A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
As a graduate student in Texas A&M's Nautical Archaeology program, I spent the summers of 1998 and 1999 diving on shipwrecks and submerged settlements along the Aegean coast of Turkey and the Black Sea coast of the Republic of Georgia. In the fall of 1999 I had just joined the ARCHAEOLOGY staff when I received an email last fall from INA founder and former president George Bass. Sergei's team was searching for another medieval wreck. Would I be interested in returning to Crimea to join them?
Novy Svet is not an easy town to get to, especially if you're a foreigner. After a dizzying number of hours spent on a Manhattan sidewalk outside of the Ukrainian Consulate waiting to submit my visa paperwork, I spent another five Kafka-esque days in the Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, attempting to register my passport with the Internal Security Administration (a task that would have been impossible without the inestimable assistance of Toly and Maria Tcymbal).
Having finally received my security clearance, I was eager to get to work and booked a two-hour flight from Kyiv to the Crimean capital of Simferopol. Lugging my diving equipment across the tarmac towards the aging Antonov-24 turboprop, I overheard two women in front of me murmur, "Oh dear, I hope they're not flying the plane!" I looked up to see a young boy leaning out of the cockpit, grinning and waving at us while his brother appeared to be engrossed at the controls. On board, the safety instruction sheet in my seat pocket was a tattered colored photocopy which diligently noted the location of all "crash axes" available onboard the plane. The "pilots" and I arrived in Simferopol without incident.
My travel plans had been communicated via multiple channels to the team in Novy Svet (telephones are not terribly common in town, and the mountains usually block most cell phone access), but after waiting outside the airport for an hour, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to negotiate for a 70-mile cab ride to the coast. Summoning my best Tarzan Russian, I made the rounds of taxi vultures and got the best "American" price for the ride--four times more than any self-respecting Ukrainian would spend. Maybe it was my New York accent.
Speeding south towards the coast, I relaxed into the back seat of the Dzhguli taxi with a well-deserved cold beer and watched the honey- and molasses-colored hills begin to rise ahead of me. The landscape of southern Crimea is something like I've never seen anywhere else; the pale scrub and the light together form a texture that, seen from a distance, blankets the terrain like antique velvet, making the hills look like muscular creatures hunched alongside one other, each in an eccentric and arresting pose. Beyond the hills, the spectacular mountains that mark the coast began to appear, along with their strange, ancient volcanic anomalies: Devil's Finger, the Elephant, Ivan the Robber. New mosques had risen from the center of many villages; after being unjustly accused of collaborating with the Nazis and deported by Stalin to Central Asia in the late 1940s, the Crimean Tatars, descendants of the first Mongol invaders, were returning home. [Next...]
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