That's a Wrap By Jennifer McKinnon 17 June 2016
Fair winds and following seas as we pull off the dock and leave Keeper Chuck (photo by A. Ropp 2016).
It’s hard to say goodbye…to fieldwork, that is. Close to the end of a project you can feel it nearing in the nervousness of ensuring that you collected every scrap of data you possibly could and the anticipation of post-processing when you get back to the office. These feelings are mixed with the excitement of soon sleeping in your own bed, a more than 3-minute shower and using more than 15 squares of allotted toilet paper (plumbing at Broad Key is old), and seeing your friends and loved ones you left behind for weeks at a time. Nevertheless, hopefully you have the time to reflect on your accomplishments while in the field and relish in the success of another completed season. What did we accomplish and what have we learned?
The sun setting over the boathouse at Broad Key (photo by A. Ropp 2016).
Well, the truth of what we have and will learn comes with the months of post-processing, analysis and research that are ahead of us. We return from the field with boxes of artifacts soaking in seawater that we will pull out, photograph, inspect for composition and construction, try to identify types and time periods of manufacture, and send off to specialists to identify further (in the case of bone and timber). We also bring back a full notebook each (ten total and more if we fill more than one) with information about our daily activities, collected data and reflections and interpretations of the site. This is complemented by the individual mylar sheets we used to write on underwater in drawing maps of the sites or communicating things like, “did you see that lobster!” or “Awesome! Sacrificial planking!” We have photo logs that contain a description of every single photo and video we took on site, map logs that catalogue and describe all the maps we drew, field specimen catalogues used to keep track of the artifacts we collected, and tables of scanting measurements for the hull (i.e. width, thickness, length). All of that data is used to reconstruct what we know about this shipwreck. What kind of ship was it? Where was it going and where did it come from? Who built it and what does that tell us about people’s knowledge of ship construction in the past? What was it carrying? When did it wreck and how did that happen? And what has happened to the site since that time? These are all the burning questions that archaeologists go to bed with at night and that hopefully reveal themselves as we carefully piece together the evidence to recreate the story of the past. But at the close of this field project, we don’t have answers to those questions just yet.
So what do we know? The Pillar Dollar Wreck is a resilient site. The very large timbers that remain today are as strong as they were the day they were hewn. Covered in sand, these pieces have retained the color of hickory, maple and pine, the wood of which they were constructed, as well as the square fastener holes the shipwright created when she or he drove nails from the hull planks into the frames. We find traces of the black pitch or tar they used to waterproof the hull and the caulking they pushed between the hull planks to ensure a watertight fit. But we also know that the site has been impacted heavily by treasure hunters and looters from the 1960s on. We find this evidence on the site in the form of their equipment (buoy markers and pvc pipes) and trash (Folgers cans and coffee cups dating to the 1960s buried over 30 cm below the sediment). We also see it in the disarticulation of the shipwreck with scattered floor timbers north and south of the wreck that could only be caused by removal and displacement to get to the “treasure” and the marks their equipment made on that wood. And finally we see it in the dearth of artifacts left to recover which might give us clues as to the questions posed above.
Despite the missing evidence, this shipwreck still has much to reveal. And while we have not solved the puzzle yet, we are spiraling it out from hypothesis to hypothesis, piecing together and moving from what we know to what we don’t know. I wish I could answer all the questions above, but the fun part has only just begun and now it’s time to piece the puzzle back together. Stay tuned…
A great deal of hard work went into making this project happen. First and foremost, I’d like to thank MUA for hosting our blog, which is no small feat! You provide an opportunity like no other to archaeologists who want to get their research out to the masses and this truly is a public service! I’d like to thank the archaeologists at the Southeast Archaeological Center for providing oversight and permits and Biscayne National Park (BNP) for its support for this project. BNP supplied financial in-kind support through vessels, crew, equipment and many, many human hours. Special thanks to Chuck Lawson and Josh Marano for all of their hard work and support. Showing up on site with your baseline already in place and leaving a site to be backfilled by others are luxuries all archaeologists dream about and few seldom see. Thanks also to volunteer extraordinaire Madeline Roth and intern Caleb Henderson. Special thanks to Evan D’Alessandro for arranging our stay at Broad Key and to keeper Chuck Clovis, who now is family! Inga (black lab) and “cat” (who we never saw) – we miss you already! Two very important people who are key to ECU’s maritime projects are our DSO Jason Nunn and our Program Archaeologist Jason Raupp. Thanks to both of these guys for organizing our equipment, getting us in and out of the water safely and really just being the keel upon which this project sailed. Finally, to two hardworking, organized, easy-going crew chiefs, Allyson Ropp and Kelsey Dwyer, you made running this field school a dream - thank you for ALL of your help! And to the students, you are the ones that this is all for and to have a crew that works so hard and appreciates the experience makes teaching field school very rewarding. The quality of data you churned out is incomparable and your positive attitudes and determination made this field season a pleasure. Keep up the good work and “DO BETTER!” Just kidding – inside joke!
Our hardworking crew over our beautiful island (photo by C. Clovis 2016).