Category Archives: Student Posts

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Opening an Offshore Maritime Site for Continued Excavation

By Hunter Brendel, Master of Maritime Archaeology student

The Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) 2014 Field School, in which I am participating, is a continuation of the total excavation of the Storm Wreck, an eighteenth-century American revolutionary war shipwreck off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida. Most field schools I am familiar with are usually shore dives of sites that entail pre-disturbance assessments. This field school is different. Work on site began in 2009 and has already covered five field seasons of surveying, researching, and excavating approximately 30 1×1 square meter units. This field season continues work from previous seasons.

The Storm Wreck lies approximately a kilometer off the coast in about nine meters of water, so access to the site requires the use of a research vessel. The LAMP research vessel, Roper, is moored over the site to provide surface support to archaeological divers and houses two water dredges that are used to excavate the site. There is a catch, however, as mooring directly on site risks disturbing the site and the archaeologists working on it. The vessel also needs to be soundly anchored to protect it from the elements, such as ocean swells, wind, and the risk of suddenly-turning weather (the shipwreck is named the Storm Wreck, after all).

In order to moor Roper over the Storm Wreck so that archaeological work may be safely conducted, the staff at LAMP have devised a three-point mooring system. Three permanent anchors are located north, east, and west of site. These anchors have individual mooring lines attached to them that are located by divers, raised, and tied to a fixed point over the Storm Wreck site. The lines are then attached to a buoy and submerged over site with the buoy acting as a down line for the divers once they commence work.

When I first arrived in St. Augustine a week before the field school started, my initial task was to help locate the mooring lines and open the site for work the next week. A fellow supervisor and I joked that finding the mooring lines was like opening the curtains on the first act of a play—the 2014 LAMP Field School—with the Storm Wreck site being the stage.

Finding the mooring lines in low visibility is not as simple as diving down to the lines and raising them. First, you have to find them by feeling the area. To do so, LAMP developed a method of circle search that allows both divers to swim around the search area. In a traditional circle search, one diver holds down the zero end of a measuring tape in a fixed position while the other diver searches with the other end of the tape on a 360 degree axis. LAMP’s method of a circle search, however, allows both divers to search by holding down the zero end of the tape with a t-probe and mushroom anchor. This frees up the diver (the finder) who would usually hold down the zero end, allowing him or her to search the length of the tape while the other diver (the navigator) rotates around a 360 degree axis on a northern bearing. When the full circle is complete, the navigator extends the length of the tape another five meters while the finder continues to swim the length of the tape (Figure 1).

Using GPS coordinates, Roper placed my dive buddy and me over where one of the anchors was supposed to be. Diving down, we had three principal tools with which to conduct our circle survey: a t-probe, a mushroom anchor, and a measuring tape. Using the mushroom anchor, which also served to hold our down line, we drove the t-probe and measuring tape into the seabed. My dive buddy, who was in the navigator role, extended the tape out to a length of five meters and with a compass conducted a full 360 degree axis sweep on a northern bearing. My role was finder.

Figure 1. A sketch showing how LAMP conducts circle searches with a pair of divers. The circle displayed is the search area. One diver (the navigator) holds the end of the tape at a distance of five meters and rotates on a northern 360 degree axis. When the circle is completed, the navigator extends the tape five more meters to expand the search area until the objective is found. The other diver (the finder) searches both sides of the tape as the measuring tape is rotated and extended. Sketch by Hunter Brendel.


As the navigator rotated around the axis, I searched up and down the measuring tape, which was held in place by the t-probe and mushroom anchor. Usually after the circle is completed, the navigator would extend the tape another five meters and widen our search area. Fortunately, before the first lap was done, I felt a snag in the measuring tape. Tracing the kink in the tape, I felt the mooring line blocking its path. We had found our anchor.

After lifting the mooring lines for all three anchors, we tied them together with a buoy and down line secured by a screw anchor only two meters from the Storm Wreck. The LAMP 2014 Field School was officially opened.

Whenever Roper finds the site by GPS, we locate the buoy that holds the mooring lines, untie them, and fix the three lines to the bow and aft of the stern. To release tension on the lines, LAMP uses pelican hooks for a safer and more secure hold (Figure 2). Then the real work begins!


Figure 2. One of the three-point mooring lines secured aft of the stern of Roper. To reduce tension on the line, a pelican hook is used. This technique of using a pelican hook was adopted by LAMP from local shrimp trawlers. Photo by Hunter Brendel courtesy of LAMP.

Maritime Archaeology by Braille

by Hunter Brendel, Master of Maritime Archaeology student

As I sit on the edge of a 1×1 square meter unit, all I can hear is the methodical sound of my own breathing through my regulator. The water dredge is operating in full force with my student dive buddy wrestling the dredge (I’ve dubbed it ‘the hydra’ as a term of endearment) and digging down into the darkness of history. Looking to the right, I spot a school of Atlantic spadefish within reach, curiously hovering over a neighboring unit to the west. They scatter when a fellow supervisor emerges from the unit, giving me the “okay” dive signal as he descends back into the darkness. Following a travel line, I swim around the unit into another one a couple of meters south of my position to scope out an artefact that is already plotted on the site plan I have engraved into my memory. I gingerly reach down into the unit with my right hand, feeling the artefact a meter down through the pitch blackness. It is then I realize I am touching history, an eighteenth-century cannon lost to the bottom of the ocean long ago. This scenario gives me flashbacks to a terrestrial field school I participated in a couple of years ago—only the dredge is our trowel and hand signals are our primary means of communication. This is all done with less than a meter of visibility.

It’s difficult to describe the surreal experience of excavating underwater in low visibility, but archaeology by braille is a task that requires all five senses to be fully functional. The site I am fortunate enough to be working on is known as the Storm Wreck, a British loyalist revolutionary shipwreck discovered off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida in 2009 by an American non-profit underwater archaeology organization, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP). Since then, LAMP has dedicated a field school each summer to excavating the Storm Wreck by bringing in students and volunteers from around the world to work on the project.

Currently, we are in the throes of the 2014 field school, and I couldn’t be more excited about the work we have done and what we have yet to accomplish. The field school extends the full month of June, so I am blogging my experiences on certain aspects of the project as a directed study and to inform the public on how Flinders Maritime Archaeology students conduct archaeology outside of the crystal clear waters of South Australia.

This blog post focuses on what I consider to be the primary environmental difference between my previous experiences on maritime archaeology sites in South Australia to that of Florida’s northeastern Atlantic coast. The Flinders 2013 field school that I participated in near Port MacDonnell was focused on two sites that had diving conditions of relatively clear visibility. We students were able to document the sites by taking photos with cameras in underwater housings and sketching archaeological features on Mylar. On the Storm Wreck, however, site documentation by photography is nearly impossible unless the visibility is unusually good. In order to work on the site, I’ve had to memorize the site plan, trust my instincts, and follow travel lines to get where I want to be.


Figure 1. Students during the 2013 Flinders University Archaeology Field School near Port MacDonnell, South Australia.


Figure 2. A diver during the Storm Wreck 2009 field season installs a screw anchor to mark an anomaly. This photo was taken on what is considered to be a good visibility day. Photo courtesy of LAMP.

Even if visibility is excellent on the Storm Wreck site, by the end of the day it is nonexistent because of water dredges silting the site. To train students and supervisors to be ready for site conditions, LAMP staff devised an obstacle course in a freshwater dive shop pool that was riddled with obstacles such as barrels, wheelbarrows, and tangled line. The goal of finishing the course was to descend a down line, retrieve a flashlight, follow a travel line through the assortment of obstacles, clip the flashlight on the end down line, and ascend to the surface. Furthermore, the diver was further challenged by LAMP staff and supervisors by blacking out his or her dive mask with electrical tape. The course was to be completed without vision and taught the diver to trust his or her instincts and the travel line. Divers were also clipped to the bottom of the pool by bungee cords at certain points of the course to teach them how to comfortably unsnag themselves. At one point in the course, divers were to take off their BC (buoyancy compensator) and put it back on.

Since I was new to the project, I went through the course myself and nothing could have prepared me better, other than actually being on site, to navigate the Storm Wreck. I had a blast doing the course, as did all of the other divers, and I hope to see similar training on low visibility maritime archaeology projects in the future. Now to get back in the field!

Figure 3. A student is challenged to follow a travel line with his or her blacked out mask during the LAMP 2014 field school obstacle course. Photo courtesy of LAMP.


Bark hut or stone fortress? The architecture of pastoral Queensland.

In South Australia we tend to take for granted the robust forms of farmstead architecture that proliferate in the agricultural regions of our state, and that are synonymous with our pastoral history and heritage. Little old stone cottages, homesteads, and ruins are so ubiquitous in the rural landscape that it’s difficult to imagine that they might be considered somewhat of an oddity in other parts of Australia.

In northern Queensland, European settlers constructed very different dwellings on the pastoral frontier during the late 19th century. In his rather poetic description of the architecture of the frontier, E.B. Sorenson writes of Queensland houses in 1911:

Though one finds all sorts of curious habitations sprinkled over the country, there is a certain architectural style marking the periods of settlement. What may be accepted as typical of early selection days is the ‘old bark hut.’ … The roof, as its name implies, was covered with stringy-bark, secured with bits of green-hide, and held down with crossed poles, called riders and jockies. The doors and shutters were made of split pine battens, and swung on leather hinges. There wasn’t a pane of glass in it; neither was there in the shingle-roofed cottages that became the vogue at a later period.

Whilst it’s true that this type of dwelling was typical for the earliest phases of settlement, architectural historians have noted that even the more permanent homes, intended for occupancy over the longer term, were still constructed predominantly of timber, or sometimes mud and rubble (Bell 1984; Sumner 1974).

No 10 Cambridge Downs, Stawell - Cambridge river in backgrou
Cambridge Downs n.d., Burke District, Queensland
Original stone homestead to the right was replaced by the timber building on the left, probably in the 1890s.

Cambridge Downs homestead, built sometime in the 1860s or 1870s, is therefore rare, although certainly not unique, for the region. Examples of other stone homesteads do exist, like Old Westmoreland Homestead and Elderslie Homestead, both on the Queensland Heritage Register. Nevertheless, in north Queensland, these types of buildings are few and far between.

The massive stone walls of the first Cambridge Downs homestead, the remains of which still stand today, were skilfully constructed from ‘flagstones’ collected in the vicinity. Photographic evidence and archaeological survey suggests that these walls were broken only by three to four windows, and a door to the front and the rear. Given that most settlers built much humbler bark and timber dwellings, what then, was the motivation for the construction of this comparatively substantial residence? Did the threat of attack really inspire the earliest settlers on this pastoral run to build a stone fortress?

Megan Tutty, Master of CHM student

Bell, P. 1984 Timber and Iron: Houses in North Queensland Mining Settlements, 1861-1920. St Lucia, QLD: University of Queensland Press.

Sorenson, E.B. 1911 Backblock homes and builders: The architecture of the pioneer. The Catholic Press, Thursday 13 April 1911. Retrieved 29 March 2014 from

Sumner C.R. 1974 Pioneer homesteads of North Queensland. In Dalton, B.J. (ed) Lectures on North Queensland History, pp. 47-61. Townsville: James Cook University.

Not all fun and games

Throughout my research I have been having difficulties accessing research and establishing where to find the information.

I have been directed to a few books and articles to look at, however, I am finding it difficult to find the information I require for this research. Throughout this research I have been trying to establish mail change stations and information on Frederick George Taylor, who was a farmer at Taylorville. This research has been difficult as it is known about these people and events but there are limited written records on possible site locations.

Calperum has been used throughout its farming life for sheep grazing and horse breeding. The Robertson family were breeders of many of the horses which were raced at the local pubs. I have been informed that many of the dams bear the names of the horses who won their races.


Sheep station at Calperum

I have also been attempting to establish if Hawdon and Bonney, who herded the cattle from New South Wales, established a camp site near Calperum. Through looking at maps and reading their journals there was Indigenous contact around the Calperum area, but located closer to the River Murray. I believe that if there was a campsite located near Calperum it would not be located within the study area, as it would be located closer to the River Murray.

Maps have been difficult to research, as there are many maps located within the state library. It has been difficult as there is little information given about what the map contains and most maps are located within the underground storage. It is difficult to establish a boundary for the study area as it has changed throughout time due to settlement and ownership of the pastorals located at Calperum. This research is very broad and time consuming, however, I am committed to finding all information I have access to, to create a report on the historical aspects of Calperum.


Calperum Station Sheep Ranches. Retrieved 1 June 2014 from <–+South+Australia+–+Renmark+Region%22&c=picture&versionId=14235278&gt;.

The Multiple Benefits of a Directed Study in Maritime Archaeology

By: Chelsea Colwell-Pasch

I have now completed my semester long directed study topic at Flinders University, with only the final draft of my field work report for the industry partner involved, Heritage Victoria, remaining. It is the perfect time to reflect upon the semester and the benefits of partaking in a directed study topic. For the purposes of my research it was in maritime archaeology, but I imagine that any directed study would carry the same benefits and this blog could be taken synonymously.

This has been a hard topic. I know that this blog, the last in my required blog posts for this topic, is supposed to be about the benefits of a directed study but I feel that it would be amiss if I didn’t let you, the reader, know that it was a very taxing endeavour. You spend a lot of time thinking about it, working on it, doubting yourself, having the pressure of a professional or industry partner being involved, and the scariest of all, relying on yourself to do what needs to be done. I do not want people to get the wrong idea: it was hard, yes, but in the best possible ways. 

Even now as I write this I am thinking about the quality of my writing and whether or not I will meet the standards required for a professional maritime archaeology field work report. I have read through multiple field reports by various government and commercial maritime archaeology firms and have created what can only be described as a ‘Frankenstein-esque’ version of a report, with the pieces I could use cut and sewn together, because no field report is alike. Sections included in one may not be relevant in another and vice versa. The end product is very specific and a very large report covering every possible aspect that I or others could conceive. This has been a great exercise in understanding what maritime archaeologists actually do as a job. By understanding at least one end product of their work, I can better understand how to conduct myself in the field to make the task of report writing easier.

Another beneficial outcome of this project is acknowledging your personal work ethic and drive. I am not being paid to write this report, on the contrary I am paying a substantial international post-graduate course fee to write it. That being said, I treated it as a job, as if it was my duty to write this report to the highest standard and not let my industry partner or professors down. Pressure to succeed is a good stressor (to a certain degree), and it will be a part of any career you choose so to understand how you handle it in a safe, academic environment is very nice.

For this entire semester, I was the ‘captain’ of my professional report writing ‘voyage’. I ‘steered’ the way the report was going by choosing what to include and how to include it. The best part of being enrolled in a course is that my ‘safety beacon’ if you will (apologies for the nautical puns…occupational hazard) was the very knowledgeable university staff who were there to answer any and all questions and guide me to ‘safe harbour’ when rough water was met (I will stop with the puns now, I promise). This is a luxury that is not afforded in the real world.

I will end my last directed studies blog with the best part of enrolling in this topic: experience. I will, once everything is completed, have a professional report under my belt. I will not be intimidated by report writing once I am in the professional realm. I can show future employers, colleagues and, most importantly, myself that I CAN do this. The only real issue I have about this topic is that I am not able to take part in another one.