National Geographic : 1960 May
National Geographic, May, 1960 before sailing time Mustafa and I made what we thought would be our last dive toward the rock. John Cochran and Susie Phipps also went down for a final look around - and to take pictures of Susie among the groupers. We combed the labyrinth of formations along the ridge, Mustafa and I, parting sea weed and chipping off bits of rock, hoping against hope. Our reward: Nothing. De jected, we rose to the surface. But on board the Vigilant, the crew was gathered in a knot around John and Susie. There were shouts of exultation as we clam bered to the deck. John was holding in his hand two hunks of bronze, covered with so much limestone concretion that at first glance they looked like shapeless lumps. Mr. Giil tekin and I excitedly chipped off the limey crust-fairly easy to do when objects are fresh from the sea, but difficult after the crust gets dry and rock-hard. Gradually the true shape of the pieces emerged. John had found spear points - un like anything any of us had seen before, crudely made, with what archeologists call a shoe socket. Undoubtedly they were very old. "There's a lot more down there like 'em," John said. "And a bunch of big flat pieces of metal, shaped like oxhides." Ingots! Kefti ingots! Or would they turn out to be something else? Stan Waterman checked the latest U. S. Navy diving tables that he had gotten through Luis Marden, writer and underwater photog rapher for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. As soon as Stan felt it safe, we dived again. Copper Ingots Signal Victory The wreck lay in a sandy-bottomed bowl formed by huge boulders, very near where Mustafa had found the discolored stone. Each of us had been within 20 feet of the site. The ingots- dozens of them- lay heaped on the top of a rock that protruded from the sand, so solidly stuck together that they could be moved only after hours of prying with a crowbar. Between the ingots, under the sand, and under the surrounding ledges, were bronze tools. When we pried an ingot from the top of the heap, we found under it a hollow, full of bits of wood preserved by the copper salts released in the slow corrosion of the metal bars. There were some crude pottery, bronze axes, picks, and spear points. And, most surprising of all, bits of rope made out of grass, or reed, the original twist still in it. The way the ship sank was one of those things that happen once in 10,000 chances. She must have dropped like a stone after gutting herself on an upthrust pinnacle. If she had drifted a few feet farther, she would have landed on the sandy bottom, to be covered and preserved-but probably never discovered by human eyes. Exposed on the rock, she was found, but the ravages of the sea and the centuries have left only bits of her for us to study. Many of the bronze objects she carried are crudely made and have the look of trade goods - the same sort of things that were traded to North American Indians 150 years ago, or to African natives in recent times. Others, particularly some sword blades and double-headed axes, are beautifully fash ioned. The wreck site is directly on the course for Greece, the Aegean Islands, or the western coast of Anatolia, from a starting point in Cyprus (map, page 688). Relentless Current Plagues Divers Discovery of the wreck scrapped plans for an afternoon departure. For two more days we dived from the Vigilant, under weather that gradually worsened. It was the season of the meltem, a steady northerly wind that sweeps the eastern Mediterranean. The seas surged through the channel between the two islands, and the current became so strong it was possible to get to the wreck only by going hand over hand down a rope we had attached to one of the ingots. We all had moments of panic when our masks were nearly snatched off by the current. Twice divers were swept half a mile down the channel; it took three of us, rowing to exhaustion in relays, to get them back to the Vig in the dinghy. But our notebooks were full of sketches of the wreck site, and we had taken samples of material from it. Further exploration really needed an expedition with special equip ment and a stay of several months. We called a halt to our diving, and the Vigilant upped anchor for home. We know that copper from Cyprus was exported in oxhide shapes, and that bars have been found in Sardinia and Mycenae from sites that date between 1600 and 1200 B.C. So we conclude that our bronze wreck has lain beneath the sea for 33 centuries or so eight hundred years longer than any other wreck previously known. Experts quickly confirmed our beliefs.