NORMAN — Unsure what would be found buried in the seabed of the Sea of Galilee, Shelley Wachsmann and his excavation team, raced to uncover the past.
Wachsmann discussed the famous excavation of the Sea of Galilee boat in a lecture Wednesday night at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History.
In 1986, the rising Sea of Galilee, possible storms and scientific logistics (how to keep an ancient boat from crumbling in excavator hands) all threatened this 2,000-year-old discovery.
Wachsmann earned three degrees in near Eastern archaeology from the Hebrew University. He served as the inspector of underwater antiquities from 1976 to 1989.
In 1990, Wachsmann became Meadows visiting assistant professor of Biblical archeology in the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University.
Near the ancient site of Migdal, Wachsmann and his team unearthed the Sea of Galilee boat after a drought had left some of the seabed exposed.
Wachsmann said his team did an initial probe excavation to get a better idea of how old the boat was. He said the shell-based construction told them it was a very old ship, possibly from Jesus’ time.
“Because of the rumors circulating that there was gold on the ship, we had to excavate immediately even though we weren’t prepared. It was like a meatball operation from ‘M.A.S.H.,’ the TV show — a meatball excavation,” Wachsmann said.
With the Sea of Galilee rising, the excavation team had to have a dike built around it.
“By the end of the excavation, we were surrounded by water on three sides,” Wachsmann said.
Another problem the team faced while excavating the boat was keeping it wet at all times. Wachsmann said the cellular structure of the wood was no longer wood and didn’t have the strength to support its own weight.
“We couldn’t stand on the wood, so we lowered a hanging platform so we could excavate the inside of the boat by lying down on our stomachs,” Wachsmann said.