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Nautical Archaeology

Other Uses Of Nautical Archaeology

Techniques used in nautical archaeology have been applied to other kinds of underwater archaeology. Submerged ports and lost cities are also subjects of research. Excavated by the United States in 1960, the enormous Port of Caesarea was built by King Herod of Judaea in the first century B.C. to improve commerce with foreign merchants. Destroyed by an earthquake, the port still remains visible underwater. To construct the port, enormous stone blocks were lowered into the water to form a foundation for the 5-mi-long pier (8 km) built on top, which included a large curved wall with towers and arched shelters for the merchants.

Destroyed by an earthquake in 1692, Port Royal was a flourishing center of commerce in the Caribbean. After the earthquake, the port sank to a distance of 65 ft (20 m) below sea level. A field school established to study the site has employed seventeenth-century maps to explore the submerged city and port.

The Maya are a Central American people who built an extensive civilization that flourished until the arrival of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. The natural wells found in the limestone Yucatan Peninsula provided the Maya with a source of drinking water, but some wells were also the site of human sacrifice. In the early twentieth century, attracted by the prospect of finding treasure in the sacred wells, the American archaeologist Edward Herbert Thompson (1860-1935) purchased one of them for $70. To excavate the well he employed the highly unsystematic method of lifting objects out with a bucket. When this method proved unsatisfactory, Thompson dove down into the murky well with two Greek sponge divers, but the extremely low level of visibility thwarted any hope of finding the treasure. Thompson's mission did, however, bring to light a number of important archaeological finds-headdresses, wooden spears, and fabric-which would have otherwise perished had they been left to deteriorate on land.

More than half a century later, the National Institute of Anthropology and History made its own attempt to excavate the sacrificial well. This time, the water was chemically treated and filtered so that rescuers could see to a depth of 15.5 ft (5 m). The two-and-a-half-month excavation project produced other exciting finds. These included carved wooden stools, stone jaguars and serpents, and human remains.

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