by John D. Broadwater
George Bass, a pioneer in archaeology under water, passed away in College Station, Texas, on March 2, 2021. George Fletcher Bass was born on December 9, 1932, in Columbia, South Carolina. He received an M.A. in Near Eastern Studies from Johns Hopkins University in 1955, and a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. In 1960, soon after enrolling in the doctoral program in classical archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, Bass was offered the opportunity to investigate a Bronze Age shipwreck lying near Cape Gelidonya, a remote promontory on the southern Turkish coast. In spite of having completed only six scuba diving lessons before departing for Turkey, Bass was soon conducting archaeology on a shipwreck in deep water. This was the first submerged wreck to be completely and methodically excavated and published under the direction of a diving archaeologist. It was here and on subsequent sites off the Turkish coast that Bass earned the title “father of underwater archaeology”.
In 1972, recognizing the need for a more structured program focusing on underwater archaeological resources, George and his wife, Ann, founded the American Institute of Nautical Archaeology (later dropping “American” to reflect the international scope of its staff and research). INA continued to grow, conducting research on four continents and involving scholars from around the world. In the spring of 1976, the institute established a permanent home at Texas A&M University where Bass established a graduate program in nautical archaeology and served as its chair until 1993.
In July 1976, in tandem with the new Nautical Archaeology Program, INA conducted its first field school in the York River, near Yorktown, Virginia, investigating a British shipwreck from the Siege of Yorktown, 1781, the last major battle of the American Revolution. That field school, conducted in partnership with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, led to a decade-long research project that identified eleven British ships and Bass’ innovative prototype inspired the construction of a steel cofferdam around the best-preserved wreck in order to improve diving conditions. Since that first summer INA has directed or participated in scores of significant projects on almost every part of the globe and has trained hundreds of archaeologists in underwater excavation, ship reconstruction, and other nautical specialties.
In August 1982, after serving as INA president during its first decade, Bass resigned from his post, but continued to remain active with the Institute until his death. He also worked tirelessly to prevent looting and destruction of submerged archaeological sites, an effort that contributed to enactment of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
Bass wrote or edited ten books and more than a hundred articles, including publications designed to share his work and experiences with general audiences. He received a myriad of awards including the Archaeological Institute of America’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement (1986), the Explorers Club’s Lowell Thomas Award (1986), the National Geographic Society’s La Gorce Gold Medal (1979) and Centennial Award (1988), the Society for Historical Archaeology’s J.C. Harrington Medal (1999), and the Historical Diving Society’s Pioneer Award (2006). George has received honorary doctorates from Boğaziçi University in Istanbul (1987) and the University of Liverpool (1998). In 2002 President George W. Bush presented him with the National Medal of Science.
Bass is survived by his wife, Ann, and their two sons, Gordon and Alan. At his request, no services will be held at this time due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Categorised in: Deep Thoughts