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History hunter down below (20.10.06, 09:41)

He got Norsk Hydro to pay some NOK 50 million for a marine archaeological survey and excavations of the Norwegian Sea. He arranged the world’s first deep-water excavation done solely by remote-controlled marine robots. Marek E. Jasinski has been exploring the ruins of the past since he grew up in one.

Photo private.
He spent his childhood years in the ruins of medieval Brodnica. This small and picturesque town, situated between Warsaw and Gdansk, hosts the ruins of a medieval castle, medieval town walls and post-medieval palaces, or as Marek remembers it, his very first playground.

Drawn to the deep blue
Marek’s hometown is not only a place of medieval ruins; it is also a place with lots of beautiful lakes, big ones and small ones. Drawn as he was to the mystery world below the surface, he early embarked on his life journey at the bottom of the sea.

- It is something very stimulating and yet a little bit frightening with the world under water. We’re not designed to live there, but we can visit as guests. The dissimilarity of that world, and at the same time, the closeness, it had me captivated from my early years, he says.

Arctic preparations
Water comes in many shapes, and to us northerners the icy and snowy side of water is familiar. Norwegian explorers of the arctic world, Nansen and Amundsen, were the next of Marek’s fascinations. He read books about the explorers, and was inspired by their journeys.

- I remember my childhood attempt to copy young Nansen’s arctic survival preparation. I pretended to prepare for the arctic climate, sleeping almost naked during winter, without a duvet, and with my window wide open. This experiment ended quite badly, with me bedridden, but I did not give up my arctic dream.

- Were you destined to become an archaeologist?

- I was. As long as I can remember, historical ruins were my playground, and my favourite place in the world. I spent my childhood there, exploring and dreaming. I knew from an early age that my calling was to become a professor at a university, and that my field of research would be to excavate our history.

He is not just any archaeologist, he is the maritime kind. He does not dig out our past with a spoon; he goes deeper, into the ocean, to the bottom.

Marine Archaelogical ROV comming on board.Photo Marek Jasinski.
Going deeper with robots
Marek and his team use remote-operated underwater vehicles (ROV’s) to explore the sea floor. Their methods are groundbreaking, and have been acknowledged by the maritime community. Several countries around the world have had a visit from Marek and his team.

- Your work methods don’t exactly match the general concept/idea we have of an archaeologist?

- Our field, maritime archaeology, is not only a spoon and brush affair, especially not deep-water archaeology. We collaborate with the oil and gas industry, and take part in developing new technology. The sea is not an easily accessible place, so we have to think modern to be able to map the bottom.

Treasures of the sea
Every scuba diver’s dream is to discover an old shipwreck. Archaeologists often feel the same way.

Ahead of the development of the Ormen Lange field, Norway’s second largest gas field, a collaboration between Hydro and Marek’s team of archaeologists and marine engineers started.

The bottom of the sea where the pipeline was to be laid down was mapped using the method NTNU’s team had developed. In return, Hydro funded the archaeological survey with 50 million Norwegian kroner.

It proved worthwhile. They discovered an 18th century shipwreck that had to be excavated.

Leaders of the Ormen Lange Marine Projects with artifacts from the historical deep-water shipwreck. Photo Fredrik Nauman.
Anchored in Trondheim
Politics made him leave his country. Newly graduated archaeologist Jasinski was practically shoved out of his home, by his own government.

- Why would your government want you out after seeing you through a lengthy education?

- You know, Poland under communism was a different place than it is now. Political opposition was not allowed. I had the wrong opinions. I was more or less urged to leave my country. Norway was one of the places I had friends, so I came here on what was supposed to be a short stay. All this happened twenty-two years ago, and I have no desire to leave Norway.

While he left his country for political reasons, it was a beautiful woman from our latitudes that sealed his fate.

- Was it love that made you settle here?

- Absolutely. I was actually looking for a career opportunity in the United States, but Norway proved to be a very welcoming place, and after meeting Guri, she is now my wife, nothing could have made me move.

Historical shipwreck at the Ormen Lange Marine Prosject at 170 m depth. Photo NTNU.
Arctic and academic dreams fulfilled
He worked and studied a couple of years in Oslo, then got a scholarship and a PhD opportunity financed by the Research Council of Norway.

- My arctic dream came true. The scholarship involved moving to Tromsø, and the subject of the PhD was the archaeology of Spitsbergen. Most of my thesis was written during long winter nights in the “Land of darkness” at the Polish Research Station in Hornsund, Spitsbergen.

Marek is still occupied with arctic issues, and is deeply absorbed in the history of utilization of maritime natural resources in Northern Russia. Several books and articles are the result, and a meeting with the Russian president Jeltsin.

In 1991, a research position in maritime archaeology brought him to Trondheim and NTNU. His childhood dream of becoming a university professor became reality/came true in 2001, when he became full professor in maritime archaeology at NTNU. Today, he is also an adjunct professor at the Texas A&M University in USA.

- Your anchor is cast now? - Yes, at least I hope so. Trondheim is a fantastic place offering great opportunities. I will not leave voluntarily. If you want me to leave, you will have to throw me out.

Conscious and committed
Not only has he cast anchor, he is vividly engaged in the future of NTNU, and has a strong social commitment.

- NTNU has such a potential, but we must not rest and think that fancy speeches will bring us to the position we want. For instance, there is a belief that we are really international. We are, but not as an institution. The network that has been built rests on persons/individuals and within the different disciplines. NTNU has many excellent researchers, world class, but their excellence is attributed to themselves, not to NTNU’s influence as a university.

- What would you do, then, if you had your hands on the wheel?

- I would start by building dynamic mechanisms and structures for sound internationalization of NTNU. Mechanisms and structures that possess real competence in this area, in addition to working capacity and financial means.

- Internationalization is a necessary investment, and I would change our strategy from the quite re-active that we have today to a pro-active one. We need qualitatively new initiatives, opportunities, and arenas, but I’m not sure we are ready to change our way of thinking as radically as we need to in order to succeed.

Discussion on Russian history with president Jeltsin. Photo Filmpro.
Active in politics
Jasinski’s social commitment has transformed/developed into politics. As a member of the conservative party he aims to contribute.

- Democracy, conservative values, framework of social justice, corporate responsibility, and international solidarity are the most important political issues for me. I would call it modern and updated conservatism. I am at least trying to make my contribution as often as I can. - He is conscious of his roots, and during the POLEN 2006 event, he hosted a conference called Poland – Norway, Inside Out. The purpose was to highlight the differences and similarities between Norway and Poland in terms of politics, culture, and social development, and between Polish and Norwegian mentalities.

Close, but still a different world
- We are practically neighbouring countries, and we certainly have a lot of Polish people in Norway. Surely, we are quite alike?

- Far from true, actually. The two countries’ mentalities are fundamentally different. I believe that Polish people view the world in a completely different way than you do. This may not apply to artists and researchers, people that are used to face other nationalities and ideas in an open-minded fashion. Norwegian businesspeople on the other hand, most of them, return from Poland unsuccessful. REMA 1000 (Norwegian chain of supermarkets) is a brilliant example. They are very successful here, but failed in Poland.

- How come? What is it we don’t get about your mentality?

- Oh, the Polish are very strong in their convictions. Their personal perception of a national identity makes them frown on non-Polish ways of doing business.

- To succeed in Poland, you must first understand the Polish way, and then the list of Norwegian business successes in Poland could become much longer than it is today.

By Hege J. Tunstad