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This KidZone is all about EARLY DIVERS.

Before diving equipment was invented, the only way someone could dive was by holding their breath. We call them ‘breath-hold divers’.

They could not use reeds or tubes to breathe through except if they were very near the surface of the water because the water pressure would crush the tube.

They would have dived for food, to recover lost objects, for precious things such as pearls, and even to carry out secret military operations.


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Cartoon illustration of a a baby diver in a pink wetsuit

Amazing facts about…

Early Divers

Assyrian bas relief of a man swimming underwater with an inflated skin for buoyancy or perhaps for breathing out of.



People have been diving for thousands of years. We know this because there are things in ancient Egyptian pyramids that can only have been collected by divers (such as precious corals and pearls).

In 480BC, a Greek diver called Scyllias, together with his daughter Cyana carried out a daring underwater attack on an enemy Persian fleet.
On a night in September, they swam about 10 miles through stormy waters to reach the ships. Then, swimming silently amongst the boats they cut the anchor ropes causing the ships to smash into each other – some were damaged, some sank. It enabled the Greeks to win the Battle of Salamis.
The drawing shows Cyana breathing through a tube while her father cut the anchor ropes.

For over 2,000 years women in Japan and Korea have dived for food (especially abalone) and for pearls. In Japan they are called ‘Ama’ which means ‘woman of the sea’. Ama dive in very cold water to depths of about 10 metres and can hold their breath for up to 2 minutes

This picture is of 16th century Venetian divers who are diving for precious red coral. If you look closely you can see they are wearing goggles which were made using thin sheets of polished tortoiseshell. In the South Pacific divers used limpet shells. No lens was used but the shell trapped a bubble of air which enabled the diver to open his eyes in air underwater.

To get to the seabed quickly, Greek sponge divers used heavy stones. The stone was tied by a rope to the surface crew; the diver held the stone and dived into the water. When the diver wanted to return to the surface he could pull on the rope to signal to the crew to pull him up.

When you dive underwater the water pressure squeezes on your eardrums which can be painful. One way of ‘clearing your ears’ is to hold your nose and blow out into your nose with your mouth shut.To avoid this problem, some early divers punctured their own eardrums so that they never had to suffer the pain.

The Bajau people of South East Asia live their whole lives at sea and visit land only occasionally. They are often called ‘Sea Nomads’ and have lived like this for thousands of years. They breath-hold dive every day to get their food.

Breath-hold divers do not get ‘The Bends’ which is a condition that can paralyse or even kill you. You only risk getting the Bends if you breathe underwater (using air cylinders, for example).

Cartoon illustration of a baby diver in a yellow wetsuit
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Funny Bones

Why don’t skeletons dive?

Click to find out

Because they don’t have guts!

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Cool Kidz

Click on the picture to see a very short video of a Japanese Ama diving for peals. She has a rope tied around her waist which the man has to feed out into the water after she dives. The rope is so that she can be pulled back to the surface quickly when she is ready to come up.

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Books we love

Diving for Pearls
by Rachel Morlock

Pearls are beautiful flukes of nature. Unlike other gemstones, they are the only ones to be formed inside living creatures. How they are formed, how they are collected and their historic uses are all included in this book. A fascinating read for young scientists (7-10 year-olds).

2017, 24 pages
ISBN 978 1508164227


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Cartoon illustration of a diver on the seabed
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