The June 2008 LAMP maritime archaeology field school, accredited by Plymouth State University, is currently underway in St. Augustine, Florida. Here students Ben Siegel and Ryan Flory are in the background with LAMP intern Renee Post. PSU Professor Dave Switzer is in the foreground.

Last week we met PSU professor Dr. David Switzer and his two students at the Lighthouse for two days of orientation. In those two days we cover a lot of ground–local history and archaeology, LAMP’s Operations and Diving Plan and Emergency Plan, a swim test and scuba checkout complete with zero-vis obstacle course at the local dive shop pool, a review of the First Coast Maritime Archaeology research design and our objectives for the next two weeks, and some lectures and discussions on the basics of archaeology and nautical archaeology.

Extra hands are always helpful. Here Dave Switzer, the students, and LAMP staff gently lower a shipwrecked vessel’s keel into a vat of water. The proper handling and conservation techniques used with the recovery of waterlogged artifacts is an important factor of a maritime field school.

Part of the orientation process is a full tour of the facilities, exhibits, and ongoing projects at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Like a growing number of maritime museums, we have an active boatbuilding program. Here Ben, Dave, and Ryan inspect the ongoing construction of a chaisson tender, a traditional New England rowing vessel. Seeing the molds defining the vessel’s hull shape temporarily attached to the vessels floor, stem, and transom, helps illustrate some of the shipbuilding concepts that we discussed earlier in the day.

Later in our tour an original chaisson tender hangs overhead. An understanding of boatbuilding traditions prevalent in our area will prove beneficial to our students as they explore the remains of shipwreck and anchorage sites in the ensuing weeks.

After we feel everyone is ready the fieldwork begins! Our primary project is an investigation of an 1800s wreck known as the Centerboard Schooner Wreck. It is a dynamic shipwreck characterized by two high-relief piles of cargo (cement in barrels and iron pipes). Since we only have two students, there is room for other participants, including LAMP volunteers and the high school students in our MARC program. On our first day we are accompanied by our volunteer diver “Tank” also known as John Brunswick (on right) along with two Pedro Menendez High students, Kyle and Carice, who both got a dive in before the weather rolled in.

Field school student Ben Siegel is a Miami native and graduate of Emory University who recently was accepted into the Maritime Studies Program at East Carolina University. He’ll start graduate school there in the fall.

Here is LAMP intern Renee Post, a UWF graduate heading to Texas A&M’s Nautical Archaeology Program in the fall, with field school student Ryan Flory, who will be starting school at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island in the fall to study archaeology.

The following day we are joined by Pedro High student Matt Thomas, who is receiving his scuba certification through LAMP’s MARC program. We are fortunate to have a great boat on loan from Theresa and Jay Floyd, the Sea Biscuit shown here. This is a fine little vessel and much needed considering that our primary research vessel the Island Fever is currently in the yard undergoing repairs by the experts at Luhrs.

Dave and Ben prepare to descend down the buoy line to the wreck below.

This is about as good visibility we’ve encountered yet, and some days its much worse. We face storms every afternoon, limiting our available diving time. We’ve managed to lay in a baseline along the seafloor to serve as a reference for underwater mapping.

One of the students jobs was to prepare a 50-meter long baseline, marked at each meter interval, to be deployed alongside the wreckage.
With the baseline in place, we can begin making measurements from artifacts amid the wreckage to various points along the baseline. This will allow us to “tie in” the map produced by LAMP archaeologists in 2004 with our baseline so that we can accurately depict our excavation units and any new features onto the existing site plan.

As I write this we are more than halfway through the field school. Diving operations continue at the schooner wreck site, and hampered by poor visibility we slowly proceed, adding mapping datums at various points along the baseline and probing potential excavation areas.

Renee performs a backroll entry from the Sea Biscuit.

Ryan passes tape measures and other gear to Renee and Ben in the water.

During this dive, Dave is serving as timekeeper. As scientific divers we follow strict safety protocols. For each dive, there is a dive supervisor in charge of overall safety, a timekeeper, and a safety diver ready to enter the water at a moment’s notice.

By the 24th, we are ready to set up our excavation grids but we also have plans to conduct some remote sensing survey and to visit a historic wharf/maritime infrastructure site on the Tolomato River associated with the 18th century British plantation. So we’ll be away from the schooner wreck for a few days. We’ve also picked up a new crew. Chris McCabe, the Georgia state underwater archaeologist, has made the trip down from Savannah to assist with the field school, along with his intern Steve Dilk, also about to start graduate study at ECU’s maritime program.
Stay tuned for another blog relating the continuing adventures of the LAMP/PSU field school!