DER Documentary

The Ancient Mariners

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From the Odyssey series
by Sam Low
Executive Producer, Michael Ambrosino
color, 59 min, 1981

This DVD is closed-captioned for the hearing impaired

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The Ancient Mariners follows nautical archaeologists as they excavate three shipwrecks in the depths of the Eastern Mediterranean and as they analyze their finds in the laboratory. The three ships, dating from before 300 B.C. to 1025 A.D., tell the story of a significant change in the methods of ship construction - a change reflecting broader alterations in social, economic, and political conditions.

At Serse Liman, Turkey, George Bass, the founder of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), led an investigation of a ship that sank in 1025 A.D. As we see it before excavation begins, the wreck is barely noticeable on the seabed; but the ship's cargo, mostly broken glass, appears as the archaeologist divers remove silt with an airlift. Showing the huge collection at Bodrum, Turkey, Bass explains that the ship must have been carrying glass for eventual recycling. Fredrick Van Doominck shows the elaborate methods for preserving the fragile pieces of the ship's hull on land. Michael Katzev, also associated with INA, excavated a Greek merchant ship that sank off Kyrenia on Cypress in the fourth century, B.C. The ship carried a cargo of wine in large amphoras. Richard Steffy learns from making a model of the ship that it was built quite differently from the Serce Liman ship. This "hull-first" construction process required not only more labor but a great deal more wood. Lionel Casson tells us that the craftsmanship of the Kyrenia ship was made possible by the use of slave labor, on which Greek society then depended.

George Bass had earlier excavated another shipwreck near Yassi Ada, an island off Turkey, that helps to explain the change in ship construction. The Yassi Ada ship dates from the seventh century A.D. and its construction fell somewhere between hull-first and later frame-first methods.

For after-viewing discussion: What do the three ships' methods of construction reveal about the general economic, political, and social conditions existing at the time each was built?


“This is more than a program about ships and history; it is a most absorbing account of research process, of forensic investigation, of the scientific mind applied to the humanities. Odyssey is good at this sort of thing, and this first showing, with Michael Ambrosino as executive producer, Sam Low as producer and Werner Bundschuh as director, gets the season off to a fine start.” New York Times

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About Odyssey series
In an attempt to cut the often esoteric ice of anthropology, PBS released in 1980 the first season of ODYSSEY, a newly-created series of anthropological documentaries, with a second season in 1981. The entire series was produced by Public Broadcasting Association of Boston, with major funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Polaroid. Michael Ambrosino is the Executive Producer of the series.

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Other films in the Odyssey series:
Ben's Mill
The Chaco Legacy
Dadi's Family
Franz Boas
The Incas
Little Injustices
Maasai Women
Margaret Mead: Taking Note
Maya Lords of the Jungle
Myths and the Moundbuilders
N!ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman
Ongka's Big Moka
On the Cowboy Trail
Other People's Garbage
Seeking the First Americans
The Three Worlds of Bali

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