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.
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.
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.
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!