­ol­ogy (INA). I so­licited ad­vice, wrote emails, made in­quiries… The per­sis­tence paid off. One evening I got the call: “Would you like to come to Egypt to excavate and pho­to­graph a ship­wreck?“

My life’s dream was com­ing true!

My role on the ex­ca­va­tion is to cre­ate “sexy” un­der­wa­ter images both for pub­li­ca­tion, and to help raise funds for the ex­ca­va­tion. Once a sig­nif­i­cant arte­fact is found, I work out a plan to shoot it. I’ll con­ceive an im­age, then choose from the pho­to­graphic tools in my arse­nal to cap­ture it. (Some­times I make what I need on the fly, such as the snoot I crafted in Sri Lanka from a soda bot­tle, duct tape and black marker.) If mod­els are in­volved, I’ll sketch the shot and we’ll thor­oughly dis­cuss the pho­to­graph on the sur­face. Time and com­mu­ni­ca­tion un­der­wa­ter are limited; the more that is hashed out ahead of time, the smoother the shoot will go. We dive in shifts, so to re­duce the like­li­hood of backscat­ter, I usu­ally go first. De­scend­ing onto an an­cient

arte­fact, know­ing that the last per­son who touched it lived thou­sands of years ago, sends a chill down my spine!

To date, I’ve worked as the pho­tog­ra­pher on five un­der­wa­ter ex­ca­va­tions around the world: Sri Lanka for the ship from the 2nd cen­tury BC car­ry­ing a load of heavy iron that likely caused its demise; Egypt for the 18th-cen­tury Ot­toman wreck, its im­pres­sive wooden hull not yet de­voured by ship­worms; Spain for the 7th-cen­tury BC Phoeni­cian ship­wreck, its trade goods spilled along a gen­tle un­der­wa­ter slope; Turkey for both a Ro­man wreck car­ry­ing an en­tire col­umn in sec­tions, and a Bronze

Age wreck.

They’re glam­orous ship­wrecks, but it’s de­mand­ing work with long days and sac­ri­fices. I’ve lived for weeks at a time on a cramped sail­boat with 15 other ar­chae­ol­o­gists and one work­ing toi­let. I’ve Skyped with my den­tist in the States while seek­ing emer­gency dental care in Turkey. I’ve sur­vived on a diet of chick­peas and Snick­ers bars. I’ve lived with­out crea­ture com­forts in pur­suit of the ul­ti­mate shot. In short, I am liv­ing my dream and it is amaz­ing!

On the Bajo de la Cam­pana Ex­ca­va­tion in La Manga, Spain, Arianna Villani arte­fact a tri­pod bowl to the sur­face Sheila “Xila” Matthews (bot­tom) and Kim Gash (top) work on re­mov­ing a wooden arte­fact in Kizil­bu­run, Turkey

Top: Anan­cient am­phora in Kizil­bu­run, Turkey Bot­tom: The Go­davaya Ship­wreck Ex­ca­va­tion, Sri Lanka. Palitha Weeras­ingha holds a spear­head. He is As­sis­tant Di­rec­tor of Ex­plo­ration and Mu­se­ums at the Depart­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy As­sis­tant Field Di­rec­tor Staci Wil­lis holds up an arte­fact that she has suc­cess­fully mapped in, and is now pre­par­ing to raise, on the Go­davaya Ship­wreck Ex­ca­va­tion, Sri Lanka

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