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.

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.