Dr. Sagstetter Discusses Underwater Discoveries

On Friday, October 30, Assistant Professor of Ancient History at the United States Naval Academy Dr. Kelcy Sagstetter spoke at a lecture titled “Maritime Archaeology in the Ancient Mediterranean.” The event was hosted by the Department of the Classics and The Colgate Classics Society.

The lecture began with an explanation from Sagstetter of what archeology is. Sagstetter then transitioned to discuss more specific aspects of marine archeology, describing the beginning of a more modern era of aquatic archaeology in the 1960s. Following this, Sagstetter introduced key figures in underwater archaeology, such as George Bass, whose pioneering and standards in the field are still used today.

Sagstetter explained how strong tidal flows and specific types of marine life are hazardous obstacles and challenges to underwater archaeologists. In addition, she emphasized how some sites can be very dynamic, while other sites may be covered by sand, making it arduous to locate underwater vessels.

Sagstetter talked about how most underwater archaeology “digging” sites were discovered along the Mediterranean coasts due to the reluctance of early sailors taking to the open sea. This entails large, reefy areas that damage the hulls of ships and often lead them to sink. According to Sagstetter, situations like this make it hard for archaeologists to discover the site of the sunken ship, as there is often a trail of artifacts scattered around the sea bed before the vessel finds its final resting place in the ocean. Another problem that arises with coastal sites is that they had been subject to “grave robbers” or thieves. Sagstetter explained how shallower waters make it easier for divers to retrieve the relics at a site, unlike deep water sites that are often better preserved and require the use of automated vessels such as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) for searching them.

Sagstetter then shifted the audience’s attention to more specific findings. One revolutionary discovery was the uncovering of the 14th Century B.C.E. Uluburun shipwreck. This vessel was almost completely preserved. The vessel not only showed what materials ships were made of at that time, but also what types of cargo they were transporting. This specific ship was carrying elephant tusks, weapons, balance weights and copper ingots, among other items. Another “wreck” that stood out was the discovery of the “Bronze Age City at Kiladha Bay.” Stagstetter discussed how the site had paved streets as well as a massive fortification that was unlike anything found in other Greek cities. 

Finally, Sagstetter’s own research showed how challenging some underwater archaeological sites can be. She surveyed Episkopi Bay around modern day Cyprus from 2003 to 2006. Sagstetter noted how the sheer number of wrecks was astounding, but uncovering them came with the ardor of identifying the ships within the piles of wreckage and cargo.

“Underwater archaeology is archaeology. We are constantly discovering new things about the past,” Stagstetter said, concluding the lecture.

Both students and parents, who were visiting Hamilton for Colgate’s Family Weekend, were in attendance at the lecture. One of the students there was senior Katie Mears, a Classical Studies major.

“I am an active member of the Classics society. I [also] adore Professor Seth Holm and I know the speaker is a dear friend of his and so I wanted to learn more about the antikythera mechanism,” Mears said.