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 29, 2011

Delineating the Wreck and National Park Service Visitors

Yesterday was a busy day on the barge. Although our focus has been the wreck, we also had to ensure that an adjacent magnetic anomaly was not associated with the site. Heading back to the approximate location of the signal, a diver used a handheld magnetometer to find the anomaly and began to dredge. Could it be an anchor? a canon?  Several feet later, we found a buried metal conduit of no historical value whatsoever.
Wes Hall holds a magnetometer used to pinpoint magnetic anomalies.
After solving the mystery of the unknown metal anomaly, we turned our attention back to the War of 1812 vessel. Using the bow as a starting point, archaeologists used a probe to find the starboard and port sides of the ship. White PVC pipes were placed at these points. After all of the white pipes were in, the shape of the ship popped right out of the water; this is an important visual aid for both the archaeologists and our VIP visitors.

This video shows the outline of the wreck with white plastic pipes.

Speaking of visitors, Suzanne Copping, National Park Service (NPS), Program Manager for the Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, and Cindy Chance, NPS communications specialist, took a boat tour around the site and hopped on the barge to talk to the divers. The NPS is a significant partner in this endeavor.  New information gleaned from these excavations will be used in their War of 1812 literature, signage, and other media.
Vince, Dr. Langley, and Suzanne Copping from the NPS pose for a photo.
During the dredging activities, we often recover architectural artifacts associated with the wreck. The one artifact that gave us pause, was a very light, but black piece that looked like wood. The lightness and color of the material suggests it may be tar. Tar has been produced here (primarily from the pine stands of Virginia and North Carolina) since the colonial-period. Since it was used for patching and waterproofing, this sticky substance was aboard every wooden sailing vessel in the world. Tar could be applied to all parts of the ship, including the rigging and canons. The piece here retains the wood grain on one side and a smoother dimpled texture on the other. It appears as if the tar solidified in a wooden barrel or box.
Smooth dimpled side.

Wood grain texture captured in tar.

Today will be a busy day on the barge with the arrival of Nick Caloyianis.  Nick is a world renowned underwater videographer who will be diving on the wreck capturing footage for the Maryland Public Television documentary, Search for the USS Scorpion. He regularly films footage for shark documentaries, but today the only thing he needs to worry about is a random river leach.

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