Sailing Into the Semester’s End

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Photo: Candace diCarlo

During a two-hour sail on the Delaware River on May 3 that marked the end of the semester, students in Dr. Fredrik Hiebert’s class in underwater archaeology were pressed into service to help raise the sails 
of the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica of an early-17th-century sailing vessel. They received instruction in “putting their backs into it” and the singing of sea chanteys from the ship’s first mate. The vessel itself is the official tall ship of the state of Delaware, and features traditional navigation equipment, period living-quarters—and lots and lots of rigging.
    This was the first time in more than 25 years that an undergraduate course in underwater archaeology was taught at Penn —even though the discipline was pioneered here by Dr. George F. Bass Gr’64, the “father of underwater archaeology.” During Bass’s 15 years at Penn, the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology sent expeditions investigating ancient shipwrecks along the coast of Turkey and in the Mediterranean Sea.
    Hiebert, assistant professor of anthropology and assistant curator of the Museum’s Near East section, decided to revive the course last spring and hopes to teach it on a regular basis in the future. His own groundbreaking work with Bob Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic, on the Black Sea Project [“Gazetteer,” November/December 2000, July/August 1999] is a prime example of the new era in underwater archaeology, using “robots and satellite technology instead of scuba gear” and combining land-and-sea research to focus on broader issues like trade, technology development, and the social impacts of seafaring.
    While a far cry from the two-month voyage across the Atlantic that passengers would have endured in the 17th century, their time on the Kalmar Nyckel provided students with “the opportunity to step into the very past we’ve been painstakingly trying to piece together and understand from the archaeological evidence and historical documents,” says Hiebert—while still getting back to the 21st century in time for their next exam.

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