Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book review: ‘Oceans Odyssey’

From TheEpochTimes

I met Greg Stemm’s partner in Odyssey Marine Exploration in South Dakota.
Of all places, South Dakota is not a likely place for an ocean explorer to be.
If he had been there when the ocean covered the place, Don Mann would have to be a lot older than he is.
Actually Mann was on another odyssey, filming for television’s “Primal Quest Badlands” episode.
Greg and Don’s quest underwater has taken them around the planet.
Their accomplishments have brought amazing deep ocean discoveries that include the steamship Republic that sank off Georgia in 1866, with a fortune in gold aboard.
(see NYTimes)

Odyssey Marine’s endeavors are the stuff of front-page newspaper headlines all over the world.
Recently The New York Times carried a story about their work with the British government on the discovery and planned exploitation of the British steamship Mantola.
A German U-boat sank the Mantola in 1917, off the Irish coast.
It went to the bottom with 20 tons of silver bullion.
That’s $18 million today.

Undaunted by success Odyssey discovered another prize off the Irish coast laden with 240 tons of silver.
The cargo is estimated to be worth $200 million according to the report.
The Gairsoppa was sunk by a German torpedo in 1941.
Odyssey is working with the British government and will partner shares.
Oddly enough the British Indian Steam Navigation Company owned both ships, one sunk in World War I, the other in World War II by German submarines.
The Mantola sank in the deep ocean a mile down.

Controversy still rages between private enterprise and some jealous academics about who gets what on the ocean floor.
By and large this often means who gets the credit for major discoveries.
One fact is very clear: if shipwrecks are not found, studied, mapped, and their cargoes recovered in an archaeologically acceptable way, the knowledge they contain and their valuable artifacts will be lost forever.
In this pursuit, no government and no academic institution has ever had the funding, resources, or expertise to do the job of deep-water archaeology properly.

The prejudice among academics and government bureaucrats has always been that private enterprise can never be compatible with archaeological recovery of shipwrecks.
Sadly, corruption in government labs and storage facilities resulted in the loss of major treasures that were recovered by the late Mel Fisher and his team of divers as well as others working with the State of Florida.

Private sector involvement has made the only significant contributions to, not only knowledge, but to public museum collections of maritime history in recent years.
Certainly this is true in deep-sea technology to a very large extent.

Oceans Odyssey by Greg Stemm and Sean Kingsley is a two-volume presentation of astonishing marine research and exploration that will open the eyes of experts and enthusiasts, alike.
Two major books have been recently published by Odyssey Marine Exploration as reports of their work.
The two volumes will be part of continuing efforts by Greg Stemm, Sean Kingsley, and Odyssey’s curator Ellen Gerth to document and publish, with scientific papers and reports, the results of their work on the SS Republic, HMS Sussex, HMS Victory, and other vessels lost in the deep oceans.

Both books are major undertakings in full-color, large 9” x 11” format.
Ocean Odyssey I contains 288 pages, Ocean Odyssey II is 354 pages.
The books publish papers produced by archaeologists and scientists working on the projects.
Some are technical or scientific and all are well researched.
The editors make no attempt to dissuade opinion since one paper contains the pros and cons of treasure hunters being involved with shipwrecks at all, authored by an archaeologist.
The color photography obtained in situ of deep-water shipwrecks is not only amazing it is beguiling.
To be able to see clearly about .31 miles beneath the surface, and see what no one has seen before since the ship went down, is an incredible feat.

On the SS Republic site, located about 93 miles off Georgia’s coast, in about .31 miles of water, the scatter fields of cargo and artifacts are revealed in minute detail in the pictures.
Recovered from the depths were 51,404 gold coins from the paddle-wheeler that sank in a terrible storm on October 25, 1865, while en route from New York to New Orleans.
Volume I contains reports of the field work, and site history, the cargo, coin collection, bottles, and other artifacts recovered from the shipwreck.

The book also documents what has been called the Blue China shipwreck off Jacksonville, Fla. with its cargo of porcelains.
When the 80-gun HMS Sussex went down in 1694, it was a major loss to the Royal Navy.
Now the wreck has been brought to light again with its history coming back to life.
Volume I describes Odyssey’s work on the about 109-yards-deep HMS Victory lost in the western English Channel.
The shipwrecks have been explored using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) equipped with cameras and powerful lights.
Intricately engineered limpets with rubber suction cups have been used to recover artifacts from the deep wreck sites after methodically mapping and recording the finds.

Greg Stemm and Odyssey Marine found the first colonial deep-water Spanish shipwreck in 1989.
Their excitement at the discovery challenged them.
Stemm’s introduction proclaims that there are some 3 million shipwrecks worldwide.
Many of the shallow water wrecks have already been pillaged before any archaeology could be performed.
Deep ocean wrecks were raked over by fishing trawlers and many sites have been destroyed by natural events.
What Stemm and his team have proved is that archaeology can be successfully performed using remote vehicles.
Odyssey’s engineers are responsible for developing the technology, at great cost, to make this possible.

In Stemm’s words, “We found that even in deep water, shipwrecks were being destroyed at an alarming rate and that the politics of underwater cultural heritage were so complex that some government bureaucrats were happier to see shipwrecks being destroyed in situ than to consider a new private sector model for managing cultural heritage. In addition, a handful of archaeologists in positions of power were dead set against the private sector coming into ‘their’ territory, a perceived threat to their funding sources and monopoly on underwater archaeology.”
Stemm uses the example of their discovery in 2008, of Admiral Sir John Balchin’s HMS Victory in the English Channel.
The shipwreck is badly damaged by trawling activities and natural causes, according to the book, documented with deep-sea photographs.

Volume II describes the UNESCO 2001 Convention on shipwrecks and its potential controversial application unless the requirement to work with others is enhanced.
Many German U-boats from World War II have been located by Odyssey Marine’s deep ocean surveys.
They have documented the U-325, U-400, U-650, U-1021, and U-1208.
Volume II also carefully describes in minute detail a carpenter’s rule found on their site 35F.
The book includes a paper about brass guns from HMS Victory.
One paper describes La Marquise de Tourny, a Bordeaux Mid-18th Century Armed privateer’s Art and Archaeology.
The volume includes additional carefully drawn papers about the Jacksonville Blue China wreck.
It was found to be a Mid-19th Century American schooner.
Curator Ellen Gerth and her colleagues describe the Ceramic Assemblage as well as the Glass Assemblage and Clay Tobacco Pipes found on the Blue China wreck site, about .23 miles deep and 70 miles off Jacksonville.
Photomosaics of the wreck site give clear details of the in situ wreckage that was first discovered by fishermen trawling the area over the last 40 years.
Trawlers dredged up porcelain artifacts in their nets.

For the academic, researcher, historian, shipwreck buff, diver, and ocean enthusiast Odyssey Marine’s two-volume set is indispensable.
While the papers are scientific they are easy to read and fascinating.
The photographs are amazing in fidelity and content.
The information contained in the volumes would require years of research to find in scattered archives.
The discoveries themselves are news of the century.
As reference books, the two volumes are required for archaeologists and maritime historians.
Additional volumes are planned and will be published as new material comes to light and the research is completed.

Links :
  • GeoGarage blog : British shipwreck with a fortune in silver on board discovered in Atlantic

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