University of South Carolina

USC students excavating Hilton Head shipwreck

By Peggy Binette,,803-777-5400

A team of USC maritime archaeologists are on the beach near Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island today (Friday) training a group of students how to get an unidentified shipwreck to reveal its secrets.

Archaeologist Ashley Deming and archaeology technicians Carl Naylor and Joe Beatty are showing four students how to excavate and record the remains of an abandoned wooden vessel that was reported to state archaeologists in late 2010. The students are adult scuba divers who are taking a four-day Sport Diver Archaeology Management Program course offered through USC’s South Carolina Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The vessel, located on the beach of Calibogue Sound, was reported to state archaeologists in late 2010 by Sea Pines resident Sally Peterson and her brother Peter Thompson. State archaeologists visited the site, located on a shell beach not far from the 18th tee of Harbour Town Golf Links, in March 2011.

“We decided that the wreck needed further study and would be an excellent opportunity to teach students the basics of ship recording,” Deming said.

What type of vessel was it? How old is the vessel? Why was it abandoned? Where was the vessel built? These are just some of the questions the archaeologists and students hope to answer.

“Our purpose is twofold,” Deming said. “First, we want to learn as much as we can about this particular shipwreck. Second, we want to give the students the tools necessary to become our eyes and ears in South Carolina waters.”

At the end of the course, the wreck will be sandbagged and reburied to protect it from future deterioration.

Students Bruce Orr, Don Davic, Richard Painter and Brianna Blacklock are certified scuba divers who frequently dive in Lowcountry rivers and coastal waters. Because Lowcountry divers routinely find previously unknown shipwrecks in state waters, USC maritime archaeologists are working to train them on basic archaeology methods.

“We not only want divers to report these valuable cultural resources to us, but also provide some basic information about each site so that we can formulate plans for their protection,” Deming said.

Scuba divers who want to collect artifacts and fossils from state waters are required to have a license issued by the state. This licensing program is administered through the USC Sport Diver Archaeology Management Program, whose offices are at the Fort Johnson Marine Resources Center on James Island near Charleston.

“The divers get to keep everything they find provided they report to us descriptions and precise locations of their finds,” Deming said. “But we want them to be more than collectors. We want them to become protectors of South Carolina’s submerged cultural resources.”

The USC archaeologists and students are staying at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Waddell Mariculture Center near Bluffton for the course, which concludes July 15.

USC has trained approximately 175 students through the SDAMP field courses since 1990. For more information, visit the SDAMP website or its Facebook page.

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Posted: 07/12/12 @ 1:00 PM | Updated: 08/10/12 @ 4:34 PM | Permalink