Week 5

The Final week of the first session ended on a high note, considering the weather was extremely uncooperative for any type of archaeology.  The week was spent at a number of the local attractions including FPAN, T.T. Wentworth and, the Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola.  The wind thwarted every attempt to dive, so we all decided that diving Morrison Springs was a good option midweek.  The amazing visibility enabled students and supervisors alike to work on SCUBA skills that included the use of a lift bag and the proper use of a reel line.  These skills were lead by our DSO Fritz and senior supervisor Joe Grinnan.  The only downside to diving the springs was the fact that it was chilly, the water temp runs at 68 toward the bottom of the spring.  On Friday, which ended the maritime portion of the students field school, we split them down the middle, with half going to the SwingBridge wreck while the others went target diving.  During the target dive supervisor Nicole Bucchino located a ballast stone in the darkness of the Blackwater River, which was very exciting!

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Week 2, May 29th – June 1st, Maritime Field School

The second week of the UWF Maritime Archaeology Field School was only a four-day week due to Memorial Day Weekend.  After reconvening from the holiday weekend, the field school was broken up into three different projects.  One of the three projects was the Swingbridge wreck, located in the Blackwater River.   The goals at this project site for this week included the set up of datum point for mapping and some scale drawings to add to the master site plan.

The second of the three projects for the week was at Emanuel Point II.  This wreck is located in Pensacola Bay and the university has a research barge established at the site.  The students and supervisors worked in the mid-ship unit and the stern unit.  The goal in the mid-ship unit was to dredge through the fluff overburden to reach undisturbed sediment.  In the stern unit, only a few centimeters down, there is hull structure and ballast, and the goal was to map these within the unit.

The third operation was survey.  These teams conducted both Side Scan Sonar surveys and Magnetometer surveys.  A portion of the Blackwater River and the Pensacola pass, near NAS Pensacola, were the two areas of survey.  On Friday the students involved in the survey process spent the day analyzing the data to establish potential targets for future target diving operations.

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Week One

The week following Scientific Diver Training was a great success.  All students from the first half of field school performed very well as first time underwater archaeologists.  In the morning at Marine Services, the students were given a brief of the day’s archaeological operations and assigned to their supervisors.  The students were then given directions as to what was needed for the day’s dives, and set about their tasks with enthusiasm.  All students assigned to work on E.P. II were given a brief of what was expected of them, and also what they could expect to encounter on site.  The weather was a bit windy en route to the dive barge, but the supervisors felt it was safe enough for dive operations to proceed.

Once the dive brief was given, groups were assigned to participate in safety drills aboard the barge and boats.  Afterward, the supervisors set about placing excavation units in the stern and mid-ship section of E.P. II.  The weather kicked up in the afternoon, so the students and supervisors quickly secured all the gear and left the barge to head back to MSC.  The next day the students were assigned to their respective dive operations and were given instructions on what was needed for archaeological investigations.  Once the boats and vehicles had the proper equipment, we all made our way to our respective archaeological excavations.  The group was divided into those going to E.P. II, in Pensacola Bay, and a smaller number heading out to the Blackwater River to dive and map the Swingbridge wreck.

My group headed to E.P. II.  Our arrival at the barge was challenging due to windy conditions, but all operations were a go.  Once on board, the students set up the barge and were given a quick refresher on what was expected of them and what they could expect as well.  The teams geared up quickly and awaited the order to enter the water for their site orientation dive.  Once we made sure the excavation units were secure and in the correct position, all teams entered the water.  The visibility was not great and the current was making the descent to the site challenging, but all divers performed well and saw what they could of a 16th century Spanish shipwreck!

Again, the fickle Florida weather drove us from the site, all staff and students made a safe return to MSC.  The following day the teams split up, some going to E.P. II, others to the Swingbridge wreck.  Those that were assigned to E.P. II were given a chance to open up the units and begin to excavate.  Several artifacts were recovered from the dredge spoil, which included resin, non-human bone, ceramic, a seed, and a possible wooden bead.  Weather forecasting in Florida being what it is, we again were caught by the wind in the afternoon and forced to abandon operations.  All staff and students made it safely off the barge and back to Marine Services.  The first week of Maritime archaeology field school came to a close, and the students had a chance to work as underwater archaeologists.

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Week 3, June 4-8th, Combined Field School 2012

This week bad weather had an effect on many of our dive operations. Rain and high winds prevented us from launching any dives on the Emanuel Point II wreck. There was also an incident regarding a local who attempted to swim out to our dive barge, which further prevented dive operations. On June 5th, Chris Dewey took a team out to the Convoy wreck, just off of NAS Pensacola, but high winds again prevented dive operations. However, despite the problems, we were able to conduct several operations up in the Black-water River/ Bay area. Students working on the Swingbridge wreck with Marisa Foster continued mapping the wreck, as well as removing some of the outer planking. They also brought several concretions and pieces of planking back. The concretions they brought back appeared to be primarily fasteners and nails. They also recovered several modern bottles from the wreck, which likely landed on the wreck long after it sank. Students also conducted side scan and magnetometer operations in the Black-water Bay area looking for the HMS Mentor, a Revolutionary War era British warship. Students target dove on several sites that had showed up on side scan sonar in a continued effort to locate the Mentor. Despite being unable to locate the Mentor, Aubrey Coates and Connor Bouressa were able to locate a small, fiberglass johnboat that had showed up on side-scan sonar. Both Dr. Bratten and Greg Cook also accompanied operations in the Black-water River and Bay area as well.

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The Hunt for the U.S.S Preble

Video Episode - In Search of Ships of the Civil War

U.S.S. Preble

Hunt for the U.S.S. Preble

The U.S.S. Preble was built in 1838 as a navy sloop-of-war at the Portsmouth shipyard. The Preble was a Dale 3rd Class ship built out of wood just prior to the age of steamships. She was able to carry 16 carronades (32 – pounders) during times of peace and was able to have two long guns for war. The basic dimension of the dale class ships are as followed: Length – 117’7”, Beam – 32’0”, Depth of hold – 15’0”, Tonnage 566, 3rd Class.

The Preble was commissioned on 2 June 1840. After a year of waiting, the Preble began her long career sailing around Labrador, the Mediterranean, Africa, India, China, Japan and the United States. The Preble was a part of the Mexican War in 1847. She was also used as a training vessel by the US Naval Academy placed in ordinary which meant that her guns, mast, sails, and rigging were removed. The Preble was place on active duty during the Civil War where she was a part of the West Gulf Coast Blockade Squadron for the Union. In September 1862 the Preble was Stationed at Pensacola to help stop privateers. She caught on fire on 27 April 1863 and sank to the bottom of Pensacola Bay. Because the Preble had her guns, mast, sails, and rigging removed prior to the civil war, the full extent of her armament may not match what was originally planned for her. She might have had some modifications to her mast, rigging, sails, and or guns of any were ruined from the 5 – 6 year period she used by the US Naval Academy.

Her final wreck site is still unknown to archaeologist though the US Navy has done some dives on what has been called the Preble in the 1960’s. The Navy divers removed a mast and some other objects before leaving the Preble alone.

This summer, in an effort to relocate the Preble, multiple survey techniques will be employed.  However, before any survey can be completed, hours of extensive research must be done to attempt to narrow down the survey area. That way the survey technicians can search in the right area for the wreck, it does not make any sense to search in Blackwater Creek for a ship that could only use the main channels in Pensacola Bay!

After the research is done, the survey crew will use a technique called side scan sonar.  This is when a sonar device, called a fish, is towed behind the survey vessel.  It emits pulses to either side and the operator can choose how far away they want to measure.  The further the pulses go, the less accurate they are.  The images produced by the fish are relayed back to a computer on deck where the team can search of anomalies such as really bright spots and dark shadows.  Surprisingly detailed, it is possible to see depressions in the bottom from shrimp nets and anchor lines and even items as small as a bike! The fish is pulled behind the boat in preset lines using a GPS mapping system.

If an anomaly is found, such as a large structure or a very bright spot, then divers are sent in to do target diving.  They will descend on the GPS coordinate and systematically search the surrounding area to find any objects or structures of interest. If the divers find anything, they record the site with that national registry to ensure legalities.  Properly trained divers and archaeologists will continue to examine the site!

Contributors: K. Bender and C. Giles

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Interview with the Rosario Team

New Video Episodes

Behind the Scenes: Artifact Conservation

What Does It Take to Run a Field School?

Bend in the River: The Molino Mills Project

The Rosario Interview

This summer, students will be surveying and potentially diving on the early 18th century Spanish frigate Rosario. In preparation for this task, graduate supervisors Morgan Wampler and Kad Henderson, both conducting thesis research on the Rosario, were asked to share their thoughts on this fascinating wreck.

UWF: What kind of ship was Rosario, and what was it used for?

Wampler: The Rosario was a frigate, and the second largest vessel in the Armada de Barlovento (Windward Fleet).  The Windward Fleet served to protect Spanish interests in the Gulf of Mexico, which included escorting convoys of merchant vessels carrying shipments of silver and other goods through pirate-infested waters.  Due to economic constraints and the failing Spanish economy, the Rosario also carried cargo and the situado to various colonies.

UWF: What happened to the Rosario?

Henderson: The Rosario was the victim of a hurricane which struck on the night of September 4, 1705 while the ship was anchored off the presidio Santa Marie de Galve. The ship broke loose from her anchors and was grounded on the north side of Santa Rosa Island where after enduring the storm for two days she broke in two and sank.

Wampler: Archaeologists have yet to locate her stern.

UWF: What kind of artifacts have been recovered from the wreck, and is there any work still going on?

Wampler: A wide array of artifacts have been recovered through excavation of the ship’s bow and amidships including personal possessions (dice, shoes, game pieces, razors), faunal materials (bones), ceramics, and architectural items just to name a few.  While excavation has ceased there is currently a survey underway to locate the stern of the vessel.  I am currently analyzing the personal possessions, faunal remains, and ceramic assemblage in order to interpret the social identity of the crew and soldiers aboard the Rosario.  Additionally, my colleague Mr. Henderson is working on analysis of the ship’s construction.

Henderson: The Rosario was constructed in 1696 and sank in 1705. Diagnostic artifacts include ceramics and other artifacts as well as the construction of the ship denoted a colonial period Iberian vessel. The hull remains of the ship also indicated a very heavily built very large vessel that was built with mahogany from Mexico and iron spikes. Thee features combined with historic documents allowed the ship to be identified as the Nuestra Senora del Rosario y Santiago Apostal.

Wampler: In the 1980’s a local recreational diver discovered the site and the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research designated it an archaeological site in 1992.

UWF: How was the vessel located?

UWF: What was the function of The Rosario and how have artifacts found reinforced this idea?

Wampler: The Rosario had two primary functions.

Henderson: The first function was that of a warship. Ordanace such as iron shot and grenades as well as the extremely robust construction of the hull combined with the use of expensive iron fasteners in her construction all point to her use as a warship.

Wampler: Also, historical documents explicitly state that the ship was being used to transport goods and that goods were salvaged after the wreck event.  Thus, the lack of obvious trade goods indicates that the vessel is the Rosario.

UWF: Thank you both very much.


Contributors: T. Duke and C. Vesper

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In the Shadow of the Blackwater: The Mystery of the Centerboard Schooner


This Week’s Episode: What is a Centerboard Schooner?

The almost perfect darkness of the tannin-stained water is broken as the pale limbs of a dead tree reach towards me from the river bottom.  Anchoring the dive flag to this snag, I swim on – somewhere in these shadows rests a shipwreck.

The Blackwater River winds its way through this part of Northwest Florida like a great snake towards the Gulf. This river has human experience reaching back into prehistory when it would have provided food and transportation to Native Americans. The story of this maritime landscape – the connections between the environment and people that make their living and draw their culture from water – is the story of the Blackwater.

Bagdad Sawmill along the Blackwater River, early 20th century


Now a favorite spot for tourists and canoe-enthusiasts, the Blackwater River was once a bustling artery for Northwest Florida’s lumber industries. As nautical archaeologists, we study the maritime landscape of the past through its material remains – markers of the past – that can include lighthouses, fortifications, bridges, docks and wharves, warehouses, shipyards and shipwrecks. Human activity leaves traces of itself, sometimes involving direct shaping of the environment, such as when river paths are altered to power sawmills, but often these traces appear as concentrations of artifacts forgotten and lost in the mists of time.

Suddenly, as my vision adjusts to the swirl of alluvial dust, one such concentration of artifacts looms up before me – the Centerboard Schooner Wreck.

The centerboard and trunk

The skeleton of the ship lays protected by the inky waters of the river where it sank generations ago. Our job this summer will be to collect information on how this vessel came to be lost beneath the waves of the Blackwater and what it can tell us about the lives and legacies of the adventurous men and women that sought to make their fortunes along the forests and rivers of the Panhandle.

One of the first steps we will take to accomplish this is to try and fix the Centerboard Schooner within its historical context, which means we will need to establish a time period for its use and loss. Thus far, two methods have been used to narrow down a date-range for the schooner. Examination of ship construction techniques is a useful approach in dating schooners; however, this method gives a fairly broad time span. Our schooner, named for its use of centerboard technology – a centerboard is a wooden blade set on a pivot that can be lowered through the keel of the vessel to steady it in deeper waters and then lifted to allow the vessel to navigate shallow waters where a deeper keel is unnecessary – must have come after the adoption of this sailing innovation at the beginning of the 19th century. Unfortunately for our purposes, Northwest Florida underwent several major cultural and historical shifts from 1800 onward, making this window frustratingly imprecise.

Could this ship have been a witness to Andrew Jackson’s entrance into Pensacola? Are the sections of charred wood near the centerboard trunk indicators that she was sunk during the mad days of the Civil War? Or was she forgotten like the lumber industry she might have facilitated and left to take on water in the early 20th century?

Charred wood near centerboard trunk

Artifacts found within the context of the site are being used to narrow this temporal span. While some objects, such as modern trash and animal bones, may have been deposited with this man-made river snag by the current, other items – a small fragment of ceramic, for instance – are probably remnants of human activity that took place within the wooden confines of the ship.

D. Haddock carefully screens sediment for artifacts from the wreck


It is our hope to additionally take a small sample from the keel and through dendrochronology, the science of generating time sequences for wood based on its rings and other factors, establish a year in which the lumber used to build the ship was felled.

As we accumulate more of these clues, these bits and bobs from long ago, we can begin to form a clearer picture of the Centerboard Schooner’s place in the maritime history of Northwest Florida.

There is a story behind this wreck – a mystery – of a ship and a river and the people that plied her.

Contributors: K. Bender, M. Balut, C. Giles and C. Keohane


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Teredo Worms and Hurricanes: The Challenge of 16th Century Shipbuilding

This Week’s Video: What Can We Learn from the Emanuel Point Shipwrecks?

One of the first artifacts recovered from the Emanuel Point II shipwreck as part of this summer’s field school was a section of lead hull sheathing. Such finds are considered diagnostic as they allow archaeologists to narrow down the probable timeframe for a site.

S. Marshall and M. Foster moments after recovering the artifact

As Keith Muckelroy, one of the pioneers of underwater archaeology, wrote, wooden ships in the pre-industrial age represented the height of global technology. Analogous to present-day spacecraft, these vessels were engineered to take explorers to the mysterious edges of the world and bring them back alive. Consequently, the evolution of ship technology reveals a sequence of experimentation and innovation. Behind every one of these nautical adaptations lay some environmental or cultural factor.

More dangerous to deepwater sailors than sea serpents or Sirens was a tiny creature of the family Teredinidae – the infamous teredo worm. Not actually a worm, but rather a bivalve mollusk, the teredos are known to ruin boats, pilings, and submerged trees, which they consume with the help of bacteria living in their gut. These termites of the sea slowly bore through wood, leaving behind critically weakened structures, honeycombed by trails of the “worm’s” ravenous appetite.

A teredo worm casing recovered from the dredge spoil

Christopher Columbus lost two ships to teredo worms during his voyages and his misfortune provided direct information of what ships could expect to encounter in the waters of the New World. Since teredo worms proved to be such a problem, shipbuilders designed numerous methods to combat them. Some vessels were supplied with lead and later copper sheathing to protect the hull, or ship’s body.

Finding lead sheathing on Emanuel Point II fits nicely with the techniques of shipbuilding that we know were used during the mid-sixteenth century. Additionally, it reminds us about the high stakes game that was being played during the Age of Discovery – failure or success in colonization and exploration could mean the difference between life and death for crews, or might shake the foundations of kingdoms. Shipwrights carefully responded to every new environmental challenge with a fluency of design that rivals the greatest human achievements.

A section of lead sheathing used on Emanuel Point II

Unfortunately, as Tristan de Luna learned, the environment works on both micro and macro levels. The lead sheathing that would once have protected these ships against the destructive tunneling of teredo worms was no match for the catastrophic force of the hurricane that would ultimately send them crashing beneath the waves.

Having slept for 450 years, the Emanuel Point ships, the pinnacle of 16th century technological adaptation now reduced to a feast for worms and archaeologists, offer us a window back in time and bear silent witness to the resourcefulness and tenacity of these early Spanish explorers and their dreams of a better life in a New World.

Contributors: S. Dominici, S. Hood, E. Nixon, B. Wells and C. Keohane

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The 2011 Underwater Field School Begins!

This week’s video:

Underwater Archaeology Field School: Episode I

As the dawn burns the mist from the shores of Pensacola Bay, it’s not hard to imagine that the crew loading equipment into the small boats beached here are apparitions from the days of Tristan de Luna – ghosts of those first pioneers who, but for the wrath of a hurricane, would have built North America’s first permanent European settlement in 1559.

But instead of stores of food and supplies, today scuba tanks and scientific equipment are being loaded for the short trip across the choppy waves to the site where the Luna fleet has rested for over 450 years.

This summer, the University of West Florida Underwater Archaeology Field School will collect data on these and other submerged cultural resources in Northwest Florida. The skeletal frames of ships from the Age of Discovery will act as both teacher and classroom as participants hone their archaeological skills recording and excavating live sites.

Divers practice mapping a sherd

To prepare for this fieldwork, students first perfect the techniques of data recovery during intensive scientific diving exercises under controlled conditions. Once confident of their ability to perform meticulous operations not only underwater but in poor visibility, the teams enter dive rotations for the summer’s active projects.

We invite you to follow us here as each week crews of students and supervisors work together to uncover the secrets of Pensacola’s hidden maritime past.

Contributor: C. Keohane



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