Thursday, September 22, 2005


Oil pipelines open up archaeological frontier


September 20, 2005

Researchers Marek E. Jasinski and Fredrik Søreide
examine some of the artifacts recovered from the
wreck of a 19th-century merchant ship.
Photo Fredrik Naumann / NTNU.

OSLO, Norway - Oil companies’ dash to build pipelines along the ocean floor has opened up one of the last archaeological frontiers — the deep-sea shipwreck.

A Norwegian team says it has finished the deepest excavation in marine archaeological history, lifting 500 porcelain plates, wine bottles, coins, chess pieces and navigation equipment from the wreck of a 19th-century merchant ship lying 560 feet (170 meters) below the sea surface.

And the $6.25 million bill was paid for by the oil companies developing the Ormen Lange gas field off Norway’s west coast, who found the wreck while mapping the seafloor to lay a pipeline.

“We rely on funding from the oil companies,” said Fredik Søreide of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “I can think of no others who would pay for it.”

The oil company consortium hired the archaeologists to investigate the site and to show them where they could build a pipeline without damaging the wreck.

Booty hunters driven by profit have dragged up gold and other valuables from shipwrecks in far deeper waters using the remote controlled technology, but archaeologists — more interested in finding artifacts for research and museum shelves — have until now been unable to fund expeditions.

Now oil companies building pipelines across ocean floors to connect ever more remote gas and oil fields to markets are stumbling across shipwrecks that need to be surveyed. And they are paying archaeologists to do so.

This is the fourth shipwreck discovered by oil firms Søreide has worked with, adding that he has already been approached about a wreck in the Gulf of Mexico next summer.

A large steel frame was placed on top of the shipwreck off Norway, allowing the archaeologists to navigate a robot around the wreck without disturbing it, delicately pulling up artifacts as it went along.

“Deep water was the last frontier for marine archaeology,” project director Marek Jasinski said.

“The new technology enables us to investigate and excavate cultural heritage in deep water with the same precision and standards as on land.”

Previously, scientists have only been able to send remotely controlled vehicles to view shipwrecks, pick objects up and take them to the surface.


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