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USS Scorpion 2010 Excavation

Fieldwork conducted during the 2010 season focused on three primary investigative methods: a remote sensing survey, probing, and limited archaeological excavation.

USS Scorpion_Fig_1_2010_seasonThe first task was to conduct a remote sensing survey over the archaeological site and the wider area, extending to cover the footprint of a potential future cofferdam. Before getting underway, the team had to cut and remove overhanging foliage and debris from the site to prevent potential snags and injuries. The remote sensing survey could then proceed. Equipment utilized in this survey included a side-scan sonar, used to create an picture of the river bottom using sound waves, and a marine magnetometer, which measured abnormalities in the Earth's magnetic field caused by the presence of ferrous (i.e. iron) materials. These devices were towed behind a boat over the site in a controlled manner to ensure complete and thorough coverage. (Figure 1 at left: Image of remote sensing data; click to enlarge.) 

USS Scorpion_Fig_2_2010_season

Following the survey, systematic probing was undertaken to collect data on the depth of the wreck below sediment, as well as to record and identify any contacts (as wood, metal, stone) and their associated depths. Probing was carried out using both rebar rods and water jet probes in a systematic grid pattern, running along transects (north/south and east/west). All contacts, their depth, and location were recorded on a site-plan that was used to define the archaeological site and determine locations for barge placement and test excavations.

The information recovered during the probing was compared with the remote sensing data in order to develop a fuller understanding of the site prior to excavation. (Figure 2 at right: Preparation work for the excavation included clearing brush and debris.)  

With the completion of both the survey and probing activities, the next phase of investigation called for archaeological excavation. Large barges were constructed and floated to the site (Figure 3, below left: Barges on station; click to enlarge.) so that the team had a fully-functioning operations platform adjacent to the shipwreck, complete with excavation equipment, dive gear, and conservation supplies. With the operations platform up and running, teams of archaeologists were then deployed to undertake sediment removal and excavation of priority areas. Induction dredges removed sediment along the upper portions of the hull timbers in order to delineate the shape of the main hull and establish its integrity, with test trenches placed at the presumed ends of the main wreck as well as at midships. (Figure 4 at below middle: Sediment from induction pumps is screened for artifacts; click to enlarge.) 

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The objective of the test trenches was to determine the vessel's orientation with some confidence, assess its state of preservation, locate potential areas of damage on the hull, identify any associate artifact debris fields, examine the areas previously investigated, and finally, assess the vessel type and its possible identity. Through the excavation, divers were able to determine the number, condition, and dispersal of artifacts present. (Figure 5 above right: Divers ready for the muddy Potomac; click to enlarge.) 

Artifacts were only recovered for diagnostic purposes or to prevent their loss in the event that the excavators believe in situ preservation has been compromised. However, given the low-to-no visibility environment, any artifacts removed from their immediate environment, whether by divers or by the induction dredges, were considered compromised. Excavators were cautious when disturbing the site's stratigraphy. Upon recovery artifacts were catalogued, recorded and provided with the necessary first-aid stabilization treatments. Artifacts were evaluated daily and whenever possible returned to the NHHC archaeology and conservation laboratory for further treatment and study.

Upon completion of the excavation, the exposed test trenches were refilled with sediment and sandbags if needed. It is expected, however, that the river's current will naturally fill any exposed gaps. 

Findings from 2010 Field Season: 

USS Scorpion_Fig_6_2010_season In 2010, the UAB and its partners spent three weeks, from mid-July to early August, on the upper Patuxent River for the inaugural field season of the USS Scorpion Project.

Utilizing the remote sensing and hydro-probe data, three separate test excavation units were placed over the suspected longitudinal centerline of the shipwreck and subsequently opened up. (Figure 6, left: site plan of the excavation; click to enlarge.) 

Archaeologists then worked to remove 1 to 2 m of alluvial overburden and sediment in order to reach the vessel. Two of the three test units yielded substantial hull material, which was carefully documented. The two positive test units exhibited similar architectural details, including deck planking, deck beams, and iron fasteners. The observed timbers were all very well preserved and in remarkable shape, due in part to being buried by river sediment for several decades. (Figure 7a at below left; Photo of a deck plank; click to enlarge.)

After undergoing sketches, measurements, and videography, all exposed ship timbers were re-buried to ensure preservation. (Figure 7b at below middle: sketch of deck planking locations; click to enlarge.) 

Only one artifact was discovered that potentially dates to the War of 1812. A cigar-shaped lead weight was found in the northern-most test unit at the level of the shipwreck. The artifact appears to have been hand-crafted and exhibits man-made cuts and marks on all surfaces. (Figure 8 at below right: Lead fishing weight recovered from the excavation site; click to enlarge.) It could possibly have been used to weigh down fishing or sounding lines used by navy seaman during this period.

Archaeologists also happened upon quite a bit of other cultural material, such as modern beer bottles, coffee cans, and modern clay pigeons. While not related to the shipwreck itself, these pieces can be useful to researchers when establishing the depositional history of the site. 

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