ECU student awarded Fulbright
(May 27, 1993)
A prestigious Fulbright Award will go to an East Carolina University graduate student to do underwater archaeology in a country with Biblical connections to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
In a project that might cause Indiana Jones to trade his whip and fedora for fins and a mask, Edward F. Prados will examine some of the never-before-explored shipwrecks of Yemen. The country borders Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Red and Arabian Seas and the Gulf of Aden.
In Biblical times, Yemen was part of the ancient kingdom of Sheba. The Bible speaks of its gold, spices and precious stones as gifts borne by the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon.
But Prados, a graduate of ECU’s program in Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology, is not looking for gold and jewels. Instead, he’ll search the seas for treasures gleaned from slivers of wood, metal and ceramics. He will also document the last dying breaths of a shipbuilding industry that has seen little change in hundreds of years.
From as long ago at 1000 B.C., the Yemen seaports of Aden, Qana and Mocha have witnessed a vibrant trade with China, India and Africa. Little, however, is known about the early trade vessel, some of which were “sewn” with rope rather than held together with wooden pegs or metal spikes.
Prados concedes he is unlikely to find the remains of these ancient wrecks. “The water,” he said, “is too warm and filled with wood-eating worms.” But he does expect to contribute information on shipbuilding techniques, on the goods that were traded and on the once flourishing Arabian maritime communities.
To locate shipwreck sites, he said he will use a magnetometer, a type metal detector pulled behind a boat. He will also use an underwater sled to visually spot shipwrecks or to locate features in the bottom that might indicate the presence of maritime artifacts.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Prados, whose interest in Yemen stems from a time when he lived there with his parents. His subsequent undergraduate study at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and his graduate thesis at ECU focused on Yemen’s rapidly changing present and its rich and colorful past.
In addition to looking for wrecks and artifacts near the country’s old trade ports, he will also record information about Yemen’s traditional boat building techniques. He said he hoped to document the work of local shipbuilders before their craft gives way to modern technology.
“It is likely that Yemen’s architectural, archaeological, historical and ethnic heritage will be adversely affected by the pressures of development,” Prados said.
Before 1962, the country was isolated, impoverished and provided a lifestyle that had not changed for hundreds of years. In recent times, the discovered of oil in the Shabwa region has helped bring modernization and change.
For his project, Prados has developed a number of questions that are not answered in the historical sources. They include questions about how the ancient, sea-going vessels of southern Arabia were constructed. Some of the earliest description of the vessels, called “dhows,” said they were sewn together.
Another question concerns the ability of these early ships to survive the violent summer monsoon. Also, he wonders if the Romans ever launched a naval attack or established a fortress at Aden?
Performing the work, will offer numerous challenges. First there is a concern for security. Until just a few years ago, the southern part