|The Deep Sea Archaeology of Bob Ballard|
|A remarkable legacy|
You have to hand it to Bob Ballard. Over the past several years, he's conducted the most fascinating underwater searches for sunken ships and sites of all ages. Recent investigations range from scouring the bottom of the Black Sea looking for evidence of a massive flood; to searching for the location of the luxury liner Titanic, sunk in 12,000 feet of water in 1912; and, most recently, to locating PT109, US president John F. Kennedy's boat sunk during World War II. Every time Ballard finds evidence of another legendary tragedy, it seems almost effortless. The ensuing news reports are terrific advertisements for studying the past, and Ballard's outside interests such as the Jason Project, which brings exploration into the classroom via teacher participation, get a big boost.
To tell you the truth, his expeditions remind me a little of the energetic, enthusiastic, and highly-charged life of Heinrich Schliemann, excavator of Homer's Troy; until Schliemann's excavations, much of the scientific world believed Troy to be a myth. Like Ballard, Schliemann was a prolific writer; he knew what the public wanted and was able to give it to them. He also published academic treatises on his work. Like Ballard, Schliemann was not trained as an archaeologist, but he made up for that by surrounding himself with talented members of the archaeological community. The problem with Schliemann is that his enthusiasm got the better of him; and some scholars today believe he destroyed more at Troy than he found.
But that isn't Ballard. The remarkable thing about Ballard is that he isn't just the next Schliemann; he's truly interested in the science of deep sea archaeology. At his Institute for Exploration, Ballard is establishing a new field of research using advanced mapping and imaging systems, underwater robotics and remotely operated vehicles. Underwater explorations often have serious ethical issues involved which Ballard is careful to pay attention to. He avoids damaging sites while studying them; he keeps the site location safe from looters; and he maintains a respectful attitude for the dead.
It is remarkable in any age---perhaps it just seems more remarkable today---that someone with the energy and wherewithal to pursue his dreams still maintains the personal integrity to preserve and respect the resources he finds.