UNIVERSITY, TEXAS A&M IN UNDERWATER VENTURE

University Of Haifa maritime researchers last winter teamed up once again with Texas A&M, this time to explore the depths off the coast of the ancient Philistine city of Ashkelon.

Archeologists, geologists, and divers from the University of Haifa’s Leon Recanati Center for Maritime Studies (CMS) joined a similar crew from the Texan university’s Institute of Nautical Archeology (INA) between November 2 and December 5 to conduct an underwater sonar survey off the southern coast of Israel.

The teams hoped to find ancient shipwrecks and other remnants of past civilizations. The seabed off the coast of Ashkelon, a major maritime site, is prime property in which to conduct the search, according to CMS researchers, since most Philistine seafaring was coastal. The survey covered an area measuring 15 by 5 kilometers.

Joint directors of this Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, as the project is officially known, were Dr. Shelley Wachsmann, a marine archeologist, and Ya’acov Kahanov, an expert in ancient vessel reconstruction. Dr. Jon Jolly, a geologist, was in charge of remote sensing.

In addition to sophisticated sensing equipment on board the survey ship, the research team sent down experienced divers--led by Steve Breitstein, the Center’s diving and operations officer, and Dr. Dani Kerem, a diving physiologist--to investigate first hand possible finds that had been identified electronically. The use of Nitrox air mixtures enabled divers to descend safely to depths of over 30 meters.

The divers brought back an absolute minimum of artifacts, CMS officials said. Artifacts raised were retrieved only for dating and identification purposes in order to hold down conservation costs.

Researchers undertook systematic remote-sensing of the seabed with side-scan sonar. An innovative new type of bottom-penetrating sonar helped locate sub-seabed anomalies. The goal of the survey was to locate well-preserved shipwrecks, primarily in deeper waters.

The Ashkelon expedition was the second joint excavation for the University and the American institution. The Maritime Studies Center and INA recently concluded a three-year excavation in the Dor lagoon, just south of Haifa. As in that exploration, the present expedition also employed students from Texas A&M’s Nautical Archeology Program and the University’s Department of Maritime Civilizations in addition to faculty and staff of the two institutions.

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