In 2010 and 2011, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), the US Navy, and Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) conducted archaeology surveys in the Patuxent River on a War of 1812 shipwreck. This blog documents our underwater archaeology surveys.

July 24, 2011

Documenting the Wreck

At the end of the week, we found ourselves on a floating barge working in extreme heat, but at least we were on the water. We have completed the excavation in two of the trenches. The upstream end has been nicely exposed and we are mapping and filming underwater to document the bow.

The downstream trench now has archaeologists measuring and mapping the large beams and decking--it does not appear that we have found the stern, yet. We are also continuing to excavate in the center of the wreck. Archaeologists working in this area are down to the decking. They found a long iron strap with rivets that was lying atop, but not attached to the wreck.
Dr. Robert Neyland prepares a video camera for underwater documentation. The camera is a great addition to a project that has poor water visibility, it picks up much more detail than the human eye.

While mapping the wreck, we are picking up any artifacts that seem to be loose and not in situ.  Around the end of the wreck, we found what appears to be a pig bone. When the site was examined in 1980 by author Don Shomette, large holes were excavated and at some point appear to have been backfilled with modern sediment and debris. Since the sediments have been disturbed, we are not sure if this bone represents mid-20th century garbage or a sailor's ration. We will be forwarding the images of the bone to a faunal analyst for a positive species identification. 
Medium sized mammal bone. 
Another interesting artifact recovered from the bow was a deadeye.  Deadeyes are used for ship's rigging. Our deadeye is a on the smaller side (approximately 5 in. x 10 in.) and is missing the wooden center with three drilled holes. The two holes on top and the one in the center give it this hardware the appearance of a skull...hence the name.
Deadeye found near bow. 
Example of 19th century deadeyes incorporated into ship rigging (courtesy
In addition to artifacts associated with the wreck, we are also coming across coffee cans, beer cans, glass,  etc. On Friday, a leather sole popped up from the end of the wreck.  It measured 11 in. long and was for a man's left foot. It looked old, but it was not from the War of 1812 wreck. Footwear was not regularly made in "lefts" and "rights" until the mid-19th century.
Bottom leather sole from a man's shoe or boot (post-1850).
Monday we will be back out on the site and will continue searching for the stern and the sides of the wreck. We only have two weeks left to find out the size of the shipwreck.


  1. Hey guys - hope all is going well and you are making some great discoveries. For the record, the site was back filled in 1980. I wonder if the holes you found are due to settlement of sediments back into some of the compartments or, has someone been tinkering with the site since 1980. That is all mentioned in the MHT final report.

    Good luck and stay cool!

    Ralph Eshelman

  2. Hi Ralph, It does appear that it had been backfilled....there just seems to be a load of beer cans and wood debris mixed in with the sandy overburden. This garbage may have washed in during your backfilling and/or your holes may have naturally scoured back out and then refilled yet again naturally. I can't believe I am saying this, but I think the river is cleaner now than it was in 1980! Come see us next week if you can.