Field Season is Right Around the Corner for Lighthouse Archaeologists

The R/V Roper, IMH’s 36’, steel-hulled, ex-shrimp trawler turned dive research vessel approaches the loading dock. She returns June 22 for another summer of research in St. Augustine.
The R/V Roper, IMH’s 36’, steel-hulled, ex-shrimp trawler turned dive research vessel approaches the loading dock. She returns June 22 for another summer of research in St. Augustine.

It’s that time of year again:  the higher humidity is returning to the air while temperatures rise both here on land and in the water offshore; in order to accommodate the busy summer season, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum will soon be returning to extended hours; and our research arm, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), is preparing to return to the field for another season of research in the waters of our nation’s oldest port.

We have a lot to look forward to this season: the Museum’s new research center will soon be complete which will have new conservation space, education space, and office space; twelve new students will be joining us for our annual field school in underwater archaeology, beginning June 26th; and the R/V Roper, the Institute of Maritime History’s (IMH) 36’ research vessel, is returning to serve as our main dive platform for the 2017 season.

The story we aim to focus on this season is that of the Anniversary Wreck, an as yet unidentified shipwreck located within a mile of St. Augustine’s shores. Discovered during 2015’s 450th Anniversary Shipwreck Survey, the site is proving to be an exciting project with a dense artifact scatter, the nature of which currently leads archaeologists to believe it may represent a merchant vessel, although the exact time period of the wreck and nationality of the vessel are still unknown.

Here a diver holds recently excavated stoneware sherds from the Anniversary Wreck. The sherds help narrow the time frame of the wreck to sometime between 1750 and 1820.
Here a diver holds recently excavated stoneware sherds from the Anniversary Wreck. The sherds help narrow the time frame of the wreck to sometime between 1750 and 1820.
The marine magnetometer (left) and sidescan sonar (right), that are employed during remote sensing survey.
The marine magnetometer (left) and sidescan sonar (right), which are employed during remote sensing survey.

This season will also include elements of remote sensing survey, where archaeologists employ a sidescan sonar (for acoustic imaging) and a marine magnetometer (for magnetic field detection). These instruments are used to identify potential new archaeological sites for further investigation, as well as to monitor those we have already studied, in order to observe how these sites change from year to year, and to look out for potential damage from things like storms, erosion, or looting.


We have a few weeks yet before the Roper and our new students arrive, so for the time being we are finishing up the last bits of yearly equipment maintenance and organization while making sure the final pieces of preseason preparation are in order. Soon, though, we will be back to 6 a.m. starts, and days filled with digging, recording, and hopefully, no small amount of discovery into the maritime landscape of our own ancient city. We can’t wait to share with you what we find.

An early morning sunrise from the loading dock on Salt Run.
An early morning sunrise from the loading dock on Salt Run.

Opening Soon! Legends of the Light Exhibit

Maria Andreu was keeper at the Old St. Augustine Lighthouse

Right now, the sounds of construction punctuate the Lighthouse grounds, as a new building takes shape. The Maritime Archaeology & Education Center (MAEC) will house offices, education space, a maritime archaeology center, and a new exhibit space. Behind the scenes, our Interpretation division is working with exhibit designers to create an engaging and informative exhibit detailing the history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and the people that lived and worked there.

Maria Andreu was keeper at the Old St. Augustine Lighthouse
Maria Andreu was keeper at the Old St. Augustine Lighthouse

The new exhibit is entitled Legends of the Light with plans to open summer 2017. It will tell the stories of the lighthouse keepers and their families who called the St. Augustine Lighthouse home. Visitors will learn about the first night William Russell lit the light at the top of the tower. They will see photographs of the Old Spanish Watchtower and get to examine a model of the tower as it looked before the ocean claimed it in 1880. The exhibit also highlights the stories of Maria Andreu and Kate Harn, two keepers’ wives who themselves served as keepers at the St. Augustine Light Station after the passing of their husbands. Continue reading

A New Way to Get Involved – The Beacon Society!

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is excited to announce The Beacon Society:  a new volunteer service group that will help promote the Museum’s non-profit mission through fundraising, advocacy, and volunteering. This group of philanthropic and service-minded individuals is replacing two of our previously active support groups called The Tower Club and The Guild. With a resurgence of interest to give back to the Lighthouse in a more donor-centric way, we have decided to revamp both of these groups and create The Beacon Society.

The Beacon Society primarily exists to support Lighthouse fundraising efforts and serve as an ambassador of the St. Augustine Lighthouse through service to the community. We are currently working on a few fundraisers including a special “Dark of the Moon” tour with light refreshments plus beer and wine as well as an educational bus trip to other lighthouses. The Society will continue to support existing events like our annual Luminary Night and Nightfest.

If you have always wanted to be involved at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum but don’t necessarily have the time during the day to volunteer, this may be for you! We will have an informational membership social on June 15th at 6:30 p.m. at OddBirds located at 33 Charlotte Street.

For questions or general information about joining, call Michelle Adams at (904) 829-0745.

Garden Volunteers

Junior Service League

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is excited to announce a new volunteer opportunity!  We are currently recruiting for new Volunteer Gardeners to help maintain the 6 acres that the Lighthouse and Museum sit upon.

We have been very lucky in the past to have had Corporate and Civil groups help us with large projects.  Many of these groups have helped us spread mulch, plant and weed our grounds.  It was during our last mulching project, that we were inspired by our volunteers to start a weekly gardening program.

Lindsey Wilson College (2) Flagler CollegeThe Lighthouse Garden Volunteers will be meeting on Monday and Wednesdays from 9am until about noon.    In the first informational meeting, Staff and Volunteers decided to start work on our herb garden.  We will then move to the front of the Visitor Center, and also work on the Keepers’ Garden.  We’ve got a lot of clean up to do!

herb garden keepers garden

If you are interested in becoming a Volunteer Gardener, please fill out an application here: or Contact Loni Wellman at

What’s in a Collection? Dog Tags

What’s in a Collection? Dog Tags

Personal identification tags or commonly referred to as dog tags are an object that most of us are familiar with maybe seeing them in movies or first hand from a family member.  They were issued as part of the military uniform, but continued to serve as personal keepsake for family members.  The tags primary function was to be used for the identification of fallen and wounded soldiers.  These tags varied through time in style, but always had personal information about the individual.  However, the history of military identification tags is quite old, and not unique to United States.  The Imperial Roman army utilized identification tags for legionaries.  In the Roman army, recruits would enter into service starting off in a training phase similar to what we would consider boot camp.  If a potential soldier passed all the physical and medical requirements, they were presented with an object called a signaculum.  The signaculum was a pendant-like object made out of lead and was to be worn around their neck.  The signaculum would have their name etched on it as well as other information like legion they belonged to and start date of service.  At the same time they were presented with this, they also were to swear a military oath of service.

In the United States, forms of military personal identification can be traced to the Civil War.  Soldiers started pinning tags inside coats with important information about themselves.  At the time, badge manufactures attempted to meet this need.  They would sell pins with the soldiers name and unit engraved on it, and even made proposals to the US government to provide uniform identification discs.  It was not until the early 20th century that the army recognized the importance and began to issue personal identification tags.  During World War I dual tags were issued for field combat with additional information that included a serial number, name and occasional medical alerts stamped on the tag.

In our collection we have a set of dog tags from the Pierson collection dating from World War II.  This set, as seen in the images, is more oval in shape and might not be what first comes to mind as military identification tag. During the latter part of WWII, these tags were made of brass or stainless steel.  Prior to this, a specialized metal (referred to as Monel) high in nickel content was used.  In first half of the 20th century some branches of the military only issued dog tags during times of war.  It was not until the latter half that they became standard issue.  During WWII the US Navy, as well as the US Coast Guard, made this a standard issue item.  They also made additions to the type of information recorded.  This identification tag would include the individual’s name, service number and branch of service.  As we look at this tag, Mr. Pierson was in the US Coast Guard Reserve (USGGR).  They also included pertinent medical information that could obviously be very important in a combat situation.  As seen in the image, the tag included blood type information and if the person had been vaccinated for tetanus (show by the “T”) as well as when they received that tetanus shot (in this case September 1942).  Since there was not a standard set for all branches of the armed service during the war; the tags and information would vary, for instance, the USN would also include a fingerprint that was etched on the reverse side of each tag.  Etching the fingerprint was an interesting process involving ink, fine mineral powder, heating the tag, and a final stage that included a bath in acids and water.  Putting fingerprints on tags was discontinued during the war, one can image this extensive process could have been part of the reason.







A set of USCGR issued dog tags that belonged to Donald Pierson


Reverse side of the USCGR dog tags

Another interesting aspect with some identification tags was their use with field paperwork.  During World War II the US Army issued more rectangular shaped tags that featured a notch at one end.  These dog tags were unitized in the field with a device referred to as an Addressograph Model 70.  This addressograph was a hand held device that imprinted information from the dog tag onto documents.  The device had a rubber pad and a ribbon so that the imprinted information from the tag could be transferred to paperwork.  Think of it like a label maker meets the early carbon copy credit card devices.  The notch on the tag ensured properly alignment when used with the addressograph.  The idea was that the tag could be used for paperwork reducing the potential for error.  These types of addressographs were primarily used by the medical departments.  The success of these devices was relatively short-lived and limited as field conditions (particularly dirt) caused problems with their usage.

An example of a WWII Army issued dog tag with notch

By the late 1950s, the US military made consistent identification tags a standard issue for all armed services.  Though these objects are small they very fascinating for some, their durable construction and other attributes lead to the eventually transformation into a fashion accessory for civilians.  These historical artifacts served an important function for the military operations and service, however, they continued to function as symbols of the fallen, and remembrance of the past.

Jason Titcomb is the Chief Curator for the St Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.  He holds a graduate degree in anthropology from Iowa State University.