National Geographic : 2004 May
summers before, Ballard and archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert of the University of Pennsylva nia Museum had discovered stones in a rectan gular pattern here, speculating that they might belong to a dwelling dating back 7,000 years. That was the era when some scientists believe the Mediterranean breached the Bosporus and, in a flood of biblical proportions, turned what had been a freshwater lake into the Black Sea. Now they are looking for further proof. On the aft deck, mechanical engineers Todd Gregory and Sarah Webster, both blond and twentysomething, buzz around the decal festooned Hercules like a NASCAR pit crew. Webster makes last minute adjustments on the clear Lexan tubes that will be used to take sam ples of the bottom, and Gregory, who is also a pilot of the ROV, does a quick check of the vehi cle's $150,000 manipulator arm. Twenty feet away behind the closed doors of the deck lab, the expedition's computer brain trust, an unnerving percentage of whom have Ph.D.'s from MIT, hunch cheek by jowl over their laptops, testing and tweaking the ever evolving software that will help navigate the ROV, spit out maps, and organize reams of data. Dana Yoerger, head of the Deep Submergence Lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which helped develop Hercules, and David Min dell, a 37-year-old MIT professor and inventor of a narrow-beam sub-bottom profiler that can survey wrecks buried a few feet deep below the seafloor, are sitting back to back. "Everybody here in almost every billet is about as good as you can find," says Yoerger, a veteran 120 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * MAY 2004 of 14 Ballard expeditions. "If they're not the best in the world at what they do, they're number two or three." At the other end of the room, Hie bert and his research assistant, Julie Hanlon, ready the makeshift lab where the core samples will be processed and analyzed. While the engineers and academics scurry on the deck like cerebral galley slaves, Ballard sits directly above them in his million-dollar con trol room, a headset resting rakishly atop his brown expedition cap. Now that the work is finally under way, he evinces a manic glee, alternately belting out Sinatra's version of"On the Road to Mandalay" and Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah."