Archive for the 'Artifacts' Category

May 24

NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch and MDSU2 Survey SB2C Helldiver Wreck

Thursday, May 24, 2012 4:34 PM

The Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) is currently cooperating with the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) and U.S. Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit TWO (MDSU-2) to investigate a WWII-era SB2C Helldiver aircraft wreck off the coast of Jupiter, FL. The objectives of the investigation are to identify the aircraft using its numbered identification plates, measure and map the wreck site, and document the aircraft.

Investigation operations are being conducted from USNS Apache (T-ATF 172), one of MSC’s four Fleet Ocean Tugs and one of the 14 ships in its Surface Support Program. USNS Apache’s main mission is to render assistance to the US Navy’s numbered fleets by providing towing, diving platform and other services. UAB is also pleased to have the opportunity to once again work with MDSU-2. Their expertise and support were much appreciated aboard USNS Grasp, during the 2011 collaborative survey expedition to locate the wreck of USS Bonhomme Richard in the North Sea. (Photo to the left courtesy of Military Sealift Command Ship Database)

In addition to assisting UAB with its archaeological investigation, this project also provides MDSU-2 divers the opportunity to gain valuable training experience by performing deep water, mixed-gas dives up to 185 ft (56.4 m); collecting measurements of underwater sites; and conducting underwater navigation exercises. Over the previous four days, MDSU-2 divers have assisted with measuring the wreck site, documenting the aircraft, and mapping its disarticulated pieces. All divers are equipped with live video feed in their helmets, which allows MDSU-2 dive supervisor and UAB representative underwater archaeologist Heather Brown to observe underwater operations from aboard Apache in real time.

The wreck was first discovered and filmed by a local dive charter operator late last year, who then contacted NHHC about the find in early 2012. Video footage of the wreck (photo on the right is a still taken from video by Randy Jordan) shows that it is relatively intact and currently rests in an inverted position on the sandy ocean floor. The vertical stabilizer, ailerons, flaps, and elevators initially appeared to be missing, however portions or fragments of those elements have since been located on the site. The propellers and engine have been separated from the fuselage and lie several meters away from of the main body of the wreck. There are a number of ropes wrapped around the propellers and what appears to be a lobster trap lying beside the engine, suggesting the wreck may have been previously snagged by a fishing boat. (Sonar image of the SB2C site shown at the right)

As the wreck is resting in an inverted position on the sandy bottom, the cockpit and the aircraft bureau number were not readily accessible to the divers. However, they were able to locate a model number plate, heavily covered in marine growth and currently illegible, and carefully remove it. The plate is being sent to the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab at NHHC headquarters on the Washington Navy Yard, DC, where it will be treated and examined by UAB’s conservation team and hopefully provide data to help identify the aircraft.

(The heavily corroded data plate)

Stay tuned for more updates as the project progresses!

Click the below link to watch Local News Channel 5 WPTV.com interview with NHHC underwater archaeologist Heather Brown:

 
Oct 17

Innovative Scientific Analysis Tool at Underwater Archaeology Conservation Lab

Monday, October 17, 2011 1:54 PM

Dr. Raymond Hayes (left) and Head Conservator George Schwarz examine p-XRF data taken from a Civil War-era Aston pistol recovered from USS HOUSATONIC at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

NHHC volunteer, Dr. Raymond Hayes, Professor Emeritus at Howard University, Washington DC, and Woods Hole Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, has partnered with the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory (UACL) to analyze archaeological materials from historic naval shipwrecks.

Dr. Hayes has been awarded a Research & Discovery Grant from Olympus INNOV-X to examine archaeological components from shipwrecks using an innovative Delta portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) unit. This state-of-the-art technology uses an x-ray beam to identify the specific elements present within archaeological material. Dr. Hayes’ research endeavors to use this data to trace the elemental composition of a wood sample back to original construction materials, marine sediments, and sealing or fastening materials applied to wooden ships. Included in the study are data from USS Housatonic, USS Tulip, and CSS Alabama, as well as recently recovered artifacts from the 2011 USS Scorpion field project, the archaeological investigation of a Patuxent River shipwreck believed to be the flagship of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, which fought to defend Washington D.C. from the British during the War of 1812. As part of the Navy’s commemoration of the Flotilla’s important role in the War of 1812, a full excavation of the USS Scorpion site is anticipated.

Scientific technologies like pXRF provide archaeologists and conservators valuable chemical information that can be used to better conserve and interpret submerged cultural heritage. An innovative feature of pXRF devices is that they can be used in both the laboratory and the field to analyze artifacts recovered from wet environments. Artifacts from underwater sites can be difficult to initially identify as they may be encased within thick concretions or obscured by unidentifiable corrosion products, however, pXRF data can give archaeologists data which can signal the presence of an artifact. 

Detail of portable X-Ray Fluorescence machine collecting data from Civil War-era pistol.

Following recovery from underwater archaeological sites, artifacts are particularly susceptible to damage caused by soluble salts (e.g., chlorides) accumulated from the water or sediment that surrounded them for decades or even centuries. If allowed to crystallize, the salts expand and cause catastrophic damage which may result in complete destruction of the artifact. Data from pXRF can determine the concentration of chlorine within an artifact to help conservators understand the degree of salt contamination and mitigate it properly. During conservation, pXRF can help conservators develop the most optimal treatment plan for artifacts and reveal the presence of toxic components, such as lead, cadmium or arsenic. Comparative data may also reveal similarities or differences in artifact composition that could suggest age and geographic origins.

This is only one part of the extensive research that goes on at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab, where over 2300 artifacts recovered from US Navy shipwrecks and aircraft wrecks are curated, 140 of which are currently undergoing active conservation treatment. The Laboratory, located in BL 46 of WNYD, also hosts public tours showcasing important artifacts that span from the American Revolution to World War II and make the Navy’s history come alive! Please feel free to contact us anytime (202.433.9731) if you’d like to visit!

 For more information about the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch and the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory, please visit http://www.history.navy.mil/underwater.

 
Jul 28

USS SCORPION Project 2011 Day by Day: Week Three

Thursday, July 28, 2011 11:05 AM
 
 

Dr. Robert Neyland, UAB, records measurements and observations from his dive.

 Monday, 18 July 2011-

Today, we were back in the Patuxent trenches continuing our efforts to delineate the boundaries of the suspected USS Scorpion wreck. So far, the team has been successful in uncovering ship timbers in test units placed on the upstream and downstream extremities of the site. These test units allow archaeologists to assess the vessel’s degree of preservation, articulation, and orientation within the river. One of the vessel’s features that we are still trying to determine is which end of the wreck is the bow and which end is the stern. Since Scorpion and the rest of the Chesapeake Flotilla were possibly burned when scuttled in 1814 to prevent British capture, this may have severely damaged the ends of the structure making it difficult to delineate bow from stern. More excavation and analysis is needed before a positive identification can be made.

 Tuesday, 19 July, 2011-

An exciting discovery! Archaeologists working at the north end of the wreck site have determined that it is likely the bow of the ship. One main reason for this hypothesis is the discovery of a “breasthook,” a thick, curved piece of wood that is typically placed across the stem (the very foremost part of a ship) to strengthen it and unite the bows on each side. So far, all of the planking and architectural structure of the ship uncovered by the divers appear to be very strong and solid; after nearly 200 years sealed beneath the thick sediment of the Patuxent, the majority of the vessel appears to be quite sound and very well-preserved.

Immediately following each dive, the team records notes, measurements and observations while underwater. They also produce a detailed sketch of the submerged wreck site based upon the new areas exposed during the dredging. Updated sketches are a necessity to the project as more and more of the wreck is uncovered. The UAB team is currently working to further expose and analyze the southern end of the wreck which, after the discovery this morning, is most likely the stern of the vessel.

 

Iron strop with wood fragment (presumably part of a deadeye) recovered from the wreck site. Image courtesy of MSHA.

Friday, 22 July, 2011-

A very interesting artifact was recovered today! Archaeologists working near the north end of the wreck (now believed to be the bow) recovered a double-looped iron “strop” which typicaly holds a circular wooden piece called a “deadeye,” an essential part of the rigging of a sailing vessel. The deadeye was so called by sailors because of the way it’s three holes resemble the eyes and nose of a skull. The strop was transported back to the NHHC Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab and, after further analysis, appears to contain a small wood fragment of the deadeye it once held.

Despite the extreme heat, the team managed to conduct several dives and continue to delineate the extent of the vessel. In the afternoon, underwater visibility improved enough for Dr. Neyland to take down the underwater video camera and film near the southern end of the wreck.

 
 

Anthracite, a high-luster, clean-burning coal commonly used aboard ships. This piece was recovered from the Scorpion project wreck site.

Saturday, 23 July, 2011-

Another interesting artifact was recovered today: a piece of anthracite. Anthracite is a very hard, compact variety of coal that is very lustrous. Although difficult to ignite, anthracite was the preferred coal for use aboard ships as it burned cleanly and produced little smoke. With their considerable expertise, archaeologists are able to sift through several meters of sediment and distinguish very small, seemingly insignificant artifacts like this as potentially important parts of the wreck site. The team continued to excavate key points on the wreck site and sketch the architecture of the ship as more and more of the vessel is revealed. Stay tuned for updates next week!

 
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.
 
Jun 24

Old Ironsides is Spared

Friday, June 24, 2011 1:00 AM

June, 24th 1833
USS Constitution enters dry dock at Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston MA for overhaul. The Ship was saved from scrapping after public support rallied to save the ship following publication of Oliver Wendall Homes poem, “Old Ironsides.”

During restoration

Restored

Present Day

Below is an article about the restoration from Proceedings June, 1941 and Homes poem.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Nov 29

UAB Loans MAC Lab a piece of Civil War History

Monday, November 29, 2010 5:05 PM

Loading the 3-ton cannon onto a trailer for transport. UAB photograph.

This morning, UAB welcomed members of the Maryland Archaeology Conservation (MAC) Laboratory team for the transport of a Civil War iron cannon. The 3-ton cannon was made in Liverpool, U.K. in 1862 and served aboard Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama until she was sunk in 1864 by USS Kearsarge. The cannon was recovered from the shipwreck in 2002 and conserved at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL). It will be displayed under a UAB Loan Agreement in the MAC Lab facility at Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum in St. Leonard, MD until 2015, with the possibility of renewing the loan at that time. UAB is very pleased to have the cannon available for public appreciation and thanks colleagues at MAC Lab for making this successful partnership possible.

The cannon ready for transporation to MAC Lab.

 
Nov 3

DNU on the Search for Bonhomme Richard

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 9:22 AM

Image courtesy of http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/lhd6/Pages/history.aspx


NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch Head, Dr. Robert Neyland, spoke with DMA sailors about the search for Revolutionary War vessel Bonhomme Richard. The interview was featured in a Daily News Update flash and can be viewed using the following link: DMA BHR AHU
 
Oct 15

Cool Ship Plaque: USS Alameda County (AVB-1)

Friday, October 15, 2010 7:30 AM

 
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