The Trailblazer

The Trailblazer

2003 by Tony Marciniec

This summer of 2003 is a special occasion, a time to remember. Forty-five years ago Bodrum was a tiny town, little bigger than a village, and the Castle was a ruined hulk. The main economic activity was diving for sponges and the cultivation of citrus fruit, mainly tangerines. In the summer of 1958 two young men arrived in Bodrum: Peter Throckmorton, an American journalist who had studied anthropology, and Mustafa Kapkin, a Turkish photographer. Both were dedicated divers and both were interested in “junk in the sea”, antiquities that sometimes snagged in fishing nets or were brought to the surface as salvage by sponge divers. Their curiosity had been aroused by a bronze statue of Demeter recently found by a Bodrum diver and placed in the Izmir museum. Except for thoughts about possibly writing some illustrated articles on the subject of historical remains resting on the bottom of the sea, they had no definite aim.

In Bodrum they met Kemal Aras, a sponge diver and owner of a sponge-fishing boat, who eventually showed them places where reefs caused many an ancient ship to sink. About this time Peter Throckmorton got the idea that the ruined Castle could be used as a museum for the antiquities that rested on the bottom of the sea. This thought appealed to Captain Kemal Aras, especially when Peter convinced him that such a museum would be a tourist attraction, and this experienced diver told Peter about some other shipwrecks along the southern shores of Turkey.

It was in this summer of 1958 that two British archaeological illustrators, Honor Frost and John Carswell, heard of Throckmorton’s dives and came to visit him in Bodrum. Honor Frost created quite a sensation since she was an expert diver, a most unusual accomplishment for a woman to claim in the midst of a conservative Moslem society. Her femininity was overlooked, however, when Captain Kemal declared in the non-gender Turkish way that she’s “a diver”. Honor Frost’s sketches of wrecks and retrieved pieces were of immense help when Peter made his pitch to the conservative archaeological community in the United States asking for support. Some assistance was given and an exploratory expedition was launched in the summer of 1959 to Cape Gelidonya where Captain Kemal Aras had reported some bronze objects lying concreted on the bottom of the sea. When, after some initially unproductive dives the remains of a Bronze Age ship were located, even the skeptical archaeologists became enthusiastic. Here was a new source of knowledge about the past, a source preserved by the sea, not subject to the vagaries of man’s changing needs, tastes and beliefs or greed. How many monuments have been destroyed and how much knowledge has been lost due to these human foibles and indifference no one will ever know.

The intensive scientific excavations of shipwrecks near the Turkish coast which followed were first sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania and supervised by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Later the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) was established by Prof. George Bass at Texas A & M University, with the main field office in Bodrum. INA shouldered the continuing explorations in cooperation with the now-famous Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology located in the Bodrum Castle of the Knights of St. John which was restored to its former medieval glory. Such were the beginnings of nautical archaeology and the superb exhibits on view in the castle. On the forty-fifth anniversary of these first steps, at the very least we owe the pioneers this token of remembrance.