By Drew Fulton
When you first tell people that you are going to spend a couple weeks during the summer diving on a 2,000 year old shipwreck in 150 feet of water in the Aegean Sea, people start asking a lot of questions. It is such a unique experience and the logistics of excavating underwater are so specialized that I wanted to take the opportunity share that experience with others.
Now, let me put this out there before we get started. I am not an archaeologist or researcher. I am married to one. I work as a conservation photographer and filmmaker, but on occasion I get to tag along on my wife’s projects to help with the media side of things. That is how I ended up diving on the Kızılburun shipwreck about five years ago. As a photographer, I was using 360° interactive panoramic images to transport viewers to hard to access places. Most notably, I had been using this technology to immerse students in the forest canopy in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. So why not try to use the same technology to transport viewers to the sea floor to experience the excavation of the Kızılburun wreck?
The Kızılburun wreck was a first-century BCE marble carrier that was probably headed to the temple at Claros, transporting a monumental marble column and several other unfinished pieces of marble. This column was nearly 2 meters in diameter and was broken up into 8 separate drums that were almost 1.5 meter tall each and a capital. Each of these marble drums weighed in excess of 8 tons. When the marble had reached Claros, the column would have been assembled by stacking all of the drums on top of each other with the capital on top, and then the flutes would have been cut into the column once it was assembled.
By the time I came to the project, in the third and final major season of excavation, the drums had been moved from their location in the wreck and placed on a flat piece of bottom about 25 meters from the site. This gave researches access to the fragile remains of the wooden hull and other small artifacts. Throughout the field season, the archaeologists carefully removed the sand, exposing nails and wood that were evidence for the hull.
Prior to the field season I spent a lot of time researching the technical aspects of 360° panorama. At the time, the most common use for this technology was in the real estate business to showcase homes that were for sale. My previous project, Canopy in the Clouds, took this idea and used it to virtually immerse students in the canopy of Costa Rica’s clouds forests. So while I had created these images while hanging on a rope 100 feet high in a tree, capturing these images underwater was totally new for me. After some research I found there were very few underwater examples available and none that were captured at high resolutions. For the work I had done in the cloud forests, I had utilized a specialized tripod head that helped me to position the camera correctly with a very high precision, something necessary for stitching together the high resolution images. However, since it was an expensive piece of equipment, I had no interest in submerging it in the salt water of the Aegean. This meant I had to basically fabricate my own.
To create these panoramic images doesn’t require a specialized camera or lens, it just requires taking a bunch of images and stitching them together after the fact. I utilize a fisheye lens and take about 6-8 images while rotating the camera horizontally to capture the entire horizon and then take a few images to capture straight up and straight down. It sounds pretty easy but to make a seamless image, the camera has to rotate precisely—that’s where the specialized tripod head comes in to play. Since I didn’t have access to the underwater housing until I was on site and the site was very remote, I had to basically show up with a diverse range of options to fabricate a head on site. It took about three dives of testing and some help from the ship’s captain and his welder, but we fabricated something that resembled a tripod head and worked well enough to get the job done.
Over the course of 2-3 dives over several days, I started photographing the site and the archaeologists at work. After my dives, I’d quickly download the images and start stitching them to be sure that everything had worked and I could move on to the next image. My goal was to shoot several panoramas to showcase the different areas of the site including the bow, stern, and drum garden. I also spent some time creating panoramas in camp to showcase the place and the work we were doing.
Now, five years later, technology has come a long way and improved a lot. Today, you can purchase a simple 3D printed holder that will hold six GoPro cameras and not only create panoramas like this but do it in 360° video! This gives the viewer a chance to pan around as the camera moves through the environment!
Overall, I really enjoyed my time working on the Kızılburun wreck and the challenge of transporting viewers to this unique site. Not being an archaeologist myself, I really enjoyed having an opportunity to experience an excavation and see how things worked. It was my hope that these images will give other viewers the same sneak peak. How have you tried to show others a window into your own work? Do you feel like it has brought attention to you research and opened doors to talking about the work you do?
Acknowledgements: I’d like to thanks Dr. Deborah Carlson for including me on the excavation, Eric Kemp for the use of his camera and housing, Feyyaz Subay for his help welding the improvised tripod head, and my wife, Carrie Fulton, for letting me tag along on the excavation.
Check out the other #TechWeek Posts:
Tech Week: Photography in Archaeology by Jonathan Libbon
Preservation Photography: Roles and Rules by Karen Price
Photographs into Models: Documenting the World Trade Center Ship by Carrie Fulton