Today, the Naval History and Heritage’s Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) began mobilization for Phase II of the USS Scorpion Project. This collaborative project brings together the UAB, the Maryland Historic Trust (MHT), and the Maryland State Highways Administration (MSHA) for the purposes of archaeologically investigating the remains of the War of 1812 block sloop Scorpion. Under the direction of Drs. Robert Neyland (UAB), Susan Langley (MHT), and Julie Schablitsky (MSHA), field work was initiated in the summer of 2010, which included a remote sensing survey and hydro-probe testing to locate the shipwreck, followed by limited test excavation to expose portions of the ship itself. The team returns to the upper Patuxent River to expand on the work completed the previous year and continue exploring this important piece of US maritime history.
The first step of mobilization included assembling and transporting the operations platform up the river to the project area. Given that site has no direct land access, a floating work station adjacent to the wreck is necessary to allow researchers a place to coordinate and execute diving operations; research personnel will be transported to and from the site each day by boat. The floating platform will also serve as an in-field conservation lab in the event small artifacts are recovered during excavations. The research team was aided in this endeavor by the U.S. Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV), who assembled the barges together and lifted them into the water. Once floating and docked, SUPSALV outfitted the platform with supplies needed for the excavation.
Thursday- 7 July 2011
Day two of mobilization began with transporting the operations platform to the wreck site. With the help of a large tow boat, courtesy of SUPSALV, and the assistance of U.S. Navy Divers, the crew pushed the immense structure upriver to the wreck site. Upon reaching the site, which took approximately two hours, SUPSALV secured the barges to the riverbed using barbed metal poles, or “spuds”, and large Danforth anchors.
Over a meter’s worth of alluvial overburden and debris cover the Scorpion wreck site. This layer of organic material must be properly removed in order to access the historical layers of deposition deep within the river. Instead of exhausting the dredged material straight downriver, which could have a potentially significant environmental impact, it will be pumped into a sediment curtain placed just downstream of the site. A sediment curtain is an in-water containment unit that consists of flotation devices that sit on top of the water with long curtains on each of its sides extending down to the riverbed. Navy Divers assembled the curtain and moved it to its desired location downstream of the wreck site with the help of their dive vessel. Once in place, the divers secured the curtain to the riverbed using a combination of heavy anchors and rods, and made sure all points were thoroughly fixed to the bottom.
Friday- 8 July 2011
Today had a very lively start as the USS Scorpion Project’s principal investigators were interviewed by a film crew from PBS Maryland. Drs. Robert Neyland (UAB), Susan Langley (MHT), and Julie Schblitsky (MSHA) answered questions for a forthcoming documentary highlighting the archaeological investigations of the shipwreck. The project heads were asked a variety of question relating to the identity of the wreck, the proposed method of excavation, and future plans for the site.
While filming took place, the Navy Divers assembled large square aluminum shoring boxes near the dock at Wayson’s Corner. These boxes are meant to protect divers from the constantly shifting river bottom and prevent excavation units from refilling with sediment once dredging operations begin. Before the shoring boxes can be placed, a footprint must be cleared in the overburden layer so that the box has a solid foundation to sit on. From there, divers will slowly investigate the contents contained within the box as they excavate deeper and deeper into riverbed toward the wreck.
Saturday- 9 July 2011
Archaeologists determined primary objectves for the day included laying a site baseline and removing overburden. The baseline, which runs longitudinally over the centerline of the shipwreck and is graduated in imperial units, serves as a reference point for researchers throughout the course of excavations. The ends of the baseline will be marked with GPS and geo-referenced into the surrounding environment, so that the crew knows exactly where they are in the river. The team chose the location of the baseline after reviewing extensive remote sensing and hyrdo-probe data collected in the weeks preceding the project.
While the baseline was being set, the Navy Divers investigated a magnetic anomaly to the northeast of the wreck that appeared on the remote sensing survey. Using a hand-held magnetometer and a probe, divers encountered a hard contact several feet beneath the river bottom. Tentatively identified as either metal or stone, this unknown target may prove to be part of the flagship Scorpion.
With excavation planned for next week, the upcoming days are sure to be busy and exciting… stay tuned!