Learning from underwater shipwrecks

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Sarah Miller and Amber Grafft-Weiss keep Historic City News readers up-to-date on what’s happening with the Florida Public Archaeology Network Northeast Region; located in St. Augustine and hosted by Flagler College.

In their latest adventure, Sarah and Amber suited up for submerged resources training as part of a Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar aimed at providing dive instructors with all the information, tools, and resources needed to teach heritage awareness as a specialty course.

Accompanying the students was Chuck Meide, a local underwater and maritime archaeologist who currently serves as director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program; the research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.

The Public Archaeology Network is dedicated to the protection of cultural resources, both on land and underwater, and to involving the public in the study of their past. Our local center, located on Markland Place, serve as a clearinghouse for information, institutions for learning and training, and as headquarters for public participation in archaeology.

Miller reported that their class time focused on sea faring culture and explained how underwater shipwrecks observed by archaeologists translate into how people lived and met their basic needs in the past.

Participants were taught an appreciation for wrecks as non-renewable cultural resources by dive captains whose policy is “Don’t take anything from the wreck, or don’t get back on my boat.”

The course continued along currents of preservation law, conservation, and heritage tourism themes. The day ended with a briefing of the practicum component of the course — diving on shipwrecks.

The next day the 23 class participants visited two submerged archaeological sites; the nineteenth-century Brick Wreck and seventeenth-century Mystery Wreck located within NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The Brick Wreck is disappearing as parts of the site have been removed either by people or natural causes. Miller said that the night before their dive, they dined at a restaurant with a wall made out of brick from the site. What salvagers might not have known is that the ballast and brick coverage actually protected the site timbers. Without the cover, the timbers are rapidly disappearing — and soon there will be nothing left of the site. “We observed only one intact brick on the wreck, there used to be thousands,” Miller said.

The Mystery Wreck looks completely different. Treasure salvagers cut into the side of the wreck, rather than cutting down from top to bottom; leaving channels of exposed frames and sea floor underneath heaps of ballast, according to Miller.

Looking back, Miller said, “I’m embarrassed I hadn’t done it sooner. So many questions over the last few years I could have answered better.”

The next Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar is being offered in St. Petersburg September 15th and 16th. For more information, contact Miller or Grafft-Weiss by calling (904) 819-6476.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph by FPAN

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