Dr. Mari Yamasaki


Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Graduiertenkolleg 1876
Hegelstr. 59
55122 Mainz


Project title: Underwater Realms. Concepts of Underwater Spatiality in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean


Research on the perception of underwater spaces in ancient Mediterranean societies represents an almost entirely unexplored area of investigation. Previous work in the domain of the cognitive sciences has focused on the psychological effects (such as memory impairment, orientation loss and spatial distortion) of underwater spaces in contemporary humans, whilst archaeology and philology have so far only addressed the ancient perception of the sea in general without considering its three-dimensionality.

This project aims to investigate concepts of underwater spatiality in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean in the course of the second and first millennium BCE. It will consider the cognitive and experiential dimensions of submarine spaces, both real and imagined, proceeding with the analysis and (re-)interpretation of the known accounts of underwater settings. It will thus on one hand evaluate the written and depicted attestations about freedivers, and on the other consider underwater iconography and material culture, in particular representations of marine fauna and underwater landscapes.

The first objective is to understand how underwater spatiality was constructed, both within an underwater domain and in relation to land settings. The second objective is to understand in what way the real, freediving experiences are included into narratives of underwater realms. Finally, from a methodological standpoint, the project aims at combining archaeological and textual analysis with approaches deriving from the cognitive sciences. By harmonizing real and imagined underwater spaces through the tools offered by cognitive psychology and philosophy, it will be possible to glimpse into a yet unexplored area in the field of ancient studies, and this project constitutes a first attempt to understand the perception of the ancient sea from a full, three-dimensional perspective, introducing new depths to our knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean cultures.