Monday, April 20, 2009

Sri Lankan Shipwrecks

This topic may seem a bit odd, but it's one to which I feel a special connection. As a kid, I was interested in marine archaeology and read everything I could find about it. At the time, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, underwater archaeology was a new field (SCUBA diving was invented during WWII and only became popular in the 1950s and '60s), and there were as yet few scholarly books on the subject. Most of what was written was by various kinds of avocational archaeologists or even treasure hunters. Among the ones I read were two autobiographical ones by Arthur C. Clarke, the very famous science fiction writer.

If I'm not mistaken, the books I read were Indian Ocean treasure by Arthur C. Clarke and Mike Wilson (Harper & Row [1964]) and The treasure of the Great Reef by Arthur C. Clarke (Ballantine Books [1974]), although it's possible that one was The coast of coral by Arthur C. Clarke (Harper, [1956]). These books recount how Clarke and his friends started diving on the Great Basses and Little Basses reefs off the southern coast of Sri Lanka, where Clarke lived, and found a number of shipwrecks including one with a cargo of silver coins. As Clarke was a world famous novelist, the books were unusually well-written.

Well, the Sri Lankan Navy has just posted a web site describing these wrecks, their history, and a protection plan for them. Not surprisingly, given their fame, the wrecks have been extensively and brazenly looted. I hope the Sri Lankan Navy can protect them. It does seem a little odd for the Sri Lankan military to be working on this problem during their bloody offensive against the Tamil Tigers

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