Graduate Program in Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology

ARHM005. Maritime Archaeology and the Western Black Sea. Phil Watson, Dragomir Garbov, Nayden Prahov

Online course, 30 hours, 3 credits


The Black Sea is considered to be a vast treasury of information about human history, cultural and technological development, contacts and influences between people, cultures and civilizations. Access to this treasury is limited only by our technological capabilities and scientific ingenuity. Recent large-scale archaeological research projects attempted to reveal its secrets – the expedition of Dr. Robert Ballard searching the Black Sea coast for the origins of the story of the Biblical flood and other flood legends, and the biggest maritime archaeological expedition ever undertaken - the “Black Sea M.A.P” studying sea level fluctuations, coastal changes, submerged landscapes, seafaring and contacts. Despite these and other large-scale archaeology projects, the Black Sea is still considered archaeological terra incognita.


It was intensively inhabited from the Paleolithic and contains record of all major geological, climatic and historical events that shaped our history and development. The first Paleolithic groups that inhabited Europe probably followed the Black Sea coast; it witnessed the Neolithization of Europe and the early trade with metal and other goods between Europe, Asia Minor and the Near East. The story of Jason and the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece is set along the Black Sea shores. The Greek Colonization resulted in the establishment of hundreds of colonies along the coast, trading with the local tribes and the Mediterranean. It became a contact zone between the Greco-Roman world, Persia and Central Asia. It was a part of the Silk Road; it was the main communication link between Northern Europe, Constantinople and the Mediterranean; and it was the main connection between Western- and Central Europe and the Near East, along which Crusaders invaded the Holy Lands and, later, the Ottomans invaded the Balkans and Central Europe. It has always been a crossroads, place of contacts and influence, where the major cultures and civilizations of Eurasia met – The Greek and the Hellenistic World, the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Arab Caliphates and the Crusaders, the nomads of Central Asia, the warriors of the Northern Europe – Normans and Variags, the Bulgarian Tsardom, the Ottoman and Russian Empires, the powers of the Western Mediterranean and Western Europe...


The goal of this course is to introduce students to the field of Maritime Archaeology using case studies and examples from the Western Black Sea coast. The course will present the basics of the science, the history of Maritime Archaeology, the major discoveries that influenced its theoretical and methodological development, the pioneers of the field and their contributions, the main scientific directions and subfields and the relations with other sciences and disciplines. The research approaches, methods and practices will be illustrated mostly with numerous case studies from maritime archaeology expeditions and projects along the Western Black Sea Coast – underwater excavations, geophysical surveys, remote sensing investigations, spatial analyses, paleoenvironmental interdisciplinary studies, recording and presentation of the discoveries with advanced methods and technologies, etc. The international and national legislation concerning the property, research and preservation of the underwater cultural heritage, its proper conservation, presentation and communication will also be discussed in the lectures.


Another main topic of the course is the history of the Black Sea basin and of the people that inhabited or passed by its coast in the Holocene. Special attention will be paid to the climatic and environmental changes, the relative sea level rise, the phases of transgression and regression, the submerged coastal landscapes and archaeological sites. The legend of the Biblical flood and the different concepts of inundation of the coast will be discussed. The history of the region will be the topic of several lectures, illustrated with archaeological discoveries and ancient written sources. Special attention will be paid to the submerged and coastal archaeological sites – prehistoric settlements, ancient and medieval cities, their fortification system and harbors as well on their ever changing environment and the subsequent human adaptation and reaction. Their discovery, research, and the scientific issues and problems they raise will be in our focus as well. The Black Sea was probably the most important road in South-East Europe used for trade, military actions, migrations, colonization. This aspect will occupy a central place in the lectures.


The main subject of our program is the seafaring and shipbuilding traditions along the Western Black Sea coast. The Black Sea features a deep-water anaerobic environment, which, when combined with a high concentration of hydrogen sulphide, creates unique conditions for the preservation and conservation of organic material. Recent discoveries have proved that the Black Sea hides an unprecedented material record of the history of shipbuilding and seafaring. As a natural museum it preserves (often in perfect state) ships of different age and origin. The earliest so far discovered is Ancient Greek but we could expect much earlier examples due to the abundant evidence of trade and contacts along the coast from Prehistory on.


Within this course our students will dive deeply into the archaeology of the Black Sea region, exploring one of the most exciting and attractive sciences, and could make their first career steps in this field.






An Introduction to Maritime, Underwater & Nautical Archaeology (Terms, Topics, Schools, People, Sources)



The History of a Science (Theoretical Evolution, Main Worldwide Sites & Projects)



Methods in Maritime and Underwater Archaeology I - Basics (Excavations, Recording & Conservation)



Methods in Maritime and Underwater Archaeology II – Advanced Recording Methods: Shipwreck Excavations and Reconstruction



Methods in Maritime and Underwater Archaeology III – Geophysics and Remote sensing; Predictive Modeling; GIS



Maritime Archaeological Research along the Western Black Sea



Mediterranean and  Black Sea Basin Evolution in the Late Quaternary and the Holocene



The Western Black Sea Coast in Prehistory



The Western Black Sea Coast in Antiquity -Pre-Roman Era



The Western Black Sea Coast in Antiquity - Roman Era and Late Antiquity



The Western Black Sea Coast in the Middle Ages and Beyond




Ancient Seafaring and the Archaeology of Ships



Seafaring and Shipbuilding in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea: Antiquity and the Middle Ages



Seafaring and Shipbuilding in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea: The Ottoman and Modern Age



Presentation and Communication of the Maritime Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (Conferences/Museums/Periodicals)





Essential readings:

(Monographs and Edited Volumes)


Maritime History (World and Black Sea):

Braudel, F. 1996: The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol I, University of California Press, 652 p.

Braudel, F. 1996: The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol II, University of California Press, 742 p.

King, Ch. 2013 2004: The Black Sea: A History, Oxford University Press, 276 p.

Paine, L. 2015: The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World, Vintage Reprint Edition, 800 p.


Maritime and Underwater Archaeology (General):

Bowens, A. 2009: Underwater Archaeology: The NAS Guide to Principles and Practice, Second Edition, Blackwell Publishing, 169 p.

Catsambis, A.; Ford, B.; Hamilton, D. 2011: The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology, Oxford University Press, 1240 p.

Muckelroy, K. 2004 (1978): Maritime Archaeology: New Studies in Archaeology, Cambridge University Press, 270 p.

Muckelroy, K. (Ed.) 1983: Archaeology Underwater: An Atlas of the World’s Submerged Sites, McGraw-Hill, 192 p.


Submerged Prehistory:

Benjamin, J.; Bonsal, C.; Packard, C., Fisher, A. (Eds.) 2011: Submerged Prehistory, Oxbow Books, 336 p.


Nautical Archaeology:

Bass, G. 1972: A History of Seafaring Based on Underwater Archaeology, Walker, 320 p.

Gould, R. 2011: The Archaeology and Social History of Shipwrecks, Cambridge University Press, 406 p.

Steffy, D. 2012: Wooden Shipbuilding and the Interpretation of Shipwrecks, Texas A&M University Press, 328 p.

Throckmorton, P 1970: Shipwrecks and Archaeology: The Unharvested Sea, Little Brown & Company, 270 p.

Heritage Management and CRM:

ICOMOS Charter on the Protection and Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage 1996

UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001 + Annex and Application Manual

Spirek, J.; Scott-Ireton, D. 2003: Submerged Cultural Resource Management, Springer, 185 p.