Freediving through the history
Freediving - Attractions
Military diversOver 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. Man’s attempts to descend under the water surface are probably as ancient as the history of the human society, and they have been motivated by curiosity, search for new sources of food, need to hide when endangered, or to surprise the enemy. There are numerous indications of these successful early diving attempts, be it free-diving, or diving with some very simple tools.
Very old sediments of shells, found in many archeological sites ashore, indicate that the coast has been populated since the ancient times, and that man has collected food from the sea using diving techniques. According to the archeologists’ estimations, numerous objects of art made of nacre originate from as early as 4500 B. C. It is known that the chinese emperor Zhu (2200 B. C.) has received taxes from his subjects in pearls.

In some egyptian pyramides from 4500 B. C. were found ornaments made of pearls and nacre. The first written data on diving can be found in the description of military operations during the Troyan War (1194 B. C.), and then also in Homer’s Iliad, written around 700 B. C. Alexander the Great employed divers in the army to destroy underwater barricades during the siege of the city of Tyr (333 B. C.), when a primitive version of the diving bell was used for that purpose.

There is a very interesting scene at an ancient greek vase, where the mythical hero Theseus gives to the King Minos a ring that he took from the sea depths. For centuries, the ancient Slaves hid from their enemies laying on their back under water, breathing through a hollow cane. This could be considered as the ancestor of a snorkel, which is nowadays a basic part of the so called “Snorkeling equipment”. Clearly, this type of underwater stay is of limited duration, as breathing through any tube is possible only in shallow depths and for short time periods.

The oldest testimony of the use of equipment for underwater activities are two assyrian reliefs dating from 880 B. C., at present in the British Museum. One of them represents assyrian warriors with inflated anymal bladders, held by a strap over a diver’s right shoulder. One can see the attachments to the bladder in the form of a blowstick with a mouthpiece. These drawings are more probably a fruit of imagination, rather than an illustration of real diving with such tools, as the buoyancy of inflated bladder would not allow for submersion. Represented are probably swimmers equipped with a kind of safety jacket.

Herodotus, around 460 B. C., wrote about a famous diver Scyllias, who was taken in captivity to a persian ship. When he noticed that the Persians were preparing a sudden attack to Greeks, during a storm he jumped into the sea, and cut the ropes holding anchored the persian ships which, taken by the storm, perished at the rocky shore. According to the legend, Scyllias continued to dive until 15 km distant Arthemisium, in order to inform Greeks about the forthcoming persian attack. Although the event is evidently fiction and unrealistic, it witnesses the rich human imagination and high interest for diving.

The diving bell was used as the equipment in 16th century. Air was introduced to the bell from the surface. The bell would stand still several feet under the surface, turned the open part down, while the upper part contained air, compressed by a pressure of water. The diver would stand up, holding his head in the air compartment. He could leave the bell for a minute or two, to collect sponges, or search the bottom, and than he would come back to the bell, as long as it contained air for breathing.

First divers dove on a single breath, without any equipment, in pretty much the same way as any swimmer does occasionally nowadays. Free-diving, although increasingly percepted as exclusively sport activity, today stil has a commercial aspect. Thus, in Japan and Corea there are professional female divers, so called Ama divers – pearl hunters, as well as spear-fishers. Women are predominant in these activities, maybe because the layer of fat makes them more resistant to hypothermia, which makes them more efficient in long-term subaquatic activities.
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