George F. Bass— 1986 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement

Award Citation:

George F. Bass entered archaeology wary of gold. His students are taught that it is the last material one wants to find because it is rarely informative and inevitably distracts from one's seriousness of purpose. Let us try to convince him otherwise.

After receiving his Master's in Near Eastern Archaeology from Johns Hopkins University, George Bass gained practical experience, while studying at the American School of Classical Studies, at the sites of Lerna and Gordian before he entered the Ph.D. program in classical archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Within months his beloved mentor, Rodney S. Young, invited him to direct the excavation of a late Bronze Age shipwreck off Cape Gelidonya in southwestern Turkey. It was a match of student to subject that would greatly benefit the course of archaeology, and Bass' prompt publication of that excavation has challenged scholars for a score of years.

Since 1960 George Bass, complemented by his versatile wife, Ann Singletary, has rarely paused to catch his breath in a career of astonishing diversity. His excavations thus far range from Neolithic Italy to the American Revolutionary War. The sites are linked by his impartiality to what the material tells him, his quest for the historical context of each site, and the exacting standards he sets for their timely publication.

The fifteen-year association of George Bass with the University of Pennsylvania and its University Museum was fruitful for each. From his student assistantship through his tenure as Associate Professor he directed three major excavations. After Gelidonya, came a ship of the 7th century after Christ, whose hull was the first piece of ancient maritime architecture to be studied seriously and whose contents yielded a fascinating reconstruction of a Byzantine trading venture. That was followed by the excavation of a Roman ship of the 4th century after Christ.

The imagination of the Bronze Age specialist was captivated by the enormity of cultural information on ocean floors. It was clear to Bass that shipwrecked artifacts generally lay in greater abundance, better preserved, and in more precisely datable contexts than those found on land. He set out then to develop techniques that would make excavation under water routinely possible, safe, and as accurate as that on land.

George Bass also envisaged an environment where established scholars and young graduate students of the widest possible cultural interests could be matched with submerged sites important to their spheres of study. From this vision grew the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (I.N.A.) which Bass founded in 1973 and directed as President through its first ten years. During that time I.N.A. established a symbiotic-relationship with Texas A&M University which has led to work on five continents with projects as diverse as an 11th-century shipwreck carrying a staggering array of Islamic glass and a submerged 17th-century tavern in an English colonial town.

For his dedication to teaching, George Bass received his university's highest honor, being named Distinguished Professor of Anthropology in 1980, followed four years later by its Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award in Research. He has published that research in generous measure. Of the more than 100 titles already in his bibliography, Bass has directed about half to his colleagues in archaeology and the other half to making discoveries available to lay readers. The energy he has expended in lecturing on current excavations, on technical developments, and, in recent years, in pressing for legislation to preserve submerged cultural resources in U.S. waters is impossible to quantify.

But the value of gold is quantified daily. Can we persuade Bass of its worth? Gold coins of Heraclius were the first clues he had to date the Byzantine ship whose sinking he was later able to pinpoint within one year. The Gold Trident for Science, awarded by an International Congress, was his very first professional honor, and the National Geographic Society awarded him its Gold Medal in 1979. Now a queens ransom in gold objects is being found on his current excavation, a Bronze Age ship sunk off Kaş,  less than fifty miles west of Cape Gelidonya. The wealth of material found in this wreck reflects the rich cultural exchange that existed from the SyroPalestinian coast across to Cyprus and Greece that was first heralded by the excavation at Gelidonya.

Even George Bass must admit that gold can be precious to an archaeologist. This medal draws attention to the daring and excellence of his accomplishments. The Archaeological Institute of America, with gratitude to him for the opening of the remarkable realm of archaeology beneath the sea, awards its Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement to George F. Bass.

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