All posts by Chuck

George Fischer 1937-2016

It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of George Fischer on Sunday  May 29th, 2016.

George was my teacher and mentor, as he george and chuckwas for countless other archaeologists who took his classes at Florida State University between the 1970s and 1990s and into the early 2000s. George founded the underwater archaeology program in the U.S. National Park Service, which was first operated from the Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee before the formation of the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit (now the Submerged Resources Center). He was also a founding member of the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology, which currently exists as an international committee of the Society for Historical Archaeology. He began teaching underwater archaeology classes at Florida State University in 1974, and was named a Courtesy Assistant Professor in 1988 upon his retirement from the National Park Service. He taught underwater archaeology and scientific diving classes at FSU every year for almost 30 years. He was an inspiration for at least two generations of underwater archaeologists, who now comprise many leaders in the field working professionally in the private sector, as government archaeologists, in the museum community, and in academia. Many of us have the privilege, as George did, of shaping the next generation of maritime archaeologists.

The first underwater archaeology project George directed was a survey of Montezuma’s Well in October 1968. This was one of the earliest of such projects to be carried out in the U.S. George also served as the project coordinator for the excavation of the 1865 steamboat Bertrand in 1969, and was involved with the investigation of the 1554 Padre Island wrecks the following year.  He directed research projects in the Dry Tortugas, including surveys of National Park waters and investigations at Fort Jefferson and at the alleged site of the 1622 galleon Rosario shipwreck, between the 1960s and 1980s. On July 4, 1980, Fischer’s team discovered the remains of the British warship HMS Fowey, in the waters of Biscayne National Park. The subsequent investigation and identification of this shipwreck is considered by many of his students to be the highlight of George’s career; we certainly remember his “magic lantern” slideshows on the project. Its story is told in the book co-authored by George and his former student, Dr. Russ Skowronek, “HMS Fowey Lost and Found,” published in 2009. This is a great read for those who don’t yet have it on their bookshelf.

At the end of his career, many of george awardGeorge’s students were delighted to see him recognized for his contributions to the field. On March 21, 2007 my institution, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his “many contributions to the field of underwater archaeology, and to the education of this and future generations of underwater archaeologists.” George’s personal library is now part of the permanent collections at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, which is fitting given that George directed the first underwater archaeological research in St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest port. In 2008 a session of papers in honor of George–titled “The Wrecks We’ve Gone Down On”–were presented at the 41st annual SHA Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, located close to his earliest work on Montezuma’s Well. On January 8, 2010 George was presented with the Society of Historical Archaeology’s Award of Merit for “his many contributions to the development of underwater archaeology and for his exemplary service on the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology.”

As a colleague has written upon hearing the news of his death, George was a legend. His antics included fireworks in SHA hotel stairwells, sword cane incidents in university hallways, inappropriate photographs in government offices, and others that won’t be repeated here. He survived motorcycle and diving accidents and long-time but eventually abandoned bad habits of drinking and smoking. He could be a little rough around the edges for bright-eyed students of the 1990s at the introduction to college campuses of political correctness. He was never afraid to speak his mind even if it cost him political points, and he adorned his office wall with official bureaucratic reprimands like red-taped badges of courage. On the day of his death he told his wife that the thing he was most proud of was his students. We learned from him of archaeology and anthropology and life, and we loved him, and we will proudly carry on his legacy. We will sorely miss him.

Chuck Meide

Lighthouse Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS

Yesterday we staged a group Ice Bucket Challenge at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum to help raise funds and awareness for the fight against ALS, our Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Two of us have lost close family members to this cruel disease, including myself, so this was a special and meaningful moment for me and we dedicated it to my mom, Frances Meide Bell. I’m sure she would have appreciated watching me get doused with ice water!

Search for the French Fleet in the News!

The cover of FYI, a supplement to Jacksonville’s newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, announcing the search for the lost French Fleet!

We’ve recently had some more news stories out on our ongoing search for the lost French fleet of Jean Ribault. Shortly after our first week of survey we were interviewed by Jessica Clark of First Coast News. You can see the video here, its a really great newstory!

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Hoisting the French Flag during the Search for Ribault’s Fleet

Fort Caroline National Monument Ranger Craig Morris and LAMP archaeologist/Flinders graduate student Brian McNamara pose with the French fleur-de-lys flag. It flew over Fort Caroline National Monument and will soon fly over the Roper as we search for the lost French Fleet of 1565.

Guest blogged by LAMP archaeologist Brian McNamara:
My spur of the moment decision to stop by the Fort Caroline National Memorial for a research visit on the way home from the airport could not have been better timed. I walked in one hour after a press conference formally announced they are fairly confident that the real location of the fort has been identified in Jacksonville. I must have looked conspicuous taking a million reference photographs in my LAMP tee shirt (and being the only visitor on site the whole three hours I was there). Ranger Craig Morris and Lynda Corley walked over and we had a long conversation about the new discovery of the fort and LAMP’s ongoing search for Ribault’s lost ships off of Canaveral. How fortuitous would it be to discover the wreck of Trinité within a couple weeks of the finding of the settlement that started the whole story?

The National Park Service staff at Fort Caroline National Memorial are very excited to see what comes of the search, and have honored us by presenting LAMP with Fort Caroline’s flag, to be flown at Roper‘s masthead when we resume our work in the field.

Fort Caroline Discovered?

Fort Caroline was built by the French in 1564 on the banks of the River of May, the present-day St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida. Its exact location has never been found.

One of our archaeologists, Brian McNamara, visited Fort Caroline yesterday. He was one of the first to hear of a potential new discovery. State Representative Lake Ray and his son Lake Ray IV made the announcement yesterday that they believe they have identified the exact location of Fort Caroline, on the St. Johns River in the Timucuan Preserve, a National Park Service property that also includes the Fort Caroline National Monument.
From the Florida Times-Union:

The nearly 450-year-old site of North America’s first French colony is on a small island between Mayport and Buck Island, state Rep. Lake Ray said Tuesday…

Ray said he’s confident the Jacksonville site is the real location of Fort Caroline. He asked that the location of the site not be disclosed to protect it from looters. The site is being protected by the Coast Guard and National Park Service, he said.

Finding the original site of Fort Caroline has been a hundreds-year-old mystery that Northeast Florida historians have long since tried to solve.
The French established the fort in 1564. Spanish soldiers from St. Augustine later attacked it and ultimately the French abandoned it.

Ray’s son, Lake Ray IV, has searched for the site of Fort Caroline since 2010.

Ray IV, who has a bachelor’s in history from the University of North Florida, brought his father in on the search about two months ago, and they used copies of maps they inherited from the state representative’s father.

Within those maps, they said, they found an original drawing of Fort Caroline, penned by a young man who sent the map back home to his father. They used geological survey maps from the early 1900s and found a small island that matched the map, Rep. Ray said.
He said moats that were known to have bordered the site are clearly visible on the land, and there’s an imprint of a triangular structure that was part of the fort and rectangular courtyard.

“If you get out on the island, there’s no doubt,” said Ray IV.

University of North Florida associate professor of anthropology Robert “Buzz” Thunen said researchers will need to find French and Spanish artifacts before the site can be verified.

No excavations have begun yet, but they may start within three weeks after researchers get the proper permits, Thunen said.

Barbara Goodman, National Park Service superintendent for the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and the Fort Caroline National Memorial, said archeologists will start by digging 10 or 12 test holes. From there, researchers will determine whether there’s enough cause to continue excavations.

“Its a felony for anyone who isn’t authorized to go digging around on the property,” she said. “As soon as we have some information to share, we’ll share it. Until we know what we have, we need to keep the site protected.”

She said research will start as soon as certain details, such as funding for the dig, can be settled.

NPR and First Coast News also ran stories on the potential discovery.

They used aerial photographs to identify landforms that might correspond to the remains of the original fort and its moat. At this stage I would say their finds are preliminary in nature, and would need to be tested archaeologically before we could say with any confidence that they represent the actual site of the fort. They supposedly have artifacts from the site, which I have not seen (and which would be illegal to have removed from the site without a National Park Service permit), that when analyzed by archaeologists might also lend credit to their claim. Regardless, there is excitement in the air about Ribault, Fort Caroline, and the Lost French Fleet this year, the 450th anniversary of the French settlement!