In 2010 and 2011, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), the US Navy, and Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) conducted archaeology surveys in the Patuxent River on a War of 1812 shipwreck. This blog documents our underwater archaeology surveys.

October 26, 2010

Fall Update

Just an update to let those of you following the project that we are in the process of identifying funding. It looks like we may have enough cobbled together for another survey in July 2011, but our time for finding matching money for our Transportation Enhancement Program funding is running out. All we need is a mere million dollars to fully fund the construction of the cofferdam and excavate the wreck in 2012!

August 9, 2010

An Interesting Discovery...

On the last day of the project, we discovered a lead artifact associated with the shipwreck. We are not exactly sure what it is, but it appears to be a large fishing weight. It is hand formed and is grooved on the ends and in the middle. If you have any ideas of what it could be, please let us know. We will continue our analysis of the object and reveal its function after a few more weeks of research.

Unfortunately, we have reached the end of the shipwreck survey for this year. The barges will be passing under our Maryland 4 bridge at around 4pm today. We hope to raise enough money for next year to conduct additional excavations and to hydroprobe out the second magnetic anomaly that may be a second wreck just down stream from our current location. Thank you for following and be sure to check back on a monthly basis for any updates!

August 6, 2010

Forty Eight Hours Left

Well, the units are completely excavated out and we are now mapping the planking and iron pins that make up part of the shipwreck. A few interesting discoveries include what appears to be a dip down in one of the units. We wonder if we have the edge of one of the holds or perhaps the previous excavation by Don Shomette. If this is the case, we are literally an arms reach from the personal belongings of the sailors abandoned almost 200 years ago. The divers are already hanging upside down by their flippers, so it is unlikely we can dig this area more than a few feet deep. We may need to wait until next year. Although visibility is not ideal, we are now taking a camera down to the units to video record. In addition to photos and hand drawings, this is just another method to document our discoveries. We will be back in the field tomorrow to finish up at the site and Sunday we will close down the site.

Rick Ervin on the radio to the diver (above).

August 5, 2010

Spreading the Word

Yesterday we had the pleasure to host two VIP tours of the Scorpion site. The first group included VIP guests from the Marine Corps History Division and the Navy's History and Heritage Command. At 1pm we held a press conference for the media. Rodney Little, from the Maryland Historical Trust, and Bill Pencek,executive director of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, were there to support the project and spoke at the event. We truly appreciate all of the support from the state of Maryland, US Navy, and Marine Corps. Also, a big thank you to the Maryland National Park and Planning for hosting the event at Mount Calvert and for supplying pontoon rides.

Check out the Washington Post Article on right under Media Coverage!

The project continues to move along as we dredge out the sand and sediment from our two excavation units. The shoring is in and we hope to have the holes exposed by Sunday morning. Although we have touched planking, there is not enough of the ship exposed in our units to understand where we may be on the wreck.
Pictured below is a small display of artifacts exhibited for our media day. This is just a glimpse of the potential artifact assemblage that is waiting for us in the shipwreck. The tin plated ferrous grog cup with initials CW discovered in 1980. The only person with the initials CW on the Scorpion was Ceaser Wentworth, an African American.

August 4, 2010

Planks and Nails

A view of the metal shoring going into our unit today.

The underwater archaeology is slow going. The second shoring set up finally came in yesterday morning and a specially made dredge head from California arrived on my front steps. Today we will be placing the shoring into our excavated holes which will really help to keep the sediment back so we can see what we are doing and get a better view of the wreck below. We also have an underwater camera so will be able to record our findings and display the images to the crew on board the barge. Our media day is today, and I have posted the press release belowalong with photos.

JB about to enter the water (L). Susan giving a tour of the site to local folks (R).
Bob giving us the signal that he is okay (Bottom).

MD State Highway Administration's Press Release

Beneath the waters made murky by recent heavy rains, archaeologists are uncovering remnants of the dramatic events preceding the bloody four-hour Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812. Archaeologists from the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), the US Navy (USN) and Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) are surveying for a War of 1812 shipwreck in the shallows of the Patuxent River upstream from Pig Point (now Bristol), near Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County.

With high-tech equipment, archaeologists are mapping an underwater area thought to be the resting place of the USS Scorpion or other War of 1812 vessel that was deliberately sank or "scuttled" to prevent British capture and use against American forces. First the teams used a magnetometer, an instrument that detects metal objects such as cannons and anchors, to locate the general area of the wreck. Archaeologists then used a more precision-based piece of equipment called a hydroprobe, which pinpoints the wreck location using a linear series of one inch diameter jets of water to further delineate the site. Underwater archaeologists are now excavating two, six ft by ten ft test units in an attempt to identify what part of the shipwreck they are on. Over the next two years, scientists will continue their testing of the site to help direct the placement of a coffer dam in 2012. The cofferdam, a temporary watertight enclosure, will allow the archaeologists to excavate the wreck as a dry site. The information gleaned from the excavation will be incorporated into the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and Byway as America commemorates the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. These findings will further supplement Maryland's extensive contributions to the international celebration, estimated to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Maryland and generate more than $1 billion in tourism spending over the 32-month bicentennial period.

The search for the USS Scorpion project is partially funded through the Transportation Enhancement Program, which funds non-traditional, community-based transportation-related projects. The Governor determines which projects qualify for funding based on need and potential benefit to the public. The Maryland Department of Transportation's State Highway Administration oversees the federal program, which has awarded more than $185 million for 232 projects in Maryland since the TEP program began in 1991.

August 2, 2010

Archaeologists on board!

We worked through the weekend and now have the sand and muck pulled back enough to place the metal shoring in our units. The shoring is a necessity since the sediment keeps filling in behind you. Susan mentioned how she felt that she cleared about an acre behind her, only to find it had silted back in. She was able to find planking and saw two nails. The visibility is low, but you can still see about a foot or so in front of you. We also had Don Shomette out to the site. He shared some of the discoveries from 30 years ago at this same site. We also discussed whether or not he thought it was the USS Scorpion. We are of like minds....some evidence for it being the USS Scorpion and some evidence for it not being Barney's flagship. Whatever it is, there will be an amazing artifact collection. Don mentioned an array of medicine and salve bottles as well as a lantern, still left on board. The preservation is suppose to be pretty amazing as well. I told him that I heard that meat was still left on the bones of the sailor's rations. I asked if he meant that there was adipocere. He said no, there was actually meat on the bone! What? In terrestrial archaeology we just hope the bone does not crumble in our hands! Tomorrow I will post a bunch of photos.

July 31, 2010

Dredging, dredging, and more dredging.

We have now dredged three feet of sediment from two locations in the center of the shipwreck. Once we get about four feet deep, we will insert metal shoring to keep the sand from reburying the area. We will then continue to dig deeper and carefully position the shoring into place so we can then examine and record the shipwreck within a three foot by six foot unit. If we encounter timbers, we will simply record the discovery; however, it is also possible damaged areas of the ship will allow us a window into the interior of the wreck. We will be back on the river tomorrow morning at 7:30am.

Barge City

Today was a beautiful day on the water. At this time we have divided into two teams. One team consists of SHA and MHT archaeologists while the other includes US Navy archaeologists (George Schwartz, pictured left). We are focussing on the center of the ship, but are at least 30ft away from each other. The sediments are slowly being brought to the surface and filtered through a screen and trough set up. The sands are then being lifted into large metal container for removal off site. The only finds in our screens so far include sticks, small shells, and broken clay pigeons. We are still much too shallow and expect to excavate another 5-8 feet before we encounter the shipwreck and any associated artifacts. Our goal this year is not to excavate for artifacts, but to try and delineate the shipwreck. All of the probing and excavation will help us direct the placement of the cofferdam in 2012.

Dr. Julie Schablitsky making notes in the office on the barge (left).

Dr. Robert Neyland just after a dive (right).

July 30, 2010

Live Report from the Patuxent River!

On behalf of the principal investigators, we would like to welcome you to our blog. Now that we have wireless, we can update you from the field. Right now, I am in the field office listening to the pumps attempting to dredge sediment from atop the site. There is a delicate balance between size of the pump, length fo the hose, and strength of the sediment....hence, things are slow going. The good news is that our grids are in and the thunder clouds are keeping their distance. We plan to be out here all weekend and all of next week. Just back again tomorrow for an update!---Julie

July 29, 2010


July 29, 2010

The survey has been moving along slowly as we wrestled equipment onto the barge and were delayed from diving due to health concerns with the water. A storm event several days ago caused the water in the Patuxent River to become unsafe for fishing and swimming which meant no diving. Some of us are also coming down with poison ivy which is thick along the bank. Ah, the glory of archaeology. The good news is we are back in the water today. After lunch, we stretched a 40 meter base line across the wreck. Since the water is so dark, cable ties are placed at 50cm and 1m increments (1 tie means 50cm and 2 ties signify 1 meter). The archaeologists are diving blind due to zero visibility in the water. They use the cable ties to measure where they are at along the line. Our plan at this time is to carefully probe the ship out to find the area with the least amount of sediment. We suspect it is the center since the bow and stern seem to be pretty deeply buried in the river bottom. Once we find the edge of the wreck, we will set up grids and begin to excavate the sides. Dredging is planned for tomorrow.

July 28, 2010

Thirty years ago...

An archaeological survey of the Patuxent River was conducted, and a number of Chesapeake Bay flotilla shipwreck sites, including what is thought to be the remains of Scorpion, were discovered. Limited excavation of the probable Scorpion site was performed in 1980, yielding a small number of well-preserved and unique naval artifacts. The array of objects recovered includes the Navy’s earliest surgical and dental instruments, military hardware, carpentry tools, galley articles, crew’s personal effects, and the ship itself. A few of these objects are now on display in the National Museum of the US Navy. A grog ration cup, gunner's pick, toothkey, surgical scissors, and apothecary crockery from the 1980 excavation are pictured below.

July 26, 2010

The search is on....

Last week, we began our survey work out on the Patuxent River. The first two days were spent removing an overhanging tree and conducting a remote sensing survey over the site. The magnetic images provided an approximate location of the shipwreck. Based on this data, we began to hydroprobe the survey area in an attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the wooden wreck. This survey method included taking a 20 ft long, one inch diameter copper pipe and sticking the long probe into the sediments until we encountered metal or wood. A continual jet stream of water helped the pipe penetrate the river bottom. It was quite easy to determine when you hit wood and when you encountered gravel and sand. You can feel the texture of the sediment as you push the “T” handle of the probe down. By Sunday, we found the shipwreck buried under 6 feet of sediment. Pictured below: Rick Ervin trimming brush (left) and JB and Alexis hydroprobing (right).

Today we are finishing up the hydroprobing and moving the barges into place so that we have a place to stage our excavation equipment and sediment. When we are not on the site, we have security guards stationed on the barges. Later this week, we will begin dredging out the sediment and overburden on the shipwreck using a three inch aluminum pipe that will pump out a slurry of sediment and water into a large container located on our barge. Once we are closer to the wreck, we will begin to screen the sediment for artifacts. Check back tomorrow on our progress!
Above photo: Barges and containers ready to be pulled out to the site.

The History

Under the leadership of Commodore Joshua Barney, the U.S. government and citizens of Maryland united to defend the Chesapeake Bay against British forces during the War of 1812. A flotilla was established for this cause, and on 24 May 1814, that force, led by Barney’s flagship Scorpion, sailed for the lower Chesapeake Bay. Over the course of several weeks, the flotilla engaged the British on many occasions and succeeded in delaying the British advance. Finally, on 21 August 1814, facing overwhelming odds, Barney strategically retreated and landed his men up river from Pig Point. Barney and his men then marched to defend Washington, leaving Scorpion and the rest of the flotilla to be scuttled by a detail of men to prevent British capture.