Category Archives: Archaeology

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.
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ABOUT THE ST. AUGUSTINE LIGHTHOUSE & MARITIME MUSEUM:
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.

SHA 2017: Tales from the 50th Annual Society for Historical Archaeology

SHA-2017-Logo-Design_300-dpi_THC1Every January, one or more of our Lighthouse archaeologists attend the annual Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) conference, where professionals and students from across the field of historical and underwater archaeology gather to present their research. While we usually share our research with the public through various forms of outreach here at the museum and in nearby communities, these conferences provide opportunities to present our research to the academic community.

No trip to SHA is complete without learning a bit about the host cities own history. As any Fort Worth local will tell you, no trip to the city is complete without a visit to their historic stockyards.
No trip to SHA is complete without learning a bit about the host city’s own history. As any Fort Worth local will tell you, no trip to the city is complete without a visit to their historic stockyards.

This year, Chuck Meide, Brendan Burke, and I attended the 50th Annual SHA conference, held in Fort Worth, Texas. Between us, we presented four papers on research spanning from St. Augustine to the Potomac, participating in a session titled Strategic Partnerships in Archaeology: A Community Approach to Raising Awareness and Preserving Maritime Heritage. The session focused on research and discoveries that resulted from various partnerships between federal, state, academic, and non-profit organizations, including our own research arm, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), the State of Florida, the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), the Institute of Maritime History (IMH), and the Battle of the Atlantic Research and Expedition Group (BAREG). You can find the abstracts for each of LAMP’s papers below. Continue reading

Lighthouse Archaeologists Attend International Archaeology Day Fair

Every year in mid-October, archaeological organizations and advocacy groups come together across the globe to celebrate International Archaeology Day. They gather to share  to share their discoveries with locals and visitors alike, to let people know how and why archaeologists research what they do, and hopefully, to get people excited about learning about our history and the importance of preserving our past for our future.

This year, International Archaeology Day took place on October 15th. The Jacksonville Chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) held an Archaeology Fair at the Beaches Museum in celebration of the day.  Lighthouse Archaeologists Brendan Burke and Olivia McDaniel joined the festivities, presenting our research on the submerged cultural resources in Northeast Florida.

Other displays invited visitors to engage in mock digs, make their own pottery in Native American styles, and displayed artifacts ranging from prehistoric times to the Civil War. A great day of archaeological fun was had by all, and we here at the lighthouse were glad to have been a part of the festivities! Keep an eye out for next year’s International Archaeology Day, and maybe you to can join in on the fun.

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The Lighthouse’s display at the Archaeological Institute of America’s Jacksonville chapter International Archaeology Day Fair.

Archaeologist Olivia McDaniel first joined the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum team in 2012 as a student at LAMP’s Underwater Archaeology Field School. She officially joined the lighthouse family as an archaeologist in July, 2014, after completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Idaho. 

Life on the Beautiful Lower Atchafalaya

A huge truck nearly ran me off the road, whizzing past only inches away. As the horn blare tapered off, I realized rubbernecking on this stretch of road is a full-contact sport. Late September found me on one of the most industrial roads in America, yet deep in the heart of the bayou.

Highway 1 winds south from the Mississippi River, tracing through Belle Rose, Thibodaux (don’t pronounce the ‘h’), Galliano, Golden Meadows, and finally to Grand Isle. The farther south you drive, land gives way to water. The world becomes water sprinkled with dry spots and cut channels. Bayou Lafourche Canal is one of the channels and parallels Highway 1. On dry patches, only inches above the tide, are construction yards, supply depots, welding shops, shipyards, and fenced lots full of giant prehistoric plumbing components. The road is a major artery of the oil business, although a new, raised version of the road flies well above the bayou like a giant concrete millipede.

En route to Patterson, Louisiana for an oral history interview, my schedule changed and I ended up with a day in-limbo. Reconfiguring quickly, it was a rare opportunity to explore the sponge-like coast of Louisiana. I armed myself with tips and tricks from friends who knew the area, and who knew where to eat. Visiting Louisiana, especially Cajun Country, without intending to feast is like a pencil without a lead. Pointless.

Years ago, I was invited on a trip to Patterson to meet the Felterman family. Related to the Versaggi family of St. Augustine, and a dynastic family of the commercial shrimping industry, the opportunity to meet, and record Felterman family history was more than tempting.

“You’re a fool Brendan, it’s the peak of crawfish season and we’re going to be in the middle of the action.” said Grace Paaso, my invitee and one of the Versaggi family keepers of the flame. Continue reading