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.

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.