'Jesus boat' archaeologist to speak in Yoakum
April 11, 2012 at 12:05 p.m.
Updated April 10, 2012 at 11:11 p.m.
A former Israeli paratrooper, an archaeologist and a university professor, Shelley Wachsmann is normally cool, calm and collected.
But he admits to a rush of excitement that day in 1986 when it became evident a ship that had been unearthed by his excavation team was indeed very, very old.
"I guess it was an even mixture of awe, joy and intense excitement," Wachsmann wrote of that moment in his book, "The Sea of Galilee Boat."
"I felt as if the air had been knocked out of my lungs, like the feeling you have standing on a very high and steep snow-swept mountain, with bright sunlight reflecting in your eyes and cold, dry air burning your lungs."
Wachsmann, a professor of biblical archaeology and the coordinator of the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University, will share his story of finding the biblical-era boat at the Yoakum A&M Club's Aggie Muster on April 21.
"It was an amazing, and truly humbling, experience," Wachsmann said in an email interview. "Early on, we realized that we were not just discovering history, we were also making it by excavating the first ancient boat in the Sea of Galilee.
"As the excavator in charge, I was constantly required to make decisions, any one of which could spell the destruction, or damage, to the boat.
"Additionally, the boat almost immediately became a media event, with film crews from major media outlets constantly filming and interviewing us. This made me feel like I was living in a glass fish bowl," he said.
Four years after the discovery of what is sometimes referred to as the "Jesus boat," Wachsmann joined the faculty at Texas A&M.
"At the time, as an Israeli nautical archaeologist, I realized that the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University and its sister Institute of Nautical Archaeology, were leaders in the field," he said. "So when I was invited to join the faculty, first as a visiting associate professor, I thought that I had died and gone to heaven."
The nautical archaeology program at Texas A&M is a source of pride for Wachsmann, who was named an associate professor in 1999 and promoted to professor in 2010.
"It is a first-class graduate program. Our students study the history and construction of watercraft as well as the historical background to all aspects of seafaring," the professor explained. "Conservation is another important aspect of the coursework. Our faculty and students work on projects around the world from ships on land to those in deep waters beyond the capabilities of scuba.
"Our goal is to study and (to make clear) the past through an understanding of our maritime (heritage). Remember, anything made or used by humans, at one time or another, was transported by ship, including the pyramids - stone by stone.
"As ships often - although not always - sank suddenly, they represent time capsules. If studied correctly, these contribute enormously to our understanding," Wachsmann said.