Category Archives: Field School

Summer 2018: One Month, Two Wrecks, and so much Discovery!

Large concretion being hoisted overboard to be returned to Storm Wreck.

After two long months in the field, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program finished their field season at the end of August. And it led to many new discoveries!

Following a month of field school, with five students and four supervisors from around the country, that worked on both an offshore wreck and a river wreck, we jumped between two sites returning and recovering artifacts at the different sites.

Up close of creamware plate sherd attached to small concretion recovered from Anniversary Wreck this summer.

First, the return to Storm Wreck! It has been three years since active excavations have occurred on Storm Wreck, our 1782 Loyalist vessel. During those three years, the Lighthouse conservators and archaeologists have been prioritizing artifacts for cleaning and for return to the site. Returning artifacts to the site protection! We can’t conserve everything that we bring up, nor do we necessarily want to. Who really wants to see an exhibit filled with ONLY nails!

So this year we returned! Over two weeks, we returned five large concretions to the site. Many were filled with artifacts we already have in other open or conserved concretions or are simple the unexciting finds.

The remainder of the month we continued to excavate the Anniversary Wreck site. After weeks of feeling like we were on repeat digging the same sand from the same level over and over again (like being stuck in a revolving door or having our own Groundhog Day), we finally reached artifacts right at the end, with only four days to spare. The hole took as about four feet under the normal level of the sand! Three of the units were mapped and are being added to the site plan as we speak. Thirteen individual concretions were recovered from the site as well as BUCKETS of dredge spoil! All of which are currently being analyzed by conservators and archaeologist with the help of our amazing volunteers. The Anniversary Wreck concretions from this year, as well as the two previous years, have all be x-rayed to show their true colors.

Archaeologist Brendan Burke recovering a pewter plate from Anniversary Wreck this summer.

So far, we have discovered quite a few interesting objects amongst the all the concretions recovered from the Anniversary Wreck site. Many are filled with an exciting mixture of nails, lead shot, and brass tacks—the nuts and bolts of trade items of the 18th century. The more intricate ones show full padlocks and clothing irons. Stuck to the outside of some of these concretions are ceramics, including a piece of a creamware plate—one of the more datable items from our site. We are finally getting to the artifacts that are providing clues to solve the mystery of the Anniversary Wreck! Stay tuned for further discoveries as they come up this winter!

Archaeologists and conservators examining a large concretion with tile recovered from Anniversary Wreck this summer.

Archaeologists + Dating = Success Through Collaboration

The past three months have been very busy for our Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) archaeologists. They have been analyzing artifacts discovered on the Museum property during last summer’s construction of the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center, as well as sites through St. Johns and Flagler Counties uncovered during the storms.

Our analysis started by contacting Dr. Lee Newsom, a Professor of Anthropology at Flagler College. Dr. Newsom is an expert in examining preserved plant remains from archaeological and paleontological sites as well as examining faunal remains, or bones! We were looking to determine the types of animals found in the trash pits uncovered during construction of the new Center. Once the bones were handed over, Dr. Newsom and her students at Flagler College went to work on identifying the types of animals in these pits. They came back with incredible data.

Dr. Lee Newsom directs Flagler College students on bone identification.

There are three areas we uncovered and examined: an 1880s trash pit to the north of the northern-most outdoor brick kitchen, a trash pit dating to the 1900s, and a 1930s pit near the Tin Pickle. Many of the bones in all three areas were identified as cow bones – meaning the keepers here had access to various cuts of beef on the island. Other bones included deer, turtle, snapper and turkey. All of these animals could have been caught on or around the Light Station. This knowledge brings to light the foodways of the Lightkeepers.

We also tasked Dr. Newsom and her students with dating our wood samples taken from the November canoe discovery. This canoe had shifted around during the high tides following Hurricane Irma and became quickly exposed as the high tides and storm surge subsided. To further understand the canoe, wood samples were taken by a joint team of Museum Archaeologists  and the Florida Public Archaeology Network of Northeast Florida. Tests of these samples would yield dates and a wood species. Speciation is determined by looking at the wood at a cellular level and identifying grain patterns within the wood. From their microscopic data based on one of two wood samples taken from the canoe, Dr. Newsom and her students determined the canoe to be made of cypress. Dating wood is a slow process, and only requires a tiny sliver of wood to complete. The second of the two wood samples was sent to the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies. The wood is dated using radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating looks at the amount of Carbon 14 remaining in a decaying piece of floral or faunal remains. As life stops exchanging Carbon 14 with the environment upon death and Carbon 14 decays at a constant rate, the older the piece being sampled, the less Carbon 14 will be present in the wood.

Wood sample taken from canoe for dating and speciation.

The analysis determined that the canoe is 830 years old ± 30 years, from 1950. From today’s date, that translates to a dating of 1000 CE. This is well before the Spanish ever laid foot in Florida. While this does not make our canoe one of the oldest in the state, it is believed to be one of the oldest in Northeast Florida.

LAMP and FPAN archaeologists examine the dugout canoe.

Now that the hardest date to obtain – that of the canoe- was determined, the LAMP team moved on to finding dates for our artifacts! The artifacts discovered on site (pottery, children’s toys, housewares) provided us with dates through historical research based on shape and maker’s marks present on individual objects.

Further research can be done into both the Light Station and the canoe to provide a fuller history of the northeast region of Florida. We appreciate the willingness of Dr. Lee Newsom and her students as well as the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at UGA to aid us in discovering new areas to be explored regarding this wider maritime history.

Contributed by Archaeologist Allyson Ropp, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

A Quick Retelling of the Cuban Archaeologists’ Visit

From second left to right: Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado; Marcos Antonio Acosta Mauri; and Yoser Martínez Hernández of the Gabinete de Arqueología of Havana, Cuba at their rowing stations in the chalupa, “San Agustín”.

By Dr. Sam Turner

Between August 25th and September 14th the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum hosted an archaeological cultural exchange which consisted of a visit by three Cuban archaeologists, Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado, Yoser Martínez Hernández, and Marcos Antonio Acosta Mauri, from the Gabinete de Arqueología, or Archaeology Cabinet, based in Havana, Cuba. This cultural exchange was possible through collaborations with the St. Augustine Archaeological Association which sponsored their travel and the Friendship Association which provided financial and logistical support. The purpose of the archaeologists’ visit was to participate in both underwater archaeological fieldwork with the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and in terrestrial archaeological projects with the City of St. Augustine archaeologist as well as to exchange ideas and methodology from within the international field. Additionally, the guest archaeologists assisted with the analysis of the ceramic material found on the Anniversary Wreck, which is the current focus of LAMP’s field work.

This particular cultural exchange program works to establish and deepen contacts between archaeologists and historians in both St. Augustine and Havana, Cuba in hopes of restoring cultural and scholarly ties between these two cities following a thawing in international relations. This is considered especially important given that these two cities’ histories have been closely intertwined for much of the last 450 years.

The Cuban archaeologists were able to explore the Anniversary Wreck with Museum archaeologists as well as use a new airlift – an underwater excavation tool – which LAMP has been experimenting with this field season. During their visit, they also visited many historically-significant sites in order to get a comprehensive overview of the history of our city. After visiting Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos they became particularly interested in the bronze Spanish artillery captured during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Spanish-American War (1898). Other visits included: the Alligator Farm; the Spanish Military Hospital; St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine; Tolomato Cemetery; and the Father Felix Varela Shrine.

Director of the Gabinete de Arqueología, Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado, was the featured speaker for the St. Augustine Archaeological Association’s monthly speaker series delivered at Flagler College on September 5th. His talk, entitled, The Frigate Navigator and its British Shipment: History and Archaeology, focused on a shipwreck east of the city of Havana which they have recently investigated and identified. The talk was well attended by approximately 75 people.

Our Cuban colleagues were especially pleased to meet and spend time with St. Augustine resident Dr. Kathy Deagan, one of the world’s foremost experts on Spanish colonial archaeology who took them on a guided tour of the first colony exhibit in Government house and discussed her work on numerous Spanish colonial archaeological sites in St. Augustine and abroad. They also had the pleasure and honor of helping crew St. Augustine’s tall ship, the San Agustín, an authentic and faithful replica of a Spanish watercraft known as a chalupa. This watercraft was built as a legacy project of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine as a partnership between the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, The St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation, and the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. This replica vessel is used every year to reenact the landing of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on Founders Day. Our Cuban colleagues were able to take part in the full landing rehearsal and were to have participated in the landing day festivities set to take place on the September 9th but those plans changed when an unwelcome visitor named Irma came to town.

While here, our colleagues pitched in with the rest of the Lighthouse staff to prepare the entire Lighthouse site for the hurricane which was a two-day process that included striking all the tent tops in our Heritage Boatworks area and boarding up windows. They weathered the storm at Lighthouse Field House where field students and visiting scholars are housed during their stay in St. Augustine. Following the storm, they helped reopen the site for business. Towards the end of their visit, we conducted a study and examination of the ceramic assemblage that was excavated from the Anniversary Wreck and currently under archaeological investigation by LAMP. This included a visit to the city archaeology lab where they met with outgoing city archaeologist, Carl Halbirt, as well as his recently-arrived-replacement, Andrea White. Carl shared a great deal of information including some of his most interesting finds here in St. Augustine, especially the recent excavations of the Spanish cemetery associated with the church of Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios on Charlotte Street.

Unfortunately, as another result of the storm, no archaeological work with the City Archaeologist was possible during this visit. Hopefully next time! We were honored to have international colleagues come to share with us. Our thanks to them and to all who helped host!

Digging Deeper

The St. Augustine Lighthouse Maritime Archaeological Program field season with students is coming to a close. As they prepare to leave our site, our town and their newly-forged friends, they have written a few parting words about the experience we call field school.  This week’s blog entry will read more like diary entries, with some full entries and some snippets, all of which together will hopefully provide insight into the student perspective.  At the end of the entries, there is a bit of information on the program and its mission. For any students out there, we always encourage you to do your research when it comes to internships, post-graduate programs, experientials and other resume builders.  Digging a little deeper to find something that meets your needs and your career plan usually produces rewarding results.

Group photo of field school students at the close of the 2017 season.

Mesfer Alqahtani
The LAMP program helped me to learn and practice the basic and essential skills for underwater excavation. Some of the skills I learned: doing the circle research to find a site; laying basic lines; diving with poor visibility; using a compass; laying unit frames; setting up the dredge hoses; taking the elevations for units and digging. This program is helpful for anyone interested in the underwater archaeology discipline.

Taylor Brown
26 days. 12 students. 2 boats. 1 shipwreck and an aspiring underwater archaeologist. That is an equation for an unforgettable summer. What started as a Google search for “underwater archaeology field school” ended with me arriving in Jacksonville airport, suitcase and dive gear in tow, ready for an adventure. Though I had lots of experience with boats, diving, and archaeology, I had yet to combine them until arriving at LAMP. We spent the first week getting ourselves used to the LAMP routine and familiarizing ourselves with archaeological diving techniques under the talented tutelage of supervisors and LAMP archaeologists. With the knowledge that a blackout underwater obstacle course awaited us at the end of the week, we worked hard and got used to diving in St. Augustine conditions. The course was challenging, but one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. While being entangled in bungee cords, loose line, and anything else they could think to toss in the water, we were told to follow a line through a maze. Having graduated LAMP’s infamous blackout course, we were deemed ready to dive on site!
Our first day on Roper saw us buzzing with excitement as we pushed off the dock, our bow pointed to Anniversary Wreck. Though a majority of the lines and grids left from last season were buried in sand, enough was exposed to let us know we’d hit our mark. Diving in teams, students were given tours of the site, our hands never leaving the travel lines so as not to get lost in the silt. I remember barely being able to see the bright yellow face of my watch with my arm fully outstretched.
But repetitive dives on the site and increasingly improving visibility have allowed me to familiarize myself with the layout and I now feel confident moving through the silt-filled water.
By week two, we were employing the hand-fanning technique, re-exposing last year’s grids. On one dive I was lucky enough to be partnered with Dr. Burke, and we took out enough overburden in one of the grids to expose the wreck – and I officially became the first student to touch concretion! With about six inches of visibility, shivering from a dive that had just reached its sixty minute mark, I reached down into the grid and ran my fingers across the curved lip of what might’ve been a cauldron. Heart racing with excitement, we surfaced, and I didn’t stop grinning until my head touched the pillow that night.
I originally fell in love with archaeology for the hands-on aspect – the ability to touch and feel and bare witness to history. I can hold in my hands the very objects that other humans made and held and loved hundreds of years before I was born. And it’s that aspect that continually calls me back. “We study them because they are us,” Dr. James Delgado said to conclude his fascinating lecture on the underwater archaeology of Bikini Atoll. These words expose the true meaning of archaeology to me – it’s a study of people in all their idiosyncratic beauty. And LAMP has given me the priceless opportunity to engage in this discovery surrounded by people who love it just as much as I do.

Stephen Lacey
For me, this has been a unique experience where I have been exposed to different archaeological methods and the steps in conducting archaeological projects in a maritime environment…In decades to come, such insight will prove to be just as important towards reaching our research goals as the actual work itself.

Fran Mahon
LAMP Field School has been a great experience for me as a newly certified SCUBA diver and as a student of Archaeology/Anthropology. I received my PADI Open Water certification in November of 2016 and was only able to participate in four dives since then, now however through LAMP I have been able to participate in seven Scientific Diver assisted dives and I already feel as if my diving abilities have improved. One of the most challenging, but enjoyable aspects of diving and researching the Anniversary Wreck off the coast of St. Augustine is the water’s visibility level; some days we have had two to three meters of visibility while other days visibility has dropped to just a few centimeters. Because the conditions of visibility are constantly changing it requires divers to be alert and familiar with their surroundings. It also adds a small level of difficulty to jobs that otherwise might not be difficult in normal visibility. The fluctuation in visibility on site is one of my favorite aspects of diving here because it requires the diver to think out of the box and be creative in assessing and acquiring data, whether it be dredging, taking line levels, or fixing dredge hoses that don’t want to cooperate. The diver must always be thinking on his/her toes. Conditions on site make for a new experience every day we dive and act as skill-builders which are slowly transforming us into efficient scientific divers and hopefully one day, maritime archaeologists.

Students preparing to dive by putting out the dive buoy.

Alexandra Mercogliano-Wheeler
I majored in anthropology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. During this field season we are continuing last year’s excavation of the Anniversary Wreck. While this is not my first archaeology field school, it is my first maritime field school and it has been one of the best educational experiences of my life. Not only have I learned the key skills and methods of underwater archaeology, I have had the chance to meet some of the leading archaeologists in the field. I have made a lot friends along the way, many of them will likely be friends for life.
Two things make LAMP stand apart from the other field schools: St. Augustine’s diving conditions and LAMP’s research team. The scuba diving conditions off the coast of St. Augustine can be less than ideal due to low visibility and strong surges. The research team did an exemplary job preparing us to combat the challenges we would face while working at the bottom of the ocean. This combination makes LAMP’s field school one of the best for preparing students for their careers in maritime archaeology. I would recommend this maritime archaeology field school to anyone who is interested in the field.

Meagan Pennington

Students participate in obstacle course training before diving on actual wreck.

Some of the best moments during this 2017 field school experience with LAMP have come from everyone bonding at the field house over watching movies or sharing stories about the dive from that day. I have loved meeting the other students since they are from all over the United Sates and even Saudi Arabia! We have learned so many techniques useful in maritime archaeology like circle searches, target testing, and different types of knots. Some of the skills are applicable for future job opportunities. It has also been great listening to the lectures such as Capt. Thomas Anderson who spoke to us about aviation and space diving. It’s been a fun environment to work in since you have to get so close to your peers on a small space in a boat. Another favorite has probably been the blind obstacle course in the pool as preparation for diving on the wreck. I am very grateful of my time with all the amazing people I have met.  P.S. Team 3 is the best!

Tyler Strobel
The diving community, while diverse, is generally calm and collected under pressure. This attitude, combined with the expertise of an archaeologist, made the resident archaeologists and field school supervisors easier to trust and respect as teachers. Suffice to say, the LAMP field school has changed how I view archaeology as a field. It has become easier for me to approach this field knowing that I feel welcome in the nautical archaeology community. I look forward to returning to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and to LAMP to continue work and volunteering in the future.

Leah Tavasi
Hello! My name is Leah Tavasi and I am a LAMP Field School student of the 2017 field season. I am originally from New Jersey, about 20 miles from New York City. In 2016, I graduated from McGill University in Montreal, Canada with a degree in psychology and a degree in classical history. I’ve been diving for over 10 years, during which time I worked my way to Divemaster in 2015. More recently, I’ve been training to become a scientific diver – this journey brought me here, to St. Augustine, Florida, and the lighthouse.
Blackout diving conditions and getting tangled in baselines, travel lines, transect lines, level lines, dredge hoses, hookah hoses, and other lines that don’t have names- this is what LAMP has taught me. Scientific diving has added rigor to an already strenuous sport – it forces the diver to really streamline themselves underwater in order to complete a task. To prepare us for this, LAMP took us through a blackout obstacle course in the early days of the field school. After being attacked with bungee cords and running into plastic alligators in a pool, the open ocean was significantly less daunting. We were given first-hand experiences with these conditions the very second we hit the dive site. The importance of carrying a dive knife was officially instilled upon me as a scientific diver. These new experiences made me more confident as a diver.
Thanks LAMP!

Kara Wallace
Coming to field school I had some experience with terrestrial archeology, but was just getting started as a diver. My most challenging and rewarding experience has been to learn how to navigate in murky conditions underwater at the site. My first dive down I was really disoriented by needing to rely on feeling around to be able to tell where I was in my environment. It takes a lot of patience with the understanding that all tasks will go slowly and it is easy to be confused as to what is happening at the bottom. What really gave me a better sense of how to navigate was submerging and then using the dredge hose by securing it to the bottom so that it could be easily found when we were ready to dig in the units. Feeling the dredge hose as a guide underwater was one of my favorite experiences because I started to feel more comfortable diving in low visibility and it was the first time I felt like we were close to beginning what all archaeology students love most – the discovery that comes with excavation.

Jessica Wentworth
I’ve personally learned many things about archaeological research and how it is conducted in the field. Target testing in blackout conditions (I love that we measure visibility in centimeters) and learning about and conducting circle searches helped me personally not only with scientific diving, but diving in general. What I’ve taken from this experience more than anything is the support of the people I’m surrounded by – not only the supervisors, but the other field school students. Everyone works together to make sure that we all understand what we need to be doing and that everyone is comfortable.

LAMP archaeologists aim to identify, investigate and preserve the physical remains of these and other aspects of our maritime heritage. Founded in 1999 and based at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, LAMP is one of the few independent maritime archaeological institutes not under the direction of a university or government agency. LAMP archaeologists manage an active research program, surveying inland and offshore waters to discover new shipwrecks and other archaeological sites, and overseeing diving and excavation operations to investigate and monitor those already known. In addition, LAMP is dedicated to public archaeology and maintains a robust program of public outreach and education. This includes ongoing speaking engagements, museum exhibits and training workshops, as well as the participation of volunteers at every stage of our operations from diving to lab work. Furthermore, LAMP strives to introduce youth to marine science through college internships and our high school maritime archaeological program.

An Exciting Year of Field School and Diving Begins with Promise of Identification of Shipwreck

Twelve students will participate in the prestigious maritime archaeology program which will continue excavation on the Anniversary Wreck off the coast of St. Augustine.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – From June 26th through July 21st, The St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program will host a field school class of twelve students and six supervisors including one international student from Saudi Arabia and a range of schools across the country: University of Pennsylvania; Eastern Carolina University; University of Colorado at Boulder. This field school class will be excavating what hopes to be a promising wreck for many reasons, a positive identification as a merchant ship among them. Originally found during the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine, the dive site is affectionately named the Anniversary wreck.

“We love having returning students,” said Chuck Meide, Director of Maritime Research for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. “As archaeologists it’s our favorite time of year to get out there and dive, but also to be doing this important work with students who are so enthusiastic make it that much more rewarding.”
The students will first go through a rigorous week-long training and preparation for diving. Diving on the shipwreck site begins in the second week. Before the students arrived for training, Museum Archaeologists prepared the practice pool at Sea Hunt Scuba with an underwater obstacle course.

The team credits previously successful dives to incredible access to an institutional research vessel Roper courtesy of David Howe, a friend of the Museum, and the support of the Institute of Maritime History. It was in 2015 that archaeologists were able to use the pattern of and amount of objects found to decipher that this wreck was possibly a merchant ship fully loaded with sellable goods, dating between 1750-1800. The implications of confirming the dates and the type of ship are what really make this shipwreck stand out as one-of-a-kind. As the premier resource for information on local maritime heritage, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeology Division is able to confirm that this would be the oldest merchant ship found in Northeast Florida. Additionally, a merchant ship would provide us with the most extensive knowledge to date of what the St. Augustine marketplace was in need of and wanting during the time period of the ship. Objects in large quantities have already been found on this ship including shoe buckles, pewter plates, cauldrons and barrels indicating a need within the market for these common items but also the potential to find more.

As the lead archaeologist on the team, Meide insists one dive season is never enough to fully research, excavate and answer everything which is why he is excited to be going out for a second season. When asked what he hopes will come of their work this summer and if he thinks they will be able to confirm the ship as a merchant ship, “we’re at the tip of the iceberg right now,” replies Meide, “but we’re also pretty sure that’s what it is.”
For the curious, the Museum will be updating social media and its blog with stories from the field. In addition, guests are always welcome to ask about the program when visiting. During the summer, the Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
A pivotal navigation tool and unique landmark of St. Augustine for over 140 years, the St. Augustine Light Station is host to centuries of history in the Nation’s Oldest PortSM. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) non-profit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest PortSM as symbolized by our working lighthouse. We are the parent organization to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.