4500 B.C. to the 1600s:
Coastal cultures such as those found in Greece,
Mesopotamia, China, and probably many other parts of the world, engage
in diving as a form
of food-gathering, commerce, or warfare.
Divers are involved in military operations during
the Trojan Wars. They sabotage enemy ships by
boring holes in the hulls or cutting the anchor ropes. Divers are also
used to construct underwater defenses designed to protect ports from
the attacking fleets.
Many cultures have a history of diving,
including those in China, Japan, Korea, coastal Europe and the Americas.
The writings of Homer mention
Greek sponge fishermen who plummet to
depths of almost 30 meters (100 feet) by holding a heavy rock. They
knew little about the physical dangers of diving. To try and compensate
for the increasing pressure on their ears, they poured oil into their
ear canals and took a mouthful before descent. Once on the bottom, they
spit out the oil, cut as many sponges free from the bottom as their
breath would allow, and were then hauled back to the surface by a tether.
A diver named Scyllias and his daughter Cyana
are commissioned by the Persian King Xerxes as treasure divers during
one of the numerous wars between the Persians and the Greeks.
The first account of diving used in warfare is
found in the narration of the siege of Syracuse by the Greeks, written
by the historian Thucydides. He tells of Greek divers who submerged
to remove underwater obstacles from the harbor in order to ensure the
safety of their ships.
Aristotle mentions the use of a sort of air-supply
in his Problematum: "...in order that these fishers of sponges
may be supplied with a facility of respiration, a kettle is let down
to them, not filled with water, but with air, which constantly assists
the submerged man; it is forcibly kept upright in its descent, in order
that it may be sent down at an equal level all around, to prevent the
air from escaping and the water from entering...."
Alexander the Great,
in his famous siege of Tyre (Lebanon), uses demolition divers to remove
underwater obstacles from the harbor. It is reported that Alexander
himself made several dives in a crude bell to observe the work in progress.
Salvage diving operations around the major shipping
ports of the eastern Mediterranean are so well organized that a scale
of payment for salvage work is established by law, acknowledging the
fact that effort and risk increase with depth.
Peruvian vase shows diver wearing goggles
and holding fish.
Divers continue to make significant contributions
to warfare by cutting anchor ropes, drilling holes in ship's hulls and
ferrying supplies to besieged coastal cities.
After discovering pearl oyster beds in the Caribbean
area of the Atlantic Ocean, Spanish
explorers routinely enslave native divers and make them retrieve pearls
from the ocean floor. The Spaniards
also force many of their Negro slaves to learn to dive in the pearl
fisheries. Repeated deep diving was dangerous work, and many of the
divers suffered ill health or death as a result.
One of the first recorded successful diving operations using a one-person
diving bell is carried out in Lake
Nemi near Rome, Italy. The bell carried with it only the amount of air
trapped within it once submerged, thus providing a short bottom time.
William Bourne, an English mathematician, draws
up the first known plans for an underwater
boat. His plans called for a leather-covered
wooden frame to be rowed from the inside. As far as we know, this boat
never was built.
Dutch physician Cornelis Drebbel builds the
world's first submarine. The craft
has a wooden frame reinforced with iron and covered with leather. Inside
are 12 oarsmen, six on each side, who row with oars that stick out the
sides through tight-fitting leather sleeves to keep the water out. From
1620 to 1624, Drebbel makes several trips in his submarine in the Thames
River near London, usually traveling at a depth of about 12 or 15 feet.
The Chinese book Tiangong Kaiwu, published in the year 1637, showed a new diving method in Guangdong: the pearl divers were able to stay underwater for prolonged periods of time because a secure rope was tied around their waists connected to the ship as they breathed through a long curving pipe that led up above the surface of the water. This long breathing tube was strengthened by rings of tin and fastened to a watertight leather face mask.
George Sinclair, a professor at Glasgow University,
writes a treatise describing the theory and techniques for using diving
about the same time, Sir Robert Boyle
makes important discoveries concerning the behavior of gases under pressure.
A French priest named Abbe Jean de Hautefeuille
writes The Art of Breathing Underwater,
explaining for the first time why, "It is not possible for man
to breathe air at normal atmospheric
pressure when he is himself underwater at depth."
Based on Sinclair's theories, Sir William Phipps
uses a bell to recover nearly a million dollars' worth of treasure from
the wreck of the Spanish galleon La Nuestra Senora de Almiranta in the
The English astronomer Edmund
Halley (the guy "Halley's Comet" is named after) develops
a diving bell in which the atmosphere
in the bell is replenished by sending weighted barrels of air down from
back to Timeline
Underwater exploration in the 1700s
* the first submarine
* the first scuba
* Robert Fulton
* the Nautilus
* for the first time divers use underwater explosives
* the "buddy system"