University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The Life Aquatic: Underwater Archaeology in Cartoon Motion

January 14, 2013

The most thrilling aspect of working in the Archives here at the Penn Museum is that during the course of your day you might discover something unexpected. In my two and a half years as a work-study student, I had yet to make a discovery, until about two weeks ago when I came across a beautifully drawn illustration from an excavation site in Italy.

During my current project of processing and re-housing the records of the Museum’s former Radiocarbon Laboratory, I have come across a number of things ranging from receipts and sample tags to booklets and newspaper clippings, but my recent find is not only my favorite but also the most exciting.


Wedged between sheets of radiocarbon dates and correspondence about an excavation of an ancient underwater shipwreck at Pantano Longarini (province of Ragusa), in Sicily, was a photocopied illustration of a lively scene, with a short message scribbled across the top that read, “The happy divers stay ecstatic and enchanted.” Quite excited about my discovery, I showed the drawing to Archivist Alex Pezzati who informed me that the man in the center of the illustration (wearing a blazer and flippers) was none other than Peter Throckmorton. Throckmorton, who passed away in 1990, was a pioneer in the field of underwater archaeology who, during the course of his impressive career, discovered and excavated two of the oldest sunken ships on record.

Unsure about the other people in the picture, Alex contacted George Bass, another influential archaeologist in the field of underwater archaeology (who began his career at the Penn Museum) and former colleague of Throckmorton.  Bass, in turn, contacted Throckmorton’s daughter Paula Zakaria, who identified the drawing as the work of her mother, Joan Throckmorton, and went on to name the characters in the drawing, including her siblings as well as a young Paula dressed in a “Pebbles and Bam Bam outfit.”

Peter Throckmorton in Bodrum, Turkey. From Archaeologist Beneath the Sea by George F. Bass (Istanbul: Boyut Publishing Ltd., 2012)

The unearthing of this drawing reveals that discoveries are not limited to archaeological excavations, but they occur regularly within the collections of the Archives.

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