Christophe Delaere goes to great depths

  • The young archeologist conducted fruitful underwater excavations in Lake Titicaca.
  • A passion for history led him to this point.

 

Christophe Delaere was bitten by the history bug very early on: “I’ve always been passionate about places that are full of history,” he says. It was a natural step for him to decide to study the history of art and archeology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), where he enrolled in 2004. He would not discover South America until his third year, while working on an assignment. “We had to find where an unknown object came from just from looking at a photo of it. It turned out that the object in question was a Tiwanaku textile. That was when I started to get interested in that culture. There were very few documents available, and that caused me quite a bit of frustration, a frustration that transformed into a passion.”

 

The following year, he was able to find a work placement in Bolivia at the Tiahuanaco archeological site and took part in digs for two months. The country and ancient cultures in general made a significant impression on him, and upon returning to Belgium he chose to write his dissertation on that very subject, earning a top grade for it during the subsequent school year.

 

Delaere considered doing a thesis but did not apply to the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS) for funding at this stage. He had learned of the existence of a training course for potential professional scientific divers in Nîmes, France. Within a few months he acquired his first stripes in diving, a prerequisite for enrolling in the course, made his way to the south of France and graduated first in his class the year after.

 

At the same time, he applied to the FNRS, which offered him a grant in June 2012. The young Belgian began to make preparations for his Lake Titicaca project and set about accruing some experience. For two years in a row, he took part in dives in the Rhône, near Arles, the location of an important Gallo-Roman maritime center.

 

Delaere also worked on a sub-aquatic archeological site at Han-sur-Lesse. He was far from inexperienced when he left to explore the frigid waters of Lake Titicaca.

 

The preparation involved in such a project is truly staggering; all in all, he traveled to Bolivia five times before beginning his underwater excavations. During one of these preparatory trips, he led a sonar mission in conjunction with a French university, noted numerous interesting sites and returned to Belgium to put together a team.

 

Intense preparations aside, the budget of such a venture is also considerable. The UAE (an organization of former ULB students), Nemo33 (a Brussels-based diving facility) and the film director, Frédéric Cordier, believed in his project and provided him with financial support. Delaere headed off again in February 2013, spoke with the tribes that still maintain political authority over their land and, by extension, a part of the lake, as well as with the Bolivian government, prepared the logistical side of things and, last but not least, embarked on a few dives to verify his chosen spots.

 

He then came back to Belgium, finalized the details of his two-month adventure and set off, going on to enjoy the success that has now become public knowledge.

 

What is most impressive in all this is Delaere’s age. At just 27, he has overseen excavations that will, in all likelihood, make a decisive contribution to pre-Colombian history.

 

ADRIEN DEWEZ

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