Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 18: SCUBA Diving in the Mediterranean

Our mini-vacation this weekend was much needed and gave us all a chance to recuperate a bit before beginning our final two-week push at the dig site yesterday morning.  As I wrote earlier, we left for the Mediterranean coastal city of Haifa on Thursday just after eating lunch.  It was a short drive (maybe 1.5-2 hours).  Most of us slept on the bus.  When we got there, a very different scenery greeted us.  Lush trees and wadis reminiscent of the Galilee but almost a different shade of green.  The city of Haifa spills from the top of a cliff over to the area below, right up against the Mediterranean.

Upon our arrival, we head straight to the beach for a couple of hours of swimming in the cool, crystal clear waters and napping on the warm sand.  A majority of us went to bed at the late hour of 10 p.m.  Though we did not have to wake up the next morning until 8 a.m., many of us were up by 6 a.m.  After spending two weeks of waking at 4 a.m. it is hard to readjust for one night.  We spent the first day of our trip visiting Tel Dor and Meggido (also known in as Har Magedon which transliterates to Armageddon).  The trips were fascinating and I could write ad inifitum about our time at each location. I wish focus, however, on our next days adventure at Caesarea Maritima.

The city of Caesarea Maritima was built by Herod the Great in honor of Octavion (Caesar Augustus) in 31 B.C.E.  Octavion had affirmed Herod as vassal king in the region so Herod responded in the best way one could in antiquity--build yourself a palacial city and dedicate it to the ruling emperor.  As part of the building project, herod built a gigantic marina--the largest human made marina in the ancient world to that point in history.  This project was massive and if you know anything about Herod the Great, played very nicely to his ruling style.  Herod had a gift of playing up his Roman-ness to those who favored Roman culture and his Jewishness to those of his subejcts to favored Jewish culture.  This city was a Roman city through and through with bathouses, theatres, hippodromes, bathouses, and even a temple honoring Octavian.

It was a fascinating site visit, especially since our professor (Dr. Jodi Magness) had excavated there for many years and served as the Late Roman / Early Byzantine pottery expert.

Toward the end of our tour, Jonathan and I decided to go SCUBA diving if it would work with the groups schedule.  The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Nothing we tried worked.  Our level of certification required us to have a third person certified higher (just one level!).  This meant that we had to go in a group dive.  Furthermore, Israeli law says that if you do not have a stamped dive in the last six months, you must go on a refresher dive to prove you know what you are doing.  We were at the beachfront office at 12:30 p.m. and they said we had to be back at 1 p.m. 

When we returned to our group (a 10 minute run / walk), nothing was going to work. Shua, the co-director of the dig who works for the Israel Antiquties Authority, told us that if we could be done by 4:30 p.m., she would stay and drive us back to the Galilee.  By this point it was 12:20 p.m., and we booked it back to the dive shop.  We filled out the paperwork, updated our insurance (we each now have international Israeli diving insurance for a year), and got ready to go.  The refresher dive went over aseveral of the basics, which we both breeezed through.  It took less than 30 minutes and we were back on the surface it seemed in a flash.  While we were going through the review, however, we did get to see a small octopus and some ancient (Roman-era boat anchors).

We then took a bit of a break and returned to what we thought would be a group dive.  The dive master leading the group came out and said we had a choice between two dives.  Both had little archaeology, so I asked if it would be possible to see more.  He didn't seem too happy with the suggested change of iternerary until I told him we were archaeolgoy students currently working on a dig in Israel.  We all got really excited at this point and he took us on a bit of a custom tour of ancient remains.

Shortly after descending (it was a relatively shallow dive, we maintained a depth of 8 meters), he took us to a row of about 20 collumns that had collapsed from Herod's famous marina.  It was incredible seeing the size of these collumns (they weren't complete, but by the girth and number of collumns, we began to understand the true size of Herod's architectural achievement).  We then swam along a series of underwatern crevices in the earth, stopping from time to time to examine pottery and other random artifacts that the sea had spit up. 

One artifcat in particular was of great interest.  While we were looking at pottery, a noticed a rock that looks a bit metalic.  It was semi-loose, so I tugged at it a bit and began to examine it.  The metal was severely corroded and there was quite a bit of growth covering the item.  The rust and growth looked comparable to the early Roman anchor that we saw a bit later in our dive and not much like a more recent boat wreck that we swam over.  The item have five cylindrical shapes that ran into each other (not a hand, but the way it was broken made it look almost like a hand).  On the top, a circular shape sat and a place where two other similar shapes might also have sat existed, except for this is part of the piece that had broken.  On the bottom, a large indention appeared, suggesting that this item at one point sat on top of a pole.

When I found this, I got pretty excited.  I immediately showed it to the dive master and his dive mask did little to hid his excitement.  He hurriedly used his finger to scribble a message to me on a nearby moss covered rock:  "not modern."  He then shrugged a looked at me, and based on some of the other rusted objects we had seen in the water by this time, I shook my head yes (even though we could not be for sure).  I left the item on a rock, not wanting to break archaeological standards by removing something without permission and by so doing ruining its contextual location.  We continued on our path and saw a number of other interesting things including another octopus, more pottery, and more ancient anchors.  When we surfaced the first words out of the dive masters mouth was, "what was that metallic object!?  Have you ever come across anything like that before?"  After we both said no, he ran out and began describing it to the other dive masters, but none of us had a clue where it was.  He then described where we had found it, and they might have discussed retuning to get it the next day.  They were afraid the current would take it away and deposit it somewhere further away.  If it is Roman, I have no idea what it could be.  Jonathan and I both drew it upon our return to the Galilee so we wouldn't forget what it was.  We have been showing people our drawings and asking them if they know what it could be or anyone who might know.  I hope to find out someday, even if it turns out to be an old car part (there were no welding marks on it, however).

This past weekend offered quite the adventure.  As far as our square goes we are continuing to go down.  We have found many mill stones and grinding stones in the past three days of digging.  So many in fact that we are running out of places to put them.  This is giving us a possible insight into what sort of room we are excavating.  One of the mill stones that we removed yesterday has a carved pattern on its side along with an indention.  What this could be has so far remained in the realm of speculation.

It has been a long and hot day.  I am off to nap before we wash pottery later this afternoon.  Thanks for reading.

Some beachfront ruins of Caesarea Maritima behind me
(part of the city has sunk into the ocean over time)

Getting ready for our archaeological dive!