Volunteer dive into shipwrecks excavations

By Cheryl Walker - UT San Diego

John Downing has always had a passion for archaeology. But instead of confining his explorations to ruins on land, he does his digging underwater — scuba diving to excavate shipwreck sites.

Downing, 61, of Valley Center, volunteers for the Anglo-Danish Maritime Archaeological Team, an international nonprofit, based in the United Kingdom.

Already an experienced scuba diver, joining the team was a natural fit for Downing.

“My wife and I love to go scuba diving, but after going so many times and seeing the fish enough times, I wanted to try something new,” he said.

“When I read about maritime archaeology, it was natural to put the two together.

It became diving with a purpose.” Downing’s interest in archaeology began well before the “Indiana Jones” movies popularized the subject.

In junior high school he read about exotic temples and artifacts, but he never thought about pursuing archaeology as a career.

After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Navy with the idea of learning electronics. He was reading Archaeology Magazine when he learned about maritime archaeology volunteering.

He immediately wrote to the director, Dr. Simon Q. Spooner, about signing up for the next class. There wasn’t going to be another session soon, but Spooner, who was impressed with Downing’s enthusiasm, offered to teach him personally.

Spooner invited him to come to the Dominican Republic for training. “I couldn’t believe it,” Downing said. “I was getting private lessons from a person with a Ph.D. in maritime archaeology.

It was a wonderful opportunity — one I couldn’t say no to.”

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