Dr. George F. Bass

george bass

December 9, 1932 ~ March 2, 2021

Born in: Columbia, South Carolina
Resided in: College Station, Texas

George F. Bass, pioneering underwater archaeologist and Texas A&M Distinguished Professor Emeritus, died Tuesday March 2 in Bryan, Texas, at 88. His wife Ann was by his side.

George was many things: an archaeologist, a professor, an Army veteran, an author, a chronicler of family history, a husband, a father and grandfather. He was a lover of opera, a writer of opinionated letters, a teller of stories always told with a twinkle in his eye.

George was born on December 9, 1932, in Columbia, South Carolina, to Robert Duncan Bass and Virginia Wauchope Bass. He grew up primarily in Annapolis, Maryland. In 1955 he received an M.A. in Near Eastern Archaeology from Johns Hopkins University, after which he spent two years at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. He served two years in the U.S. Army in Korea and was honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant in 1959. In 1960 he married Ann Singletary in Greenville, South Carolina. In 1964 he received a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania.

George believed that it would be possible to excavate on the seabed to the same exacting scientific standards as on land. While a graduate student, he learned to scuba dive, and in 1960 he directed a team that excavated the remains of a Bronze Age shipwreck off Cape Gelidonya, on the southern coast of Turkey. It was the first ancient shipwreck to be excavated in its entirety on the seabed. This pioneering effort led to the establishment of underwater archaeology as an academic discipline and was the beginning of a 50-year career of fieldwork, teaching, publishing, and lecturing around the world.

In 1973, after teaching at Penn for eight years, he founded the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, which is devoted to bringing history to light through the scientific study of shipwrecks. The Institute became affiliated with Texas A&M in 1976, and in the same year the Nautical Archaeology Program was established at the university. George taught at Texas A&M from 1976 until his retirement in 2000, and INA continues to support projects around the world.

George supported passage of the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act of 1987, which protects historic shipwrecks from treasure hunters and salvagers. He believed that archaeological sites under water should be given the same protection as sites on land. In his testimony before Congress, he pointed out that “you can’t tear apart the Alamo and sell the pieces for souvenirs.”

Most of George’s field work was in Turkey, a country he came to love. He treasured his friends and colleagues there, and eventually built a home in Bodrum near INA headquarters. He and Ann spent long periods there, especially after his retirement.

George was a man with endless energy. He published prodigiously; he wrote or edited seven books and his work was often featured in National Geographic Magazine and in media around the world. He was equally proud of being called “an underwater Indiana Jones” by TIME magazine and of being awarded the National Medal of Science by George W. Bush in 2001. Although he spent most of his career diving on and studying ancient shipwrecks, he was equally thrilled to visit the wreck of the Titanic on a research expedition in 2003.
Among his many honors were the National Medal of Science, the National Geographic Centennial Award, the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement from the Archaeological Institute of America, and membership in the American Philosophical Society.

George was a generous scholar, providing his students with opportunities for field work and publishing. He inspired many to follow in his footsteps and was proud of their successes. He adored his sons and grandsons.
He is survived by his wife Ann; his son Gordon, wife Jennifer and children Henry and Charles; and son Alan.
Those wishing to do so may make contributions to the INA Foundation (https://nauticalarch.org/ina-foundation/), a non-profit charitable organization that helps fund different aspects of INA’s work, including student scholarships, archaeology and fieldwork grants, INA’s research vessel, and INA’s research center in Bodrum, Turkey.

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  1. Prayers for the family of George from my heart. His passion for life and learning will be remembered as well a his love for his family. He was a great man and I know sharing his life has filled yours. Love to all of you during these coming months. I will always remember his humbleness and kindness. With all my love to my Bass family in Texas. Ride God’s gentle tide to heaven, George.

  2. Alan, you and your family are in our hearts and minds. Our condolences on the passing of your father. What a wonderful life he lived and great adventures he experienced and was able to tell. I know he will be missed.

  3. Ann,
    We just learned of George’s passing. We send you and your family our sincere condolences.
    Jerry and Elaine Gibson

  4. Dear Ann and Family,

    What a wonderful life George and you all had together. I remember hearing of Turkey and all your adventures there. To have had George for all these years was a blessing. We’re still on Munson and anytime you are out for a stroll stop by for a chat.
    Trish and Lee Peddicord

  5. Dear Ann,
    We only just learned of the passing of George Bass when we received the Fall issue of Biblical Archaeology. We sympathize with your loss.
    Hampton remembers you, Ann, from your days as a student at Mary Baldwin College.
    We became aware of George when we were sent a resin from a Bronze Age ship that wrecked off the southern coast of Turkey. We were able to identify the resin. (Analytical Chemistry 1990, 62, 1, 41A-45A). When we learned of his connection with Mary Baldwin, we called and had a pleasant conversation. We wish we could have been able to get to know him better.
    Hampton and Betty Hairfield

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