Why Does Maritime Archaeology Matter?
For most of human existence, ships were the only way to transport people, goods, and ideas over long distances. Ships allowed global exploration, the formation of colonial empires and the development of the world economy that we all participate in today. Beneath the surface of our oceans, lakes, rivers, and wetlands lay evidence of these activities in the form of sunken ships and locally-built workboats, as well as the remains of piers, wharves, collapsed lighthouses and other maritime features.
Shipwreck sites are particularly attractive to archaeologists because they act as virtual time capsules. Everything on board a sailing vessel has the potential to be preserved. This includes organic artifacts made of wood, bone, cloth or leather that would not usually survive on land.
The maritime archaeology of St. Augustine waters is remarkably significant as this is the oldest port city in the United States. For nearly five centuries, ships voyaged to and from this colonial outpost. Hundreds of Native, Spanish, French, English, and American ships have been lost to the shifting sands and treacherous waters, each forming a unique time capsule giving archaeologists an exceptional view of a multi-cultural past.
Archaeology is not treasure hunting. Museum scientists seek knowledge of the past, not profits through the sale of artifacts. The process of scientific archaeology is so involved that it is just impossible to make a profit without cutting corners. Blowing holes in the seafloor to find gold can destroy the stories that these wrecks might have told. Any artifacts that St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum archaeologists bring to the surface remain the property of the State of Florida and are available to learn from in the future. The Museum helps share these stories with visitors from around the globe.
Archaeology is not just in the water. A great deal of time is spent in the lab and in understanding how best to present a story to an audience. Historical records document shipwrecks from the time of St. Augustine’s founding by the Spanish in 1565 through the early 20th century and even today. You can discover the stories of these Lost Ships of St. Augustine that tell of the varied and long maritime heritage of the oldest port in the United States. Visit our, Project Archive to find more discoveries from shipwreck investigations.