It’s interesting how some people break out into a sweat when they hear my stories. Like when I talk about diving through pitch-black underwater caves on the Yucatán Peninsula, through openings that are just big enough for a person to squeeze through. I just have to grin, because it sounds so spectacular—but it’s perfectly normal for me.
As an underwater archaeologist, I dive down into the world’s oceans, always searching for new knowledge to bring back up to the surface. I dive down to shipwrecks, inspect stone-age settlements, find relics of long-ago eras. These secrets fascinate me tremendously—exploring them and sharing them with society is an important mission for me.
The eastern Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico are two examples of exciting places for archaeologists. The Mexican caves on the Yucatán Peninsula were especially impressive. We were researching the lives of the Maya there, and we found well-preserved skeletons and earthenware jugs, even a stone-age hearth that is 8,500 years old. Dives in those caves are like a journey to another world.
Yet despite the fascination, we must always be conscious of the risks of diving. When in doubt, the water is always stronger. That’s why you need to make sure you have the right combination of training, equipment and team spirit.
When we dive to shipwrecks at a depth of 80 meters, we have a half an hour for our work. It takes a full 90 minutes alone to follow the clearly regulated procedures for a safe return back up to the surface. Our equipment can weigh up to 100 kilograms. This includes: a thin wetsuit for good mobility, ski underwear, an electric heating vest, three different gas mixtures in five different tanks for breathing, lights, diving regulator, small computers that show us about how much gas we’re using on average. We always carry duplicates of all essential equipment.
We don’t have any choice other than to trust the equipment. Deep underwater, we cannot concentrate on the diving; the focus must be on the work. That’s why every movement must be perfect. We have six or seven finning techniques that we use to move around safely—frog kicks and helicopter turns, they’re called.
Our work is difficult but also important. We know almost nothing about our deep oceans. UNESCO estimates that there are three million shipwrecks on the ocean floors around the world. A maximum of one percent of those have been investigated to date. I’ve still got a lot to do to explore these secrets of the deep!
DR. FLORIAN HUBER, 41, born in Munich, is a freelance underwater archaeologist and researcher. He’s also author of the book Tauchgang ins Totenreich (a book about the dive into the realm of the dead) and protagonist of the documentary film Die Höhlen der Toten (The Caves of the Dead).