Underwater Archaeology Field School in the Black Sea

Period: Antiquity, Medieval Age
Code: UWA.EXC.20
Session: 23 May - 18 June
Academic credits available: 9
Admission fee starting from: tba

The Project and the Course

General Information

Project type: Underwater archaeology field school, underwater excavations & marine geophysical survey.   

About the project: The field school is open to anyone with interests in the field of underwater archaeology and who holds a SCUBA Open Water Certificate issued by any worldwide recognized training organization. The project will introduce students to underwater/maritime archaeology and specialized techniques for research, recording, conservation and monitoring through:   

  • Participation in the following research projects:   
    • Survey, excavation and documentation of submerged fortification walls of the ancient (Thracian, Ancient Greek & Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Medieval Bulgarian) city of Mesambria, present day Nessebar, UNESCO World Heritage Site   
    • Marine geophysical survey of submerged landscapes along the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast   
    • Survey and documentation of ship graffiti in Medieval churches in Nessebar.    
  • Training and instructions in underwater excavation, photography, photogrammetry, marine geophysics, remote sensing, and conservation of finds from marine environment
  • Lectures on archaeological, historical, environmental and institutional context of the research projects   
  • Sites visits and excursions to historical and archaeological sites along the western Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria. 

Project venue: Participants and staff stay in a family hotel located in the historical downtown of Nessebar, on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. Accommodation is in shared double and triple bedrooms with a/c, wifi, bathroom with WC, etc.

Partners in this project: The field school is organized by the Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF) in collaboration with the National Center for Underwater Archaeology (CUA), Bulgaria, and the New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria.

Academic credits available: Students can receive 9 ECTS credits through New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria. . See more details below.  

Number of field school places available: 8

Field school director: Dr. Nayden Prahov, Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Program Director at Balkan Heritage Foundation.

Team members:

  • Dr. Kalin Dimitrov, Director of the National Centre for Underwater Archaeology (CUA), Bulgaria
  • Pavel Georgiev and Zdravka Georgieva, Maritime Archaeologists at CUA
  • Eng. Kiril Velkovski, Marine Geophysicist   

Application deadline: until the places are filled or latest 10 April 2020

Project language: English

Minimum age: 18


  • Applicants must hold a SCUBA Open Water Certificate issued by any world-wide recognized training organization and up-to-date DAN insurance (http://www.daneurope.org/insurance).
  • Participants should provide evidence (log book) of at least four dives within the year prior to the field school. If the participants do not meet this requirement, they must do two to four extra dives in Bulgaria before the start of the field school with our diving center partner at their own expense.
  • Participants should provide their own diving equipment: diving suit (at least 5 mm wet suit recommended), BCD, regulator, mask, fins, snorkel, knife, booties, belt, etc.). If the participants don’t bring their own diving gear they can rent it from the partnering diving center at a price up to 20 EUR (approx. 24 USD) per day (depending on the items rented). Аir tanks and diving weights will be available at the site.
  • All participants are expected to prepare for the field school by reading the required readings listed below. Rеadings will be provided by the project staff upon request
  • Participants should bring clothes and toiletries suitable for warm and sunny weather, but should also prepare for rainy, windy and chilly days.

Special considerations: The project is not recommended for individuals with solar allergies or other special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor and underwater activities. The average May-June temperatures in the area are 25-35⁰ C (77 - 95⁰ F) or higher. The average water temperature in the area in late May - June is 18-22⁰ C (64 - 72⁰ F). The depth in the area of survey and excavations is 2 - 8 m (7 - 22 ft). Excavation and recording tools as well as air tanks and diving weights will be available at the site.

The Field School and the Research Project

The field school provides a comprehensive introduction to and training in underwater archaeology through participation in an ongoing research project - discovering the submerged heritage of ancient Mesambria, present-day Nessebar (UNESCO World Heritage Site) on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. The training will include various underwater archaeology and interdisciplinary practices: underwater reconnaissance survey, archaeological excavations, underwater photography, photogrammetry and 3D modeling, mapping and recording of submerged archaeological structures and monuments, marine geophysical survey, creating a GIS database, conservation of underwater sites and artifacts, etc. Our research aims to fill in the gaps in our scientific knowledge about the fortification system of Mesambria and its harbors, the coastal landscape changes and the Black Sea level fluctuation in Antiquity and Medieval Ages as well as the human adaptation.

The field school aim is to broaden the knowledge of our participants, to refine their skills and thus to enhance their career in Maritime Archaeology. It is open to beginners in the field too. All participants will receive Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the topics and the hours of the field school activities (fieldwork, lectures, workshops, educational trips, etc.).

The Venue and Sites

Founded at the end of the Bronze Age by a Thracian tribe, Nessebar was one of the oldest towns on the western Black Sea Coast. Its name, which was originally Mesambria, originates from the Thracian words “Melsas”, the name of the legendary founder of the settlement and “bria”- the Thracian word for town. It is situated on a small peninsula (currently about 0.5 sq. km) that was connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. Mesambria’s first Greek colonizers were of Dorian origin who settled there at the end of the 6th century BCE. The town grew quickly and became one of the most powerful Greek colonies along the western Black Sea Coast. It had several temples, a gymnasium, a theatre, massive administrative buildings and corresponding infrastructure. Mesambria was also gradually surrounded by massive fortification walls. According to the ancient sources, it had two harbors, one to its north and another to its south.   

It reached the peak of its prosperity in the 3rd – 2nd centuries BCE, at which point it even minted its own gold coins. Commercial links connected it to towns from the Black Sea, Aegean, and Mediterranean coasts. Numerous imported precious artifacts now displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Nessebar provide material expression of the site’s rich economic, cultural, and spiritual life in this period. In 72 BCE, the town was conquered by Roman armies without resistance. In the beginning of 1st century CE, it was included within the borders of the Roman Empire. After the capital was moved to Constantinople in 324 CE and Christianity was accepted as the official religion of the Empire in 313 CE, favorable conditions arose for the renaissance of the town. New Christian basilicas, fortification walls, and water supply lines were built in the following centuries.   

The city was besieged and taken for the first time by the Bulgarians in 812 CE. It was situated in border region between the Byzantine Empire and Bulgarian State (Chanate and Empire) and periodically changed hands between the two powers. During the 12th and 13th centuries, active trade links were developed between Nessebar and some Mediterranean and Adriatic towns, such as Constantinople, Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Ancona, and Dubrovnik as well as with the countries along the Danube River. During almost its entire Christian history, Nessebar was the seat of a bishop. Many churches and monasteries were built in the city and its surroundings reflecting its prosperity and richness.   

Nessebar fell under Ottoman rule together with the Byzantine capital Constantinople in 1453 CE. During the following centuries, the economic and spiritual life did not stop and Nessebar’s harbor continued to be an important import and export center. The shipyard’s production, one of the main subsidence of the town, served the Ottoman fleet and the local merchants. In 1878,  Nessebar was liberated from the Ottomans and included into the borders of Bulgaria. Due to its unique natural position, rich cultural heritage, and the large number of well-preserved monuments (esp. churches from the 13th – 14th centuries), modern-day Nessebar is an archaeological and architectural reserve. In 1983 the Old Quarter of Nessebar was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.      

Underwater Heritage of Nessebar


Underwater studies in the region of Nessebar began in 1960 as a continuation of studies on land. Fifteen underwater archaeological campaigns were conducted in total (until 1983). During these studies, it was found that significant parts of the ancient town today are below the sea level. Ruins of fortification walls, towers (including a hexagonal one), staircases, gates and other structures from the pre-Roman era, Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, were traced in various sectors around the peninsula – northwest, north, northeast, east. The tracked layout of the fortification walls of Mesembria leads us to conclude that due to sea transgression, landslide activity, sea abrasion and a series of earthquakes, Nessebar has lost a significant intramural part of its territory. Today it lays underwater at a depth between 1,5 and 6 meters.

The Program

The field school provides a minimum of 130 hours of fieldwork and training (minimum 15 dives), workshops, lectures and guided tours as follows:

Field Work

  • Practicing basic excavation techniques
  • Creating of field graphic documentation - ground plans, cross-sections
  • Underwater photography and photogrammetry
  • Marine geophysical survey  
  • Archaeological dive survey      


  • Processing of data and information: creating 3D photogrammetry models, photomosaics, geophysical data processing, etc.


  • Underwater Archaeological Heritage of the western Black Sea Coast
  • Overview of Bulgarian Underwater Archaeology   
  • Fortification Specifics of Nessebar
  • Underwater Photogrammetry and Photography
  • Underwater Geophysics and Remote Sensing
  • Conservation of Finds from Marine Environment; Conservation of Underwater Structures in Situ, etc.

Guided Tours

The Agenda


First day - 23 May, 2020

Arrival and check-in by 7.30 pm

8.00 - 9.30 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner.

Meeting time/point: 7:45 pm - In the garden of the guest house

Transfers may be arranged from Burgas, Varna, Sofia airports, train or bus stations upon request for an additional fee.

Second day - 24 May, 2020

Morning: Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School and collaborative universities & institutions, the project and the participants. Ice-breakers.

Afternoon: Town sightseeing and orientation walk.

Work days

7.00 - 7.30 am - Breakfast

8.00 am - 1:30 pm - Field work

4.30/5.30 - 6.30/7.30 pm - Lectures/Workshops /Lab work, Field work

In case of unfavorable weather or sea conditions (waves and low visibility) lectures, workshops, lab work and extra excursions will be organized instead of fieldwork.


The following excursions are included in the field school program and covered by the admission fee:

  • Old town of Nessebar (ancient Mesambria, UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Museum of Archaeology - Nessebar.   
  • Old town of Sozopol(ancient Apollonia Pontica) and Museum of Archaeology - Sozopol.
  • Museum of the Anchor in Ahtopol   
  • Varna (ancient Odessos) and Varna Museum of History   
  • Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Kiten
Days-off - 30 May, 7 and 14 June, 2020

BHFS team can organize/assist with organization of various leisure activities for participants during their free time such as visiting beaches and sites, boating, sailing, fishing, diving, etc.   

In case of bed weather conditions, some of the days-off may be rescheduled.

Departure day - 18 June 2020

Check-out by 11.30 am

Transfers may be arranged to the airports in Burgas and Varna for additional fee upon request.

Reading Background   



Some of the required readings are available upon request in PDF format from the BHFS Library

Bowens, A.Underwater Archaeology: The NAS Guide to Principles and Practice, Second edition, 2009, Portsmouth, Blackwell Publishing, 15-169.

McCarthy, J., J. Benjamin.Multi-image Photogrammetry for Underwater Archaeological Site Recording: An Accessible, Diver-Based Approach. – Journal of Maritime Archaeology, 2014, 1, 95-114

Yamafune, K., R. Torres, F. Castro. Multi-image Photogrammetry to Record and Reconstruct Underwater Shipwreck Sites- Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 2016, 1-23

Plets, R., J. Dix, R. Bates. Marine Geophysics Data Acquisition, Processing and Interpretation. Guidance Notes, English Heritage, 2013, 12-40.

Ognenova-Marinova, L., H. Preshlenov. Past and Future of the Underwater Archaeological Research in Nesebar, Bulgaria. – In: F. Maniscalco (ed.). Mediterraneum. Tutela e valorizzazione dei beni culturali ed ambientali. Tutela, Conservazione e Valorizzazione del Patrimonio Culturale Subacqueo, 4. Napoli, 2004, 263-269. ISBN 88-87835-50-0

Preshlenov, H. Withdrawing Coasts. Geomorphology, Bathymetry and Archeological Cartography in Nessebar. – In: Iv. Karayotov (ed.). Bulgaria Pontica Medii Aevi, VI-VII. Mesambria Pontica. International seminar Nessebar, May 28-31, 2006. Studia in honorem Professoris Vasil Guzelev. Бургас, 2008, 51- 67. ISSN 1313-3535

Preshlenov, Chr. Morphodynamics of the coastal zone of the Nessebar Peninsula (Bulgaria): archaeological and geological benchmarks. – In: R. Kostov, B. Gaydarska, M. Gurova (ed.). Geoarchaeology and Archaeomineralogy. Proceedings of the International Conference, Sofia, 29-30 October 2008. Sofia, 2008, 305-307. ISSN 978-954-353-085-4

Preshlenov, H. Coastal Instability and Urban Changes – the Case of the Nessebar Peninsula – Geologica Balcanica, 39, 2010, 1-2, 325. ISSN 0324-0894   



Batchvarov, K. Design and Construction of a Black Sea Ottoman Ship. – In: Gunsenin, N (Ed.) Wetween Continents. Proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, Istanbul, 2009, 175-182

Catsambis, A., B. Ford, D. Hamilton.The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology, Oxford University Press, 2011.   


Travel, Accommodation & Practicalities   


The nearest air terminals: Burgas airport (35 km), Varna airport (100 km). If participants arrive at one of these airports, a transfer to Sozopol may be arranged by request. Transfers prices are:   

Burgas - Nesebar - 31 EUR (60 BGN); Varna - Nesebar - 77 EUR (150 BGN); Sofia - Nessebar - 225 EUR (440 BGN).   

Transfers can be shared by several participants.

How to get there? Bus lines connect Nessebar with Burgas and Sofia (the Bulgarian capital).

All participants will receive a travel info-sheet in advance with basic travel instructions and information how to get to the hotel. 

Visa requirements: Citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for up to 90 days or any of Bulgaria’s neighboring countries,except Turkey. Citizens of all other countries may need a visa. The Balkan Heritage Foundation can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program. For further details please visit our Visa information page.  

Accommodation & Meals

Accommodation*: Participants will stay in comfortable rooms with two beds (bathrooms with shower and WC, TV, air-conditioning) in Emona Guest House in the downtown of historical Nessebar, close to the beach and the archaeological site. Staying an extra day costs 25 EUR. Single rooms are available upon request for an additional fee of 120 EUR per week.   

*Subject to change. May be substituted with similar level accommodation.

Meals: Breakfasts on work days as well as the welcome and the farewell dinners are covered by the admission fee. Students are responsible for their daily lunch and dinners and all meals on days off.   

Nessebar offers variety of restaurants that can meet everyone’s preferences and dietary requirements – from fast food options to cozy gourmet restaurants. The average meal price (soup/salad, main dish and dessert) can cost between 8 to 15 USD. The project team will recommend restaurants for different preferences (cuisine, cost, dietary needs) and will arrange discounts for the students.

Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services and products!


Free Time & Trips


Free time: During the summer Nessebar offers a lot of opportunities for sports and entertainment. Possible leisure activities during the siesta and days off are: swimming, sunbathing, beach sports including surfing, visiting local beaches and tourist (natural and heritage) sites, scuba diving, fishing, sailing, etc. 


Technicalities & Practicalities

Insurance: The admission fee does not cover insurance. It is necessary to arrange your own DAN insurance before your trip to Bulgaria.   

All EU citizens can use Bulgarian medical services as long as they can provide evidence of their home-country health insurance with a card/certificate, etc.


Weather: A southern European (subtropical) climate dominates in the region, making early summer hot 25-35 ⁰C (77 - 95 ⁰F) but breezy. Rainy and chilly days in this season are rare but not excluded.


What to bring?

  • Diving gear (Except diving weights and tanks, which will be provided by the field school). If you do not wish to bring your own diving gear, you may rent such from Nessebar diving centers at a price up to 20 EUR per day (depending on items rented)
  • Your diving logbook
  • A set of walking or hiking shoes for the excursions
  • Clothing suitable for outdoor activities (consider weather conditions from hot and sunny to rainy and chilly)
  • Wide brim hat   
  • A small backpack (for your water bottle, snacks, camera, etc.)
  • A light raincoat for possible rainy and windy days
  • Medication - It is not necessary to bring over-the-counter medicine since you can buy all common types in Bulgaria (e.g. aspirin and anti-insecticides, sunscreen, etc). It is recommended, however, that you bring any individual prescription medicines at sufficient quantities for the duration of this program
  • A converter for an EU type electricity wall-plug if needed
  • Good attitude for work, fun, study, and discoveries

The Admission Fee   


In order to participate in this educational project the BHFS expects all participants to reimburse their related costs, i.e. B&B accommodation (hotel + breakfast per day), tools, materials, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and other administrative costs. All participants are invited to support the project realization through donations. Information about all related costs will be published as soon as the WHO organization announces the end of the Covid 19 global pandemic.


Admission Fee Transfer Options:

- Bank transfer
- Online transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal. VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted.   
TransferWise money transfer

For further information contact Admissions Office at: [email protected]

Academic credits


New Bulgarian University grants 9 ECTS credits to students for attending the field school. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee. For details: Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records.




Underwater Archaeology Field School in the Black Sea

Apply now