1987 Jury Member

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise

Location: Belgium

Robert Sténuit
Belgium, Born 1933

Robert Sténuit has, over the years, combined his experience as a diver, his erudition as a marine historian and researcher, his skill as an archaeologist and his courage as an explorer to probe the depths and bring to light a wide range of historic and prehistoric treasures. 

This unique combination of abilities has earned him the reputation of elevating underwater post-mediaeval archaeology to a scholarly basis. His interest in the history of diving has led him to reconstruct historical diving machines, while at the same time working on the development and use of the latest in sophisticated aids for undersea exploration.

Robert Sténuit, a Belgian, obtained a degree in politics and diplomacy from Brussels University, and has been awarded an honorary degree in science from the New Ulster University, Northern Ireland. During his university career, he developed twin passions — maritime history and underwater diving — and, in 1955, became a professional diver.

Over the following years, between commercial jobs, he learned his trade as a diving archaeologist. He joined an American expedition looking for the treasures of the famous Vigo Bay galleons (Spain) lost in 1702, took part in the excavations of the underground-underwater pre-historic-historical site in the caves of Han-sur-Lesse (Belgium), worked on the palafitte settlements in Lake Neuchâtel (Switzerland), dived on Greek and Roman wrecks in the Mediterranean, mapped and raised a sunken prefabricated palaeo-christian church off Sicily, and dug on the wrecks of Spanish galleons lost in 1715 in the Florida Keys.

ln 1962, Sténuit was appointed chief diver of Edwin Link’s research vessel Sea Diver, where he made the world’s first saturation dive, spending 25 hours under the sea at a depth of over 60 metres. This was followed by similar exploits such as the then longest-deepest dive ever made at sea — 48 hours at a depth of 132 metres, in 1964 in the Bahamas — and a number of deeper and deeper, simulated pressure-chamber saturation dives to test new computer-generated oxy-helium decompression tables.

Since 1967, he has organized and led his own expeditions year after year. He founded and directed the Groupe de Recherche Archéologique Sous-marine Post-médiévale (GRASP), whose team of specialists has since worked with him all over the world.

The wrecks that Robert Sténuit has researched, located, surveyed, excavated, studied and written about with the GRASP, include the galleas, Girona (1588), the first wreck of the Spanish Armada ever located, seven 18th century warships, and eight East Indiamen (ships operated by the East India Company).

As an exercise in experimental archaeology he has built a replica of the barrel-like “diving machine” designed in 1715 by the English inventor and “wrackman” John Lethbridge, and has demonstrated its use and the efficiency of contemporary underwater tools.

Sténuit has authored 13 books and several hundred articles and papers, produced many television programmes, and has lectured at numerous underwater-archaeological and general underwater-activity conventions.

Other 1987 Jury Members