Archaeologists Utilize X-Ray Technology to Uncover Shipwreck Secrets

With the help of Flagler Hospital and Monahan Chiropractic, archaeologists from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum are piecing together a shipwreck puzzle with artifact x-rays.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL. – Clustered around a computer screen, a team of archaeologists and radiology technicians anxiously wait for today’s technology to reveal yesterday’s secrets. When the black and white images finally appear, the insides of a concreted artifact recovered from the ocean floor are revealed to the world for the first time in more than 200 years.

Starr Cox, conservator for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, has been using x-ray and CAT scan technology for years to identify concreted objects recovered by shipwreck divers with the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP).

“After so many centuries in salt water, a hard exterior layer of crust builds up around certain artifacts, especially iron objects,” said Cox. “Using x-rays we can see what’s inside the concretions and determine the best course for extracting and conserving the artifact.”

Recently, Cox and the LAMP team have been x-raying artifacts recovered from a 1782 British shipwreck located just off St. Augustine’s coast. A range of pieces from buttons and spoons to pistols and muskets have revealed the story of British loyalists who evacuated Charleston, S.C., near the end of the Revolutionary War. The ship is believed to have run aground trying to enter St. Augustine’s harbor on New Year’s Eve 1782 along with fifteen other vessels. While most of the passengers were able to escape, the ship could not be saved and eventually washed out to sea.

Though the x-rays reveal what objects are hidden inside the concretions, conservation work to remove centuries of build-up and restore the objects for future exhibition will take years. Once conservation is completed, the artifacts will be curated into an exhibit at the lighthouse museum.

“This is just one of many stories that are hidden in the waters of our Nation’s Oldest Port,” said Kathy A. Fleming, executive director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. “Through our archaeology research and conservation efforts we look forward to finding these stories and sharing them because they really help us understand our collective national history.”

Local partners at Flagler Hospital and Monahan Chiropractic have generously donated their time and facilities to assist archaeologists with the x-ray research. Community support is critical to helping the lighthouse, a private nonprofit, achieve its mission to discover, present, preserve and keep alive the stories of our Nation’s Oldest PortSM.



A pivotal navigation tool and unique landmark of St. Augustine for over 140 years, the St. Augustine Light Station is host to centuries of history in the Nation’s Oldest PortSM. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) non-profit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest PortSM as symbolized by our working lighthouse. We are the parent organization to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.