September 22, 2010


Folks from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program were in Juneau September 14-16, 2010 offering a training.  Participants who completed all three days received credit through the Nautical Archaeology Society International (Part I Certificate in Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology.) These amazingly talented folks were brought to Alaska through the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, and also presented a course in Anchorage.  I first heard about this at the May 2010 Alaska Anthropological Association (aaa) Conference in Fairbanks from State Archaeologist Dave McMahan.  At the 2010 aaa, there was a roundtable discussion about the possibility of establishing an Alaska Maritime Society.  This is still in the planning stages.  This NAS training was aimed at recreational divers, land managers, resource enforcement officers, archaeologists and historians.  As a conservator, I personally found this useful for several reasons:    

  • Better understanding the process of underwater archaeology 
  • Legislation and jurisdiction of government agencies regarding underwater heritage
  • The challenges of hands-on survey techniques
  • The development of objects conservation for underwater heritage (there ought to be a whole separate blog posting!)
  • The opportunity to chat and network with the other participants in the class, who were a very knowledgeable and competent bunch.

DAY ONE: Intro to Workshop and Alaska Maritime Heritage and Alaska State Preservation Legislation    

Dave McMahan (State Archaeologist, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Office of History and Archaeology.)     

Alaska has more coastline than all the other states put together, and at least 3000 shipwrecks, according to the US Minerals Management database put together by Mike Burwell.  Yet the first official archaeological survey of our underwater heritage was the 1989 National Park Service Kiska Harbor Survey.     

Permitted archaeological work since then has included:     

2003 Kad’yak via NOAA and NSF grants     

2004 SS Portland as a show on History Detectives.  Dr. John Jensen documented it.     

2005 Dr. Jason Rogers work on the Eliza Anderson in Dutch Harbor     

2006 baseline on Lynn Canal wrecks including the Clara Nevada, Sophia, Kathleen, Islander, and the Griffson.     

2007 Clara Nevada     

2008 Torrent     

Googling these wrecks will bring up more info on each project.     

Some of the important statues in Alaska law include:     

AS 41.35.020 involving title to historic, prehistoric, and archaeological resources      

AS 41.35.080 Permits     

 There are over 30,000 sites in the state’s database.  They each have a code that begins with 49 (for the 49th state) and then a three-letter code that relates to the quadrangle on the map (other states have counties) and then the site within that quadrangle.  For example, 49-SIT-02 is the one for Castle Hill in Sitka.  In a nutshell, however, they key point is that all land belongs to someone,  and in Alaska it often it belongs to the government, meaning the resources on it belong to more than just one person.  “Finders Keepers” doesn’t cut it these days.  You have to know whose land something is on.     

DAY ONE: Intro to Maritime Heritage and Archaeology     

Dr. Hans Van Tilburg (Maritime Heritage Coordinator/ Unit Diving Supervisor, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Pacific Islands Region)     

As a field, underwater archaeology goes back to the 1960’s.  The programs at Texas A&M University and East Carolina University were some of the most important in establishing the practices and standards.  George Bass is considered the father of the field, and Peter Throckmorton is another important pioneer.  The Cape Gelidonya Wreck was the first full excavation entirely on the seabed, done in 1960.  Soon after were the Vasa in Sweden, the Mary Rose in England, and the H.L. Hunley in the United States.  Underwater aviation wreck sites are also considered maritime heritage.      

Archaeology = the systematic extraction and interpretation of sites to learn about past human behavior.”     

“Nautical” tends to refer mostly to ships.  “Maritime” is used as a broader term , but still implies seafaring.     

The term “cultural landscape” is popular these days to describe the entire context of a site…for example the derelict buildings on shore that helped the Torrent survivors are part of the story of the wreck.  Keeping the material culture connected to the site context gives a much richer interpretation.  Musket balls alone tell us one thing, but huge numbers of musket balls on a 1822 whaling vessel in Hawaii?  A whole different ballgame.      

The Nautical Archaeology Society was founded in England with a mission to bring in recreational divers to maritime archaeology.  The NAS training is offered in North America by Parks Canada, the National Parks Service, and Mexico’s National Institute of Archaeology and History.  NOAA is also involved through its National Marine Sanctuaries Program.  There are 13 sanctuaries and one marine national monument in the national system, and perhaps 10 archaeologists.      

DAY ONE: Ship Construction     

Hans Van Tilburg     

OK, this is not in Juneau, it is in Roskilde Denmark where they build replica Viking Ships. Wish these guys could have been there to explain what I was looking at!!

 Ship as both a technical and a social document.  Could a ship be perhaps the most complex social artifact ever created?  Among maritime ethnographers, Basil Greenhill’s name looms large.  Ships are often described by their mast and sail arrangement, but this does not often survive underwater.  So the ships’ construction is the main focus.  Hull first (clinker) or frame-first (carvel) construction?  Overall shape of the boat?  Elements like keel, keelson, floors, futtocks, stanchions, space between the framesets, scarf joints, fasteners, mast steps… certain inventions are very useful as well, such as wire rope rigging and the round Scotch boiler.  Looks like this is where a good nautical library comes in handy.      

McCarthy, Michael. (2005)  Ships’ Fastenings: From Sewn Boat to Steamship.  Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series.     

Curryer, Betty Nelson. (1999) Anchors: The Illustrated History. Chatham Publishing, London.     

Steffy, J. Richard.  (1994) Wooden Ship Building and the Interpretation of Shipwrecks.  Texas A&M Press, College Station TX     

Muckelroy, Keith (1978) Maritime Archaeology Cambridge University Press  (especially about site formation process.)     

It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s or so that you see much in the way of blueprints, but before that you do see some specifications in insurance records and those can be a good resource in trying to identify a wreck.     

DAY ONE: Maritime Heritage and Resource Management  Tane Casserley (National Marine Heritage Coordinator/ Unit Diving Supervisor, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries)  Discussion of the work done at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan.  Wow.  Seriously, wow.     

Tane also gave a review of some of the basic requirements for the National Register of Historic Places     

Project Designs and Strategies: Case Study Session     

Hans Van Tilburg     

Most university training follows the AAUS (American Association of Underwater Science) in requirements for diving.  AAUS supersedes others, so there are reciprocity agreements in place for allowing divers on certain sites, for example, allowing students and NOAA divers to work together.  There are various templates for project design, including those from the Secretary of the Interior,  NAS , NOAA/ONMS, and UNESCO Convention Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001 Annex.)  The United States did not sign it, but NOAA has accepted the annex as informal guidelines.  Most project design includes: objectives, methodology, logistics, resources and ultimate product.  For a site to be on the National Register, the integrity of the wreck and the significance is important.  National Register Bulletin #20 is helpful.     

36 CFR 79  on curation of collections is also important.      

DAY ONE: Federal Preservation Legislation     

Hans Van Tilburg     

Handbook contains ship construction illustrations and copies of historic preservation acts

 Law of the Sea Convention (1982) didn’t have a lot on underwater heritage, but it was addressed later by the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of underwater Cultural Heritage.  The two most important aspects for us to remember:     

  1. In Situ preservation is the preferred option.  That is, leave it alone and don’t bring it to the surface.    
  2. Commercial exploitation and artifact trade is fundamentally incompatible with preservation.   


Admiralty Law (Salvage Law) is intended for recovering goods to put them back into the stream of commerce, and not a historical preservation mandate.      

Antiquities Act of 1906  established the National Monuments program     

National Historic Preservation Act  did several key things:     

  • Created the National Register, which is the barometer of historical significance for a site   
  • List of national landmarks   
  • Created the State Historic Preservation Officer programs   
  • Responsible for the creation of the Cultural Resource Management field   
  • Section 106: consider the effects of actions on historic properties   
  • Section 110 Must inventory historic properties   


Archaeological Resources Protection Act (1979) Covers Federal lands     

Abandoned Shipwreck Act (1987)  Gives the state title to wrecks over 50 years old and prohibits Admiralty law claims, but some of the terminology is controversial.     

Sunken Military Craft Act (2005) unified existing laws to allow US to control its own sunken military aircraft worldwide and afford the same rights to the wrecks of aircraft from other countries.     

National Marine Sanctuaries Act (1972)  

Archaeological resources belong to the American public, and should not be collected by individuals or sold for private gain.  It is usually not in the government’s interest to pursue people trying to do the right thing with what has already been taken from a site.  Michigan, for example, has an ongoing amnesty program for people to return artifacts to appropriate repositories, such as museums.  Putting it back in the ocean is the wrong choice, as it will re-activate deterioration.     

DAY ONE: Issues in Conservation     

Wayne Lusardi (Maritime Archaeologist, Thunder Bay National marine Sanctuary, Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries.)     

Wayne Lusardi with wrecked Bristol Bay Double Ender, Juneau AK

In the 1960’s SCUBA diving really took off and the possibilities of accessing sites was really opened up.  This was the period that artifacts really started to come up in large numbers.  There are certain horror stories about wrecks found in that period that are now destroyed or have suffered significant loss.  The USS Cairo (pronounced (KAY-ro) and the Alvin Clark are two examples.  When the Alvin Clark was brought up, tourists could walk the deck and touch the rigging.  In 1994, it was bulldozed into a landfill.  If an artifact is removed from a wreck, consider the information that may be lost.  Was a liquor bottle part of the cargo hold?  Found in the galley?  Found next to the driver’s seat?  Artifacts can be very crucial parts of a story.  Sometimes divers move artifacts in order to show them to other divers, or perhaps to hide them from possible looters.  This changes the context as well.  Some problematic issues can include live ordnance or human remains.  In Michigan, for example, it is illegal to take photographs or videos of human remains.  In Wisconsin, the presence of human remains makes the whole wreck site considered a graveyard.  In Alaska, human remains are part of criminal law and it is a felony to disturb them.  A permit is required to remove them and there is a legal requirement to report finding them.      

Marine artifacts are notoriously challenging to conserve.  Putting artifacts from salt water into fresh water too quickly can cause damage.  Deteriorated wood cells collapse and cause cracking and distortion when water is removed.  Failing to remove chlorides and other soluble salts from the material can also cause it to corrode or self-destruct as it dries out.  Many metals require electrolysis to remove the salts, but this often requires the object to be taken apart.  The process requires a knowledge of chemistry, a well-ventilated space and potentially years to undertake the treatment.  An iron cannon might take 10 years to treat successfully.  Stain removal is also tricky, and can involve loss of scientific data.  Wood and organics are especially challenging and often require impregnation before they can be dried successfully.      

DAY ONE:Wrecks as Reefs     

Brenda Altmeier (Program Specialist, NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Upper Region Office)     

After increasing numbers of artificial reefs with questionable stability and materials were created in Florida, the Federal and State governments developed policies to manage artificial reefs.  By1985 the National Artificial Reefs Plan  was in place.  Today reef sites and materials are carefully chosen to enhance the existing bottom habitat, increase local fish populations, and are in locations that won’t threaten natural habitat. The National Artificial Reef Plan designated the Secretaries of Commerce and the Army with lead responsibilities to encourage, regulate, and monitor development of artificial reefs in the navigable waters and waters overlying the outer continental shelf of the United States. This information can be located NOAA Technical Memorandum, NMFS OF-6, 1985. 

The Florida Keys NOAA Marine Sanctuary was established in 1990, with 2900 square nautical miles .  There are 2.5 million visitors a year, and 70% of them enter the sanctuary. A third of the 70,000 year-round residents own boats.  Considerable amount of education and training is done here:Heritage Awareness Seminars, Shipwreck Trail, Mooring Buoy Programs, and a Professional Research Diving Course through the Florida Keys Community College to meet the requirements of a NOAA certified Scientific Diver.  

In Florida, you need a permit to even search for shipwrecks.  Within the state of Florida’s jurisdictional boundary (3 nautical miles) unless authorized by a permit, it is a violation of State Statute 267.13(1)(a) to conduct archaeological field investigations ie; archaeological surveys in State waters. 

In the evening, there were public talks given at the Juneau Douglas City Museum.  Tane Casserly (NOAA Underwater Archaeologist/ National Marine heritage Coordinator) presented “Heavy Metal on the High Seas: Archaeological Research and Recovery on the USS Monitor.”  There was also a lecture by Dr. John Jensen (Professor of Maritime Studies, Sea Education Association/ Adjunct Professor in History and Nautical Archaeology, University of Rhode Island.)  He presented, “Shipwreck Landscapes from Juneau to St. Michael.”  I was very sorry indeed to miss these evening talks.  (in addition to my life as a conservator, I’m also a mommy.)     

DAY TWO: Underwater Mapping: Fundamental Principles and Techniques (2D) Offsets, and Trilateration     

Wayne Lusardi     

George Bass took terrestrial archaeology techniques and brought them underwater.   Need to standardize your units.  Choices are to use metric system, imperial standard (quarter-inch, eighth-inch etc) or feet and tenths, which is what the NOAA folks are using.  (ie 8.4 feet)  This is in part because most ships found in the US were not built using the metric system, and shipbuilding standards are very important when determining the identity of a wreck.  Different mapping techniques include:     

  • Grid, which is difficult to set up and control underwater, and usually only used for complicated work or work over several field seasons.  However, a small grid is sometimes offset and used in an area that is artifact dense.  Grids are double-strung to reduce “parallax” error (getting an incorrect reading from an angle instead of straight-on)   
  • Radial survey will measure from a fixed object to various points, reporting in feet and degrees.   
  • Baseline: Fixed on both ends, it is usually a tape measure or an incremented line of some kind through the long axis of a site.  Accurate and precise, adaptable to various sites, low tech, but time and labor intensive to collect the data points.  You can have more than one baseline on a complicated wreck.  Remember what side of the baseline you are on when gathering measurements!  The baseline needs to have its location established firmly, so there might be a buoy up at each end where someone on the surface can take a GPS reading.  You cannot do an accurate GPS survey of a shipwreck, since GPS does not work underwater.   
  • Offset:  Shortest point between an object and the baseline.  It will make a perpendicular with the baseline, and if the zero end of your tape measure is on the object, the smallest number on the tape measure where it hits the baseline will be your “offset”.  You get this by swinging your tape measure back and forth till you find the smallest number.  You need to record two numbers, the one on the baseline and the one on your tape measure.  Also be really clear what those numbers are measuring!  This method is only accurate for things that are pretty close to the baseline.  Maybe less than 20 feet or so?  Depends on conditions.  Further away, you use trilateration.   
  • Trilateration: takes info from three or more datum (data = a control point or points from which measurements are made.)  When you measure your object, you need two separate measurements between the object and the baseline.  Where these touch the baseline does not matter, but the two lines must try to make a right angle at the object.  There will be a triangle, formed by these two lines (called “ties”)  with a third line being the baseline itself (the two lines “tie” into the baseline.)  You don’t want an acute or obtuse triangle, you want roughly a right triangle for best accuracy.   
  • Profiles are vertical offsets that can help establish the depth of data.  Vertical offsets and vertical trilateration can be used.   

“Slates” are the clipboards used underwater, usually with waterproof paper attached with electrical tape, a clip to attach it to the diver, a string for the pencil (mechanical ones rust fast, but wooden ones can break or float away).  Must include diver’s name, date, location, site, where they are on the baseline, and where they are recording on the site.     

Step 1: Sketch out the site for general orientation     

Step 2: establish a baseline.  If you must pound in rebar to tie a tape measure to, that may require a permit in some places.     

Step 3: On a wreck, determine the overall length of the ship from bow to stern     

Step 4: Gather measurements on important features and artifacts relative to the baseline.     

Step 5: Data is golden!  Making backups and transferring onto site map ASAP after the survey     

Wayne had a ton of information about things that typically go wrong and how to fix them.  This section of the course was perhaps the most interesting to me, and I was ready to hear it all a second time after I tried my hand at it myself.  I’m sure if I tried it in the water I would be itching for a third repeat of this section of the lecture.  Amazing how things make sense in a classroom, then seem vastly more complicated in real life, and then suddenly seem to make sense all over again once you practice a bit.      

DAY TWO: Area Search/Survey Methods and Position Fixing     

Tane Casserley     

How do they find these sites?  Let me count the ways:     

  • Aerial: photos, satellites, Google Earth.   Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) which shoots a laser  from an airplane and gets 3-D features, depending on depth and clarity of the water.   
  • Magnetometer: Picks up ferrous metal well, but due to the earth’s magnetosphere, you have to tell the software exactly where you are on earth.    
  • Sonar: Relies on sound.  There is side-scan sonar, 100-600kHz which has a blind spot, or 900kHz which has better resolution but you cannot see as far.  There’s also multibeam sonar, but the software is really complex.  Sub-bottom profilers are a used at low frequencies to look under the sediment.  Most common are the side-scan sonar techniques used together with a magnetometer on a towline behind a boat.   
  • ROV/AUV:  Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) are like floating eyeballs with a tether.  Turns are huge and time-consuming because of the length of the tether, and currents can be challenging.  An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) can turn on a dime and needs no tether, can just be programmed to go run a grid.  These are very expensive, however, and sometimes they are lost.   
  • Divers/Swimmers: In a Towed Visual Search, person holds onto a board and is towed through the water by a boat.  Safety protocols must be followed.  Swim line search, jackstay, snagline, circle, and grid are other human-powered searches.  Underwater metal detectors are sometimes used, although these often need a permit.   

DAY TWO: Site Types and Environments, and Dating Archaeological Material     

Tane Casserley     

Site types might include: intact wrecks, broken wrecks, flattened wrecks, scatter wrecks, submarines, aircraft, coastal sites, or submerged land sites.     

Dating comes in two varieties: Relative (order in which events occur, ie stratigraphy) and Absolute (provides a date)  Various kinds of dating discussed included site formation processes, maps, historical sources, coins, dendrochronology, C14, and typology.      

DAY TWO: Dry Practical Session      

For this part of the course, we went outside to a patio area outside the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute, the NOAA research facility near Juneau where the training was being held.  There, the instructors set up a baseline and a few chairs and objects.  We paired up in teams and were assigned areas to map, such as “the starboard side from 40-60 feet on the baseline.”  We had a couple of hours to work, and set off with our slates and tape measures.  Partway through, Tane told us we could no longer speak out loud, and had to now communicate as if we were underwater.  An experienced diver can take 400-500 measurements in an hour long dive.  A wreck can often be surveyed successfully in a week by a team of 6 people, making a couple of dives per day per person.  On dry land my first time trying this, I think my partner and I got less than 20 measurements in an hour!      

DAY TWO: Drawing Up Session     

Then we came back in to see how the measurements would look mapped out, and if our areas of overlap actually lined up.  Above all, could we get a decent outline of the shape of the “boat?”  Using the drafting tools and figuring out how to plot out the points was a bit of a learning curve for some of us, and the shortcomings of our various data recording techniques immediately became obvious  The discussion was basically repeating many of the points Wayne had hit on in the earlier lecture.     

DAY THREE: Mini-Survey     


We went out Thane Road to a shoreline area where many boats had been abandoned.  One boat on the beach was an old Bristol Bay Double-Ender, and we discussed construction techniques and what could be learned from the wreck, particularly in terms of modification.     

DAY THREE: Field Survey Session     



Then we went further down the beach where there were pilings from an old dock, parts of old piers and docks, and various artifacts on the beach.  We split into teams and spent to rest of the morning practicing survey techniques on the site.      

DAY THREE: Field Session Data Processing     


After lunch we came back to my lab at the Alaska State Museum and plotted out the site on paper, discussing what we had done as well as considerable networking and one-on one discussions with the instructors about everyone’s own personal interests and questions.