|Died||March 2, 2021 (aged 88)|
|Institutions||Texas A&M University|
George Fletcher Bass (//; December 9, 1932 – March 2, 2021) was an American archaeologist. An early practitioner of underwater archaeology, he co-directed the first expedition to entirely excavate an ancient shipwreck at Cape Gelidonya in 1960 and founded the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in 1972.
Bass was born on December 9, 1932 in Columbia, South Carolina to Robert Duncan Bass, an English Literature professor and scholar of the American Revolutionary War, and Virginia Wauchope, a writer. His uncle was the archaeologist Robert Wauchope. In 1940 Bass moved with his family to Annapolis, Maryland, where his father took up active service with the US Navy in World War II and taught English at the United States Naval Academy. He was interested in both astronomy and the sea as a youth and did odd jobs for Ben Carlin, an adventurer who was the first person to circumnavigate the world in an amphibious vehicle.
After graduating high school he began studying for an English major at Johns Hopkins University; during his second year he did an exchange trip to England, attending what is now the University of Exeter, from which he was suspended along with forty other students for pulling a prank. With nowhere else to go he accompanied his brother's roommate and his friends on a spring break trip to Taormina, Sicily, where he first became interested in archaeology as a career.
On returning to Johns Hopkins he switched majors and in 1955 he received an M.A. in Near Eastern Archaeology from the university, which improvised a major for him out of courses from the Near Eastern and Classics departments because they did not have an archaeology department. He then spent two years at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where he excavated at Gordion. He began military service in 1957, assigned in South Korea to a 30-man army security group which was attached to the Turkish Brigade near the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Operating around rice paddies he was suddenly responsible for equipment, food, logistics, and operations which was a formative learning experience for future archeology expeditions.
In 1960 he married Ann Bass (née Singletary), a pianist and piano teacher, who assisted him with his work. The couple had two sons.
After leaving the army, Bass was invited by fellow archaeologist Rodney Young to work on the first expedition to entirely excavate an ancient shipwreck. Excavation of the wreck, off the Turkish coast near Cape Gelidonya, began in the summer of 1960. In preparation, Bass took diving lessons at YMCA Philadelphia; he was only able to take one practical diving lesson before the excavation began. Bass became the co-director, alongside Joan du Plat Taylor, of the expedition.
During the 1960s he excavated shipwrecks of the Bronze Age, Classical Age, and the Byzantine. In 1964 he received a Ph.D in Classical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a faculty member for several years.
In 1966, Froelich Rainey, director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, authorized Bass to write a report on the Penn Museum's controversial accession of a set of gold objects believed to have come from the site of Troy, in what is now Turkey. The museum had purchased the gold from a private antiquities dealer. Bass, who at the time was assistant curator in the Mediterranean Section, wrote a report which influenced the museum's articulation of a statement on museum ethics. This was the Pennsylvania Declaration of 1970, which anticipated UNESCO's subsequent issue of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership and Cultural Property.
As an innovator, Bass adapted traditional land-based archaeological surveying techniques to the seabed and contributed to key technological advances, such as an underwater "telephone booth" in which divers could communicate with the surface; 3D photogrammetry to better map sites; and the use of side-scan sonar to locate wrecks. In 1967 he began using the Asherah, the first commercially built American research submersible, to examine and photograph shipwrecks.
In 1972 Bass founded the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA); he left the University of Pennsylvania the following year. In 1976 INA moved its headquarters to Texas A&M University, where Bass became a professor and held the George T. and Gladys H. Abell Chair in Nautical Archaeology.
He died on March 2, 2021, in a hospital in Bryan, Texas, aged 88.
Bass was interviewed by Adam Davidson with colleague Fred van Doorninck on This American Life in 2010.