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An Interview with George F. Bass
Author Lucie S. Vidlickova

?Lucie Vidlickova conducts an interview with George F. Bass in which Dr. Bass shares his long-life experience in the field of underwater archaeology and talks about returning to Cape Gelidonya.

 
The discovery of the Cape Gelidonya wreck a late 13th century B.C. merchant ship rewrote Late Bronze Age history. Until the time of its discovery the generally accepted view was that the Mycenaean Greeks held a monopoly on maritime commerce in the eastern Mediterranean during this period. George F. Bass through a careful study of the ship's cargo came to the conclusion that the ship was of Near Eastern origin, previously believed to be Canaanite. This interpretation was later strengthened by the discovery of a type of stone anchor found throughout the Near East and Cyprus, but in the Aegean only at a Bronze Age site on Crete, which seems to have served as a harbor for Near Eastern traders.
 
Lucie Vidlickova: On your first visit to the Cape Gelidonya site in 1960 you arrived planning to excavate a wreck entirely on the seabed, something never accomplished before and in an area known for its strong currents. It must have been an unforgettable experience. Without a physician, recompression chamber and medicinal oxygen you were part of a historic moment in underwater archaeology. How does it feel to return to Cape Gelidonya 50 years later fully equipped, and what are the main changes that you see in underwater archaeological research today?
 
George F. Bass: I returned to the Cape with Claude Duthuit from France and Waldemar Illing from Germany, for we are the only surviving divers of the original excavation team, and we all realized how lucky we were when we dove here earlier. But when we returned to the narrow strip of beach on which we camped for three months, with boulders seemingly ready to topple down at any moment from the surrounding cliffs, Waldemar said that nothing could make him camp there again. Claude later wrote that it was the worst experience of his life, including combat in Algeria. Without refrigeration we lived on beans and rice and an occasional watermelon or tomato for three months. My wife Ann, who dove on the wreck only a few times in 1960, did not dive with us this time, but was again on the oven-hot beach where she spent her days cleaning and cataloging artifacts.
 
This time we had a team of younger diving archaeologists directed by Nicolle Hirschfeld and Harun Özda?. We also had much better equipment than was available to us fifty years ago, including a modern metal detector (which also detected pottery!) and battery-powered underwater scooters. Before the year is over, we hope to examine with our two-person submersible, Carolyn, the seabed around the wreck for any more stone anchors. The main difference between fifty years ago and today, however, is the unique training almost all of our divers have received in the graduate program of nautical archaeology at Texas A&M University, with which INA became affiliated in 1976. As pioneers in the field in 1960, we knew nothing about ancient ship construction, and our early attempts at conservation were pathetically primitive.
 
L.V.: When we talked earlier this year, you expressed your hopes for possible new finds, since you were going to use underwater scooters and metal detectors, technology not available back in 1960. What are the most significant new finds from the 2010 season and have any of them enriched our previous understanding of the site?
 
G. F. B.: The metal detector somehow spotted a cache of pottery, with much larger vessels than we had found before, completely covered by a thick layer of seabed encrustation. This new cache extendied the size of the main excavation area. We also found additional bronzes and eight more pan-balance weights. On an earlier visit to the site the scooters allowed us to find the best preserved pottery from the wreck, 50 m away from the main area of cargo, and a stone anchor 100 m away. Laboratory analysis of both the pottery and stone, as well as of pottery we found in 1960, show them all to be of Cypriot origin, causing us to rethink the "nationality" of the ship, which I originally thought was Canaanite.
 
L.V.: Have you visited any other wrecks this season which were previously found in close proximity to the Cape Gelidonya wreck?
 
G. F. B.: No.
 
L.V.: In his dissertation C. Pulak says the distribution of the cargo suggests that the ship was approximately 10 m long. Did you fully survey the area around the main concentration of the cargo?
 
G. F. B.: I expect that will be done later this year from the submersible Carolyn, which can stay down for hours at a time. The disruption of shipping in the Gulf of Mexico by the oil spill earlier this year delayed Carolyn's return to Turkey from California.
 
L.V.: Your 1967 publication shows the provenance of nearly every object recovered during the first excavation.  Have you raised any other objects this season, and do you plan any further publication?
 
G.F.B.: We are planning an entirely new publication of the site by Nicolle Hirschfeld, with contributions from Cemal Pulak, Harun Özda? and myself, not only because of the summer 2010 excavation, but also because of finds made in brief revisits to the wreck between 1987 and 1994, numerous laboratory analyses of metals, ceramics, and stone made since 1967, and new interpretations of the finds from 1960.
 
L.V.: In 1987 when you were excavating the Uluburun site you revisited the Cape Gelidonya site with Cemal Pulak, who found a sword on the site. Were there any other weapons discovered at the site?
 
G.F.B.: The sword is the main weapon found, but back in 1960 and since then we have found knives, some of which could have been weapons, and a spearhead.
 
L.V.: Do you plan to return to this site the following summer?
 
G.F.B.: I'm now 77 and feel that my diving days are over. If others want to return, I wish them the best, but we have pretty thoroughly examined the main area of the site, and before the year is over will hopefully have examined the surrounding area using Carolyn the submersible.
 
L.V.: What is next on your schedule?
 
G.F.B.:  One must dream to have one's dreams come true. I gambled when I left a good job at the University of Pennsylvania to found INA, whose total annual budget for the first years was only $50,000. Today it is usually $1 million, and once reached $2 million – and that does not include seven faculty salaries paid by the our affiliate Texas A&M University. My new dream is to build a seagoing catamaran able to transport Carolyn to any point in the Mediterranean, Black, or Red Sea, and serve as an excavation platform when needed. It would cost a million euros, but I hope it becomes a reality. I will work on that. And, of course, I hope to write my memoirs.
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