Shipwreck Graveyard (alternatively titled Ghost Ships of the Black Sea) is an American documentary special produced by National Geographic Television in which oceanographer Robert Ballard makes a 5th trip to the Black Sea and uncovers one of the most pristine, ancient shipwrecks ever found.
The documentary premiered in the USA on Tuesday 3 June, 2008. It is an hour long.
Shipwreck Graveyard premiered in South Africa on DStv's National Geographic Channel on Monday 21 July 2008, at 22h00.
Tuesday 22 July: 01h00, 04h00, 10h00, 15h00
Saturday 26 July: 20h00
Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union cut off the Black Sea from the rest of the world, but in ancient times it served as a busy commercial seaway bringing diverse cultures into contact with each other.
With the end of the Cold War, Dr. Robert Ballard decided to head directly to the Black Sea. He had heard that ancient ships could be lying perfectly preserved on the sea's murky floor, and he wanted to be the first to find and uncover these legendary ships.
In all other seas of the world, when a wooden ship sinks it starts to decay within a few years. But in the Black Sea, water below 600 feet actually impedes decay owing to a lack of oxygen and concentrations of hydrogen sulfide.
This combination makes the waters toxic to organisms that would otherwise decompose organic materials like wood, canvas, cargo and even human corpses, all of which instead can remain remarkably intact.
Seven years ago, on his third trip to the Black Sea, Ballard discovered a miraculously well-preserved Byzantine shipwreck, but his team could only take pictures.
Now, Ballard returns with archaeologist Dr. Bridget Buxton and Dr. Sergiy Voronov of the Ukrainian Department of Underwater Heritage, and uses state-of-the-art technology and a revolutionary $1.5 million robot known as "Hercules" to excavate two shipwrecks for the first time ever, including one of the most pristine, ancient vessels ever found.
The team has only two weeks, so they must work in perfect precision on their hunt for the Ghost Ships of the Black Sea.
At the first, shallow dive site, off the coast of modern-day Ukraine, Hercules excavates ceramic wine jars from a 900-year-old wreck. But the artifacts brought to the water's surface baffle the team.
The wine jars should be encrusted with barnacles, but they look like they were just taken out of a kiln, and some of the ship's wooden beams look like they were just carved yesterday.
If storms on the Black Sea are stirring up the poisonous, anoxic water, bringing it to shallower depths, the potential treasure trove of marine archaeology in the Black Sea just got much bigger.
At the second, deeper dive site off the coast of northern Turkey, another Byzantine ship, almost 1,500 years old, sits upright at the bottom of the sea - one of the most unspoiled shipwrecks of its kind.
As the ship's crew battles with mechanical set-backs and bad weather threatens to cut the expedition short, a research team that includes Turkish archaeologists works nonstop to collect precious artifacts and samples from the wreckage.
Ballard calls this site "the greatest museum on Earth," but his team of marine archaeologists has only begun to scratch the surface of the Black Sea's depths.