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Who, as a child, hasn’t dreamed at least once to be the companion of the mythical Captain Nemo or a diver onboard the Nautilus, exploring the secrets of the lost civilizations hidden by the planetary ocean, while emotionally leafing through Jules Verne’s novels ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea’ or ‘The Mysterious Island’? Or was there a Romanian not to wait aglow with excitement to live on TV the thrills of the underwater expeditions of famous French oceangrapher Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the crew of Calypso, in their perpetual quest for the Atlantis that took them even to the western shores of Pontus Euxinos, at the mouths of the ancient Danubius?


But as of summer next year, the underwater forays into archaeological sites on the Black Sea continental shelf off Dobrogea, as it stretches along the Romanian and Bulgarian coastline, will be accessible to tourists, sea and history lovers, thanks to the HERAS project—”The Submarine Archaeological Heritage of the Western Black Sea Shelf”, initiated by the National Institute for Research and Development of Marine Geology and Geoecology (GeoEcoMar) in collaboration with the Constanta National Museum of History and Archaeology, the Respiro Underwater Dive Center, the Kavarna History Museum and the Varna Institute of Oceanology, under the Cross-border cooperation programme Romania — Bulgaria 2007-2013, funded with more than 1.4 million euros.

Coordinator of the HERAS project, PhD Associate Professor Glicherie Caraivan, says that we actually witness the fulfillment of the dream of the early ?60s nurtured by the pioneer of Romanian underwater archaeology, commander Constantin Scarlat, to whom we also owe the first map of the submarine relief and of the resources of the Black Sea continental shelf. ‘HERAS is an interdisciplinary geo-archaeological project aimed at the study of archaeological sites in the western basin of the Black Sea that will be introduced in the cultural heritage. As a matter of fact, its main objective is the identification of targets that have so far been located based on primary, even empirical observations of witnesses like fishermen, for instance; they will next be charted and promoted as objectives of interest of the underwater heritage, to be offered to the seekers of adventure tourism or divers. Visiting these sites can have both a scientific and a recreational purpose, for the track record — in the case of certain divers, or for viewing these heritage assets,” says Glicherie Caraivan.

The greatest part of the project consists of the conduct of on-site campaigns, which entail about 90 percent of the work of the Bulgarian and Romanian researchers. And for a better understanding of the scope of such work, it should be mentioned that until the start of this initiative, archaeologists and marine researchers were unanimous on the fact that the underwater cultural heritage is known, located and researched to an extent of merely 5 percent, in the area of the Romanian-Bulgarian seaside.

In turn Dr. Constantin Chera, researcher at the Museum of National History and Archaeology in Constanta says that in the first stage, the work of the HERAS team — that of collecting information, inventory-making and mapping — began in the northernmost areas of the Romanian seaside, which are known to have been home to human settlements from ancient times.

‘This is the case of the Histria Fortress — where there’s a genuine submerged city, off the Corbu beach, where magnetometric and electrometric investigations reveal the continuity of the sites along the shoreline, of Navodari, the Ostrov Island on the Tasaul Lake, where there is a prehistoric submerged settlement, of Tomis — where quarters of the fortress lie below the sea level, just as at Callatis, Tuzla, 23 August, Eforie and beyond the Romanian border, beginning from Durankulak, the site of the biggest prehistoric necropolis in the world,’ Chera underscores.

But how deep will research on the Black Sea continental shelf go anyway? “Down to the 40-metre isobath, that is to the limit where experienced scuba divers can reach. “We do electromagnetic and magnetographic investigations with geophysical equipment, with remotely operated vehicle (ROV) side scan sonar, and even with a submarine — used by our Bulgarian colleagues. We start from approximately 1,000 possible targets reported by fishermen as so-called ‘hooks’ — these are the first indications that these areas could hide potential objects of interest for underwater archeology, wrecks of ships, aircraft or ancient habitation areas. Then there are the cave areas, fewer on the Romanian territory, more numerous at the Bulgarians, and these too could arouse the interest of diving fans, as they are a perfect goal for adventure tourism,” concluded Dr. Glicherie Caraivan.

And as researchers are generally far-sighted people whose main work commandment is that of shining the best light on these awesome heritage treasures and particularly the preservation of the identified sites, the HERAS project also has an important training component for the guides who will be authorized to work with the future “map of submarine treasures which are now being charted. “In Romania, some 20 diving clubs are entered in the official records and as the magic of underwater treasures always inflames passions — sometimes even dangerous ones — we also conceived this project with a formative dimension under which we train and certify divers who will have access to the map of the submerged heritage sites and who will be solely authorized to assist adventure tourism enthusiasts during the dives to the sites. They also complete a module of training in underwater archeology, legislation on protected national heritage, in-depth study of a best practice guide, so that after the certification exam they will be the only ones making sure that visits to these objectives in the company of underwater wanderlusters unfold according to the book,’ explained Caraivan.

The authorities’ intention is that in the end the HERAS project — “Submarine Archaeological Heritage of the Western Black Sea Shelf” be interconnected with a leisure tourism circuit on the Black Sea littoral that combines events or objectives of cultural, religious, folklore relevance, festivals, terrestrial archeological sites or museums in Romania and Bulgaria, including the organisation of a permanent exhibition of archaeological discoveries, artefacts acquired under this project and the relevant investigation methods.

This is also highlighted by president of the Respiro Underwater Research Society Mircea Popa, who opines that the most important aspect of this project resides in the preservation, restoration, cataloguing of artefacts and the analysis of the results by experts; the data obtained will be presented to scientific and informative research journals as well as in thematic exhibitions displaying the material collected from each archeological site (eg the Tomis area) or from several archaeological sites in a themed display — such as commercial maritime routes in the Black Sea, for example. “HERAS is a joint project between the Romanian and Bulgarian scientists, whereby we intend to investigate the western plateau of the Black Sea from the Danube to Cape Kaliakra. The goals of the project are to discover, preserve and promote the underwater archaeological heritage of this region. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of shipwrecks and archaeological sites are waiting to be explored. Beginning with the sites of the Greek and Roman period to modern wrecks, this area has never been explored in a scientific and comprehensive manner. As a way of approaching the issue, the ethics of the HERAS project is to analyze the archives and old documents in order to determine the probable locations of the archaeological vestiges. For this purpose we use nonintrusive technologies for charting the sites and the archaeological work is performed at the highest standards, using specific databases, archaeological inventories, drawings, mapping, photographing, filming and photogrammetric analysis,” Mircea Popa concluded. AGERPRES

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