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,” Chuck Meide, Director of Maritime Research for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, told local Historic City News reporters. “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 David Howe, a friend of the Museum, the support of the Institute of Maritime History, and incredible access to an institutional research vessel for the success of previous dives.
In 2015, archaeologists used the patterns and amounts of objects found to decipher that this wreck was probably a merchant ship that was 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, according to Meide.
As the premier resource for information on local maritime heritage, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeology Division can 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 needed and wanted during the time. Large quantities of shoe buckles, pewter plates, cauldrons and barrels, have already been found on this ship; indicating a need within the market for these common items.
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 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily.