Tag Archives: Artifacts

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!

Sifting through the muck

Every year, our research arm, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), heads out on the water to either survey for new wrecks, target test potential anomalies from said surveys or locate and excavate archaeological sites underwater.

How exactly does LAMP work underwater and get the artifacts for the conservation team?

Unlike a “traditional” land site, we cannot simply dig up the dirt and move it to the side with shovels and wheelbarrows. We instead do a similar process, but with an all-in-one dredge setup suited for diving. By using gas-powered pumps to shoot water down a dredge head attached to a large diameter hose, it creates a vacuum in the hose. The hose then sucks up any of the sand in the grids and empties out a few meters away.

While dredging underwater, the divers try to carefully clean down to the concretions and avoid sucking up any artifacts. On the offhand chance that something is either too small to see or visibility conditions are too bad, we make sure to collect all the sediment in bags at the other end of the hose.

Dredging underwater.
Dredging underwater.

All the material that is taken up the hose is called dredge spoil. Most of the spoil is small particulates of sand or clay and is filtered out of the mesh bags.

However, after long sessions of dredging a large amount of shell hash builds up. We try to replace the bags every time a new grid is excavated or once the bag is too full. When that happens we have to bring the bags up to the boat using crates and lift bags.

The lift bags are simply bags that are filled with air and help slowly raise the dredge spoil up to the surface. Once we haul everything on board, the next step is to pour the spoil into buckets, make sure they are documented and transport them back to the lighthouse.

Dredge spoil tagged and ready.
Dredge spoil tagged and ready.

One thing we make sure to do is keep the buckets of spoil filled with water. Even though we bring them back at the end of every excavation day, we are not able to sort through them right away. Often times we will not get to the dredge spoil for quite some time, as field school and other conservation tasks take precedence. Continue reading

What’s In a Collection? Fact or Fiction Night

Each month we have a special event for our members. Last month was Fact or Fiction, where we provided two stories for each object brought from the collections storage. It was up to the members to decide which story was the correct one.

Many of these objects might not see the inside of an exhibit space and to have the opportunity to highlight them is fun for us. We thought that since not everyone could be at the event we would share the facts with all of you.

Enjoy this in-depth look at some of the artifacts that caught our interest!

Hygrometer

HygrometerMonitoring the weather was one of many tasks assigned to a lighthouse keeper. They would use a tool called a hygrometer, which we highlighted in a previous blog, to take humidity readings. Horsehair was strung across, which would react to the change in humidity causing the needle to move indicating the relative humidity of the area. Here are the inner workings for a 19th century Hygrometer.  It was found during an archaeological excavation of the keepers’ trash pit while building our visitor center. We have found many objects that the keepers had discarded that we have used to help us better understand their lives. Continue reading

What’s in a Collection? Sailmaker’s Palm

Our artifact highlight this month is an interesting example of some of our maritime heritage collection.  This object is referred to by several names such as a sailmaker’s palm, sewing palm or sailors palm thimble.  The multiple names are probably a reflection of the diverse audience that would actually use one.

Photo 2

Sailmaker’s palm is associated with the art of sail making.  This tool was important for sewing through tough material like leather and multiple layers of canvas.  This “specialized glove” would protect a person’s hand from the sewing needle.  The sailmaker’s palm would go over your whole hand with a hole for your thumb and a strap across the back of the hand to keep it in place.  Continue reading

Saying Goodbye to the Rudder

Ordinarily, in the conservation blog posts, new artifacts are discussed. Ones being worked on or items that have been finished and are ready to join the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum collection. However, this month’s post is about an artifact that is leaving our grounds and heading back from whence it came.

In October 2005, a large northeaster hit the First Coast area. Because of the wind and storm surges, large shipwreck timbers were exposed on or near the ocean shoreline. One such timber was found and reported by former Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) Director Billy Ray Morris.

Excavating the rudder from the beach.
Excavating the rudder from the beach.

It was a large, broken rudder made of five separate pieces of wood and sheathed in copper sheeting. The rudder was recorded in situ and left on the beach for a short time. In November 2005, the heavy, unwieldy artifact was lifted from the beach and moved to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM-NERR). Continue reading