Jul 21

USS SCORPION Project 2011 Day by Day: Week Two

Thursday, July 21, 2011 3:20 PM
 

A UAB archaeologist enters the water in a specialized suit designed to keep him dry while diving.

Monday, 11 July -

Today was a very exciting day for the project as archaeologists from UAB, MHT and MSHA began active excavation of the wreck believed to be War of 1812 block sloop Scorpion, captained by the US Navy hero Joshua Barney. While the river bottom in this stretch of the Patuxent is only between 6-8 feet deep, the strong current makes excavation quite difficult for the divers. To help combat this, and to conduct a systematic excavation, the team moved the aluminum shoring boxes assembled last week by US Navy divers into place on specific points of the wreck. Once placed, the divers swim inside these boxes and use a suction system or “dredge” to carefully remove debris over the wreck until they reach the deck of the vessel. Before archaeologists can analyze the wreck, they must dredge an additional 6-8 feet of organic debris or “overburden” from on top of the wreck.

 
A UAB diver holds the stadia rod in place for the MSHA surveyor on shore.

 

Tuesday, 12 July -

Today, a very important part of the project took place. A representative from Maryland State Highway Administration came on site to help us survey specific points on the wreck. While the surveyer positioned himself on shore with a device called a total station, a diver on the wreck site swam a long pole or “stadia rod” equipped with a prism at one end to specific points on the wreck. The diver holds the stadia rod in place while the total station emits a lazer which bounces off the prism and sends back readings in three dimensions. By analyzing this data collected from strategic points along the wreck, the surveyer can accurately geoposition the wreck in the real world. This data is extremely important because in 2012 for the bi-centennial commemoration of the War of 1812, we are planning to build a coffer dam around the wreck site. We must know precisely where the extremeties of the wreck lie so the coffer dam does not damage any part of the wreck.  

 
Artifact Recovered from USS SCORPION

 

Friday, 15 July -

Today, archaeologists at the north end of the site recovered an interesting artifact! A slightly curved piece of wood, notched at either end and measuring approximately 23 inches long, 4 inches wide and 1 inch thick, was tentatively identified as a barrel stave (i.e. the vertical wooden slats that make up a barrel). Barrels and casks of this type were used commonly during this period to transport both dry and liquid goods. The convex side of the stave (i.e. what would have been the interior side of the barrel) is darker than the outside, which could suggest, among other things, that the barrel was sealed with a material to help prevent its contents from leaking. The artifact was brought back to the Underwater Archaeology and Conservation Laboratory at the Washington Navy Yard for treatment. What role this particular piece played onboard the naval vessel is not yet clear, but hopefully further analysis will be able to reveal its former contents.

 

Modern material recovered from the wreck site helps archaeologists understand the depositional history of the wreck site.

 

Saturday, 16 July -

Another busy day on site as archaeologists continued to actively dredge the overburden on top of the wreck. As sediment and overburden is cleared from the site, we have encountered quite a bit of contemporary cultural material (i.e. modern trash). Some of the items discovered thus far include several beer cans, a fluorescent light bulb, coffee can, golf ball, and a clay pigeon. While these items are not associated with the shipwreck, they are useful tools archaeologists use to see how the riverbed has changed over time. For example, the particular design on the coffee can likely dates from the late 1960s – early 1970s; since the can was found several feet beneath the current river floor, this means that at the time the can was tossed into the Patuxent, the river floor was likely much deeper than it is today and possibly certain parts of the wreck may have been exposed.
 
 
 
 
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