Johns Hopkins Magazine -- April 1997
Johns Hopkins Magazine

APRIL 1997





H U M A N I T I E S    &    T H E    A R T S

Author's Notebook
The Underwater World of George Bass
By Dale Keiger

George Bass would be a happy man were he never again confused with treasure hunters like Mel Fisher. In the wake of the press attention accorded Fisher's finding of the Spanish treasure galleon Atocha, Bass often must explain that the purpose of the INA is not the salvage of gold and silver for profit. At Ulubudrun, Bass and his colleagues found gold and were thrilled to do so, but the tin they discovered meant more to them as scholars. Bass has little regard for the galleon-hunters who scavenge as much precious metal as they can, as fast as they can, with no regard for the knowledge they obliterate in the process. You can't excavate a ship twice. Once it's "dug up," the game is over.

Movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and the legacy of colonial powers robbing tombs for the benefit of the British Museum and other First World repositories can be another problem. Every object brought to the surface by Bass and his INA colleagues goes into the Turkish archaeological museum at Bodrum. Turks are prominent among INA researchers. Yet periodically Bass must counter the suspicion, sometimes voiced in the Turkish popular press, that the INA is a front for Americans intent on stealing Turkey's cultural treasures.

None of which seems to diminish his affection for Turkey. Bass and his wife have a house at Bodrum, and he regrets how little time they've gotten to spend there lately. He laughs when he recalls why he went to Turkey in the first place. It wasn't out of a scholar's thirst for knowledge. Bass was in his 20s, not yet married and on a ship sailing to England, when he met a young woman who said she was on her way to Ankara. He decided she was worth his own trip to the Turkish capital: "That's how I first went to Turkey. I was chasing after a blonde. She neglected to tell me that she was engaged."