LAMP 2018 Field School: Student Perspective

The 2018 Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) field school has successfully concluded. This year we had students from across the country come to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum  to learn about underwater archaeology, enhance their diving skills and help excavate our the Anniversary Wreck site and at several other shipwreck locations.

By Mily Llanos and Amy Green

The first week at LAMP was probably one of the most nerve wracking things that any of the students had experienced. Most of the week consisted of an overall orientation of the program, and training to prepare us for the weeks to come. The blackout-mask obstacle course was definitely the highlight of our first week. As new LAMP divers, blind and snagging on the traps left by our supervisors, we pretty much thought we were going to die in a 15 foot pool. But surprisingly enough, it was a ton of fun and we all passed with flying colors. That same week we visited the wreck we would excavate for the rest of the summer, and thank god for that blackout course, because it was dark as night down there (the visibility at the site is very poor). We familiarized ourselves with the site, and our dive supervisor Chuck Meide even had us beginning the excavation process. We were all excited to get out on the ocean and begin learning the methods and techniques of underwater archaeology.

The following week was mostly spent aboard the USRV Roper out on the ocean. It was a fantastic learning experience; we could barely see our fingers underwater, and we frequently suffered the wrath of the jellyfish, but we survived. After setting up the site with grid squares, baselines, travel lines and everything necessary to dig in the dark, we began the arduous task of digging meters below the sand to find the ancient shipwreck. Taking opening and closing elevations was by far the most challenging part of it, thanks to the visibility. Trying to communicate underwater in poor viz was a bit problematic at times, but good team work and buddy trust made for a successful week. Some of us got sea sick, some days the surge was strong, but we pushed through.

Due to a hurricane up north, we spent our third week on the St. Johns River where two brothers out fishing one day stumbled upon hull planks and a bottle dating to the American Civil War. We had the pleasure of attempting to map what they found. When we first arrived, the red tint of the water cast an eerie light on the partially buried timbers, while the alligators and unseen water moccasins made the 5-foot-deep wreck scarier than it should have been. We began by marking points of interest on the site with bamboo rods, and by the end of the week had created a scale drawing of the now-presumed river barge wreck.

During the last week of the field school, sadness began to set in as we realized that most of us would part ways and never see each other again. But deep down, we knew we would come away with one of the most exciting summers of our lives, full of adventures and challenges. Living in a communal space made us very close to one another, and many movie nights led to us all knowing every single Disney movie ever made. We spent the week on Roper as much as possible, and though Florida weather did its best to thwart us, we got some excavation done. We also got a chance to speak to the public about our time here at LAMP, telling them about ourselves and everything we had learned here. The very last day, we circled a sea buoy as a victory lap to celebrate a successful field school, which basically just meant that no one died.

In conclusion, what did we take away from the whole thing? Well, we now realize that recreational and scientific scuba diving are two VERY different things. Not all sites are as beautiful as they put on the cover of magazines and tv shows. Not as glamorous as Indiana Jones, either, though probably just as dangerous. We learned that sometimes you literally have to dive in black waters and oh! Things you will touch… trust me, it’s better not to know.  But the comradery of everyone on board made every single day wonderful. So even though we had to say our good byes and our see you soons, we’ll never really say goodbye to the LAMP field school experience.