The Archaeology Hour podcast is now live on Podomatic and you can follow it by opening the link and downloading the broadcast. The pilot edition features interview with Marc Bernier of Parks Canada on the HMS Erebus expedition lead-up (a results interview will follow) and a second feature with Irene Morfini, one of the two young archeologists who have made a major new tomb discovery in Egypt. The broadcast also features pieces by Rob Steele on archaeological travel to Belize, a piece by Elle Shepard on the exhibition of the 1600s ship Vasa in Sweden, and some off-beat archaeological news from Brannon Lamar.
New Archaeology Hour broadcasts are to follow shortly. They will feature British Museum coin expert Vincent Drost on the Seaton Down Roman coin hoard found in England, Archaeologist Bruce Terrellon a mystery ship found in six thousand fathoms of the coast of North Carolina and more contributions from Steele, Shepard and Lamar.
Major new story to be featured in the near future will be an exclusive interview with Brendan Foley, American partner with the Greek Government in the upcoming (next week!) excavation of the long fabled Antikythera wreck. Found in 1900 by Greek sponge divers, the wreck produced a fabulous hoard of marble and bronze statuary. Cousteau returned to the site in the 1950s and 1970s – but it took Foley’s team to discover that the wreck was far larger than originally thought. If the weather holds breathtaking finds may soon be revealed by the sands of Antikythera after more than two thousand years.
A new blog posting this coming weekend will feature an interview with Foley and the podcast will follow that shortly.
The ‘early 18th century’ wreck recently discovered off the coast of North Carolina may not be what it appears to be. The wreck was discovered by Duke University biology researchers using Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute equipment to search for a lost instrument buoy. An early press release labeled it as early 18th century or possible Revolutionary period (a pretty wide span of time in any event). Examination of photographs from the site, beneath 6,000 feet of water on the continental shelf, tell an even more confusing story.
Bruce Terrell, chief archaeologist of NOAA’s Marine Heritage Program, told the Archaeology Hour yesterday: “We can clearly see what appears to be an octant in one photograph. Yet in other photographs we can see bottles that appear to have a form normally dated to the early decades of the 19th century. Obviously we have issues when it comes to dating the wreck.”
Terrell notes other questions raised by the evidence in the photographs. “There is very little rigging hardware to be seen. The hull structure of the vessel is gone completely but from the size of the ballast pile and the rigging hardware we can see it appears to be a very small ship; maybe 40 to 60 feet long.” This might indicate a Bermuda sloop or a small coasting schooner. Coasting vessels typically hugged the coastline and operated in shallow waters and riverine areas – this site is 180 miles out on the Blake Plateau.
The current information draws immediate comparisons with the wreck of another small coasting vessel found by sport divers in the Black River, South Carolina in 1971. This reporter spent a month working on the vessel in the 1980s and later on its reconstruction at the Georgetown Rice Museum where it is now on display. This vessel also appeared to be a small coasting schooner dated to the mid 18th century – and it also contained an octant.
Sir Isaac Newton in vented the quadrant in the 1690s, the octant appeared in the 1730s. Philadelphia inventor Thomas Godfrey and English mathematician John Hadley invented it simultaneously. The instrument enabled navigators to take sightings of both the sun and stars. It’s presence on the North Carolina wreck points to a mid-18th century or possibly earlier date for the wreck. The dating contradiction arises from bottles that appear in another photograph of the site. The shapes of the bottles appear to be typical of the very late 18th or early 19th century. “It is highly improbable that two wrecks are mixed here, “said Terrell. “This is not very likely in 6,000 feet of water.”
Clearly, more information is needed from the site. It is likely that more research will be done as the site adds important new information to North Carolina’s maritime history. “I am not sure what will happen next, “ says Terrell. “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is the Federal Agency responsible for the continental shelf and the decision on next steps will come from them. Hopefully an archaeologist will be appointed and a survey of the site will be completed.”
In an exclusive interview with the Archaeology Hour, Marc-Andre Bernier, Chief of the Archaeology Division of Parks Canada has announced the timetable for the historic dives beneath seven feet or more of arctic ice on the remains of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition ship the HMS Erebus. The first team for the project will be on-site later this week on April 4th to prepare for the investigation. “A national defense team will set up the camp starting on the 4th, “ said Bernier. “Our archaeologists Ryan Harris and Jonathan Moore will be there to get us close to the wreck itself – not right above it but close enough to make the diving operation easier. Then the rest of the team will arrive around April 10th and will work until the 17th or 18th.”
“We plan to continue the non-disturbance survey started when the ship was discovered last year,” Bernier told The Archaeology Hour. “We are still determining what our future methodology will be so this is still something of a pre-disturbance project with three phases. We will be examining the exterior of the hull, then the perimeter close to the hull and finally the inside of the hull. “The deck looks like it has been shaved by the ice in places and some sections have been opened almost like a can opener. The rigging has been pushed off the sides a distance of some three or four meters. The inside of the hull will be accessible through some large openings. At this stage we plan to insert a laser device from 2G Robotics here in Canada. It will create a three dimensional image of the interior in a few minutes.”
The Parks Canada team hope to complete their surveys and photographic mapping of the site by the end of the month. “We do have another window in mid August to mid September when the ice cap melts—but conditions then would not be as good for underwater video and photography,” said Bernier.
Once a full understanding of the wrecksite has been developed the Parks Canada team will begin the process of removing artifacts and pieces of the wreckage. It is only then that the mystery of the final hours of the ill-fated expedition may be answered.
Sir John Franklin sailed from England on May 19th, 1845 with 134 men and two ships the Erebus and the Terror. The HMS Erebus was the ‘space shuttle‘ of its day—the most technologically advanced and well supplied vessel of discovery ever launched. The goal was to finally discover the Northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the shortest route from the rich trade sources of the far east to the factories and shops of England. The Erebus had both steam and sail power, a reinforced hull, seawater to drinkable water systems, heated cabins and three years of supplies that Franklin thought could be extended to seven years in an emergency. Included in the food supplies were over seven thousand pounds of tobacco and 200 gallons of wine and almost ten thousand pounds of chocolate. There was also a new invention that the British Navy thought would stave off scurvy and ‘debilitation” – eight thousand tins of canned meat and vegetables.
Two whaling ships were the last to see Franklin’s expedition as it sailed off into barely charted waters of Lancaster Sound of northern Canada — and on into the frozen wastelands of the supposed Northwest Passage. It seemed there was no way Franklin could fail. The ships, the men were never seen again. After 1847 the British Government and private sources sent further expeditions to find Franklin. Men died and ships sunk in the crushing grip of the Arctic winter ice, but still nothing at all was found of Franklin, his men or his two wonderfully equipped ships. Still later searches found tantalizing traces of the lost expedition, but nothing that told why such a well equipped and planned project would fail so spectacularly.
Some 140 years later archaeologists finally unearthed the burials of three men from the expedition on Beechey Island. William Braine, John Hartnell of the Erebus and John Torrington of the Terror had died of scurvy (vitamin C deficiency — and lead poisoning.) It may have been that the cans of tinned food laid waste to the men. When they left England, the seeds of disaster were already stored inside their ships.
“We still do not know what the final months and weeks of the expedition were like,” said Bernier.”From Inuit accounts we know that there were men aboard the ship but we do not know if they attempted an overland retreat, abandoned the idea and returned to the ship, then perhaps even left again. We do know that Inuits reported at least one corpse inside the ship before it sank.”
Several expeditions were sent find Franklin, or at least determine what had happened to him. It was learned that some of the crew had attempted to trek south, hauling a boat with them. Later searchers found traces of the boat and the bones of some of the men. Even so, the full story has yet to be revealed. Perhaps the hull of the Erebus, and the dead known to be in it, will finally speak.
As the archaeologists of Parks Canada probe the icy time capsule that is the wreck of the Erebus, the answers the world, and especially the English, have been waiting for since that fateful day in May of 1845 may at last be found.
It’s going to be very tricky. A river bottom near downtown Columbia, S.C., covered with Confederate era munitions dumped by the Federal Army in 1865. You might imagine that, being underwater for that long, there would be little danger involved in handling rebel grenades and shells and cannon balls. No so. In the 1970s divers found a similar dump behind the Confederate Powder Works on the banks of the Savannah River at Augusta Georgia. A lot of the shells were inert, the water had leached away the powder inside years before. Then again, a lot of them were very much alive—and even more volatile than when they were first made. Colonel Washington Raines, the man who built the Powder Works, was famed for the quality of his gunpowder. When such gunpowder sits undisturbed it ‘matures’ becoming more volatile over time. As the Augusta divers discovered, the powder inside the intact shells they recovered was still capable of exploding.
“We were totally stupid, “ one them told The Archaeology Hour (forty years later he still wants to remain anonymous). “We carefully cut one of the smaller shells open without cutting into the powder, we then made a small hole and got the powder out. We shot pictures of the result—it blew up like crazy!”
In the near future work will begin to recover the munitions in the Congaree River near Columbia. As if the danger of an explosion is not bad enough, there is another complication. Tar. Not only are the munitions underwater, sand and mud—there is also a two foot thick layer of tar over the entire deposit as well!
The river, the tar, sand, mud—and live shells. And it all has to be removed. This is going to be a good story! Scuba divers, probably seeking to repeat the finds of the Augusta divers decades ago, first discovered the ‘tarry substance.’ It was most recently reported to authorities by a wading kayaker. South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control decided the mess needed to be cleaned up.
The result is that responsibility for the problem has fallen into the lap of South Carolina Electric & Gas. Eric Boomhower, Director for Public Affairs for SCE&G, told the Archaeology Hour, “The tarry substance is consistent with coal tar created by manufactured gas plants that operated throughout Columbia more than a century ago.
“One of those gas plants, located at Lincoln and Lady Street, was owned and operated by the Columbia Gas Light Company. At the time of closing in 1906, its production was replaced by the output of a new MGP at Huger and Taylor Street (the “Huger Street Site”). Note that the Huger Street Site was operated during its operating history by the Columbia Railway, Gas and Electric Company (a predecessor to SCE&G), thus giving rise to SCE&G’s liability for that former MGP site. In 1925, Columbia Railway Gas & Electric Company merged with the Broad River Power Company Inc. to form the Broad River Power Company. In 1937, the name was changed to South Carolina Electric & Gas Company. It appears that this particular deposit may have originated from the Huger Street Site. “
In accepting responsibility for the problem SCE&G is showing great corporate citizenship. They have hired environmental firm TRC Solutions out of Atlanta, Georgia to handle the decidedly dangerous clean up job.
“TRC’s primary job will be to do the archaeological recovery, they have done this type of work for us before in similar situations,” said Boomhower. “It should be understood though, that our primary concern is the safety of everyone involved.”
While the historical record states that this is the area where Sherman dumped Confederate munitions, Boomhower says that it is by no means certain that live ammunition will in fact be encountered. “If it is—if we encounter anything that has the potential to be live and dangerous—then the bomb disposal experts will immediately take control of the work.”
A further complication is that the Confederate munitions also constitute part of the state’s archaeological heritage. This brings in Jim Spirek, State Underwater Archaeologist at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA). Spirek told The Archaeology Hour, “Historical research suggests this area of the Congaree River was one of several dumping sites of Confederate war materials by troops under command of General William T. Sherman following the capture of the city in 1865.
“Recovery of various Civil War artifacts in this location in the 1930s by the then mayor of West Columbia and later under salvage licenses issued by SCIAA in the late 1970s and early 1980s also provides archaeological corroboration of the historical record. A series of bores was conducted from the Gervais Bridge to the Blossom Street Bridge. The stratigraphy of the river in this area consists of bedrock buried under several feet of sand and mud close to shore with exposed rocks further out in the river, along with sediment filled pockets in deeper areas. The tar like substance (TLS) is approximately two feet thick at its deepest and thins out downstream.
“Presumably the Civil War-era and earlier artifacts rest below or perhaps intermingled with the TLS. More recent artifacts including hubcaps, beer cans, shopping carts, etc. are included in the upper levels of the site stratigraphy, or perhaps scoured in deeper due to periodic flooding.
“At the areas excavated to remove TLS from the river there will be 100% artifact recovery. Artifacts of historic and archaeological significance will undergo conservation treatment. Modern items will be cataloged and then disposed of. Plans call for the conserved items to be curated at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, although some artifacts may be sent to other appropriate cultural institutions for display and interpretation.
In handling possible live ammunition, the ordnance experts will make the call on whether such items will be destroyed by safe detonation or preserved by being defused and rendered inert. These will then be among the ‘conserved items’ that Spirek refers to.
This adds even more complexity to the project. SCANA and TRC have submitted a plan to the State for the work. Spirek told us, “Various remediation scenarios were offered by SCANA at a public meeting held in Columbia on 21 March 2013. DHEC preferred the 100% recovery of the TLS by damming the river in three sequential segments. Recently, the US Army Corps of Engineers has asked SCANA and DHEC to reconsider the damming option and to prepare a revised remediation action. Presumably in the next several months SCANA will provide their modified plan to remove the TLS from the Congaree River.”
There is no word yet on what the new plan will involve. It is thought it will be a modification of the earlier “dam and dig dry” plan. In any event, watchers await with considerable interest to see exactly how this sticky, tricky and explosive project will finally be handled. Archaeologically–whether the project were done underwater or on ‘dry’ land or not—standard procedure would require artifacts (possibly cartridges, shells, grenades etc.) to be carefully excavated, photographed in situ, then delicately removed, cleaned and conserved. Whether this is done or not may be the case by case call of a live ordnance recovery expert working alongside the archaeologist.
The Congaree ‘tar’ project will be featured on an upcoming podcast edition of The Archaeology Hour with audio interviews and more background information.
The Canadian military and Parks Canada today (one hour ago) revealed more details on their joint ‘ice dive’ next month on the wreck of the H.M.S.Erebus lost in the frozen wastes of the Canadian arctic in 1848. The initial announcement raised eyebrows when it was revealed that divers would be accessing the wreck while the pack ice over the site would be some seven feet thick.
Lt. Cdr. Stephan Julien spoke during a technical briefing for the press at 11:00am this morning. “Actually the pack ice provides better conditions for diving than open water. We will have a stable platform over the wreck and this will support special equipment that would normally require a much larger ship. We can also land ski-equipped aircraft on the ice, making it much easier to bring equipment in and out.”
Marc-Andre Bernier, the Parks Canada archaeologist in charge of the underwater archaeological aspects of the project also sees advantages on and under the ice. “Last September when the wreck was discovered we were limited by the weather and the diver air supply. At most divers using tanks would have an hour underwater—and then only during good weather. Storms prevented us from diving much of the time. By diving from an ice platform with diverse on umbilicals we can push our dive times to the limit. Also the bad weather meant that visibility was not good – we expect to get better visibility under the ice.”
According to Julien, dive teams will consist of an archaeologist and a military diver, both wearing helmeted suits with a tether, air umbilical and communications lines to the surface. Each diver will also have a back-up air bottle. They will enter through holes drilled in the seven foot ice cap to work on the wreck site. “It is actually all very safe, “ said Julien. “Getting back to the surface is a simple matter of following the tether back to the hole in the ice. “
The April Erebus project will be supported by a strong military presence including the Royal Canadian Air Force, Navy and Army. The US will also represented by an Air National Guard unit from Schenectady New York that will fly a ski equipped aircraft to the site. This kind of support for archaeological operations has occurred before—most notably on the Hamilton and Scourge project in Lake Ontario when two 1812 War period wrecks were examined. Even the Canadian Space Agency will be involved in providing security for the location of the wreck between project operations.
The entire project will be dedicated to developing a better understanding the Erebus site, says Marc-Andre Bernier. “We need to clear kelp from the wreck to improve visibility, then we will have three areas of interest to examine. The hull itself, the perimeter around the hull and the interior of the hull. With kelp removed we will be able to video and photo map the wreck. We will then examine the perimeter and conduct a text excavation in order to understand the nature of the soils and artifact content. Finally we will also use robotics and cameras on rods to look inside the hull and record any contents.”
The Parks Canada approach is very conservative one designed to fully understand the site before any major disturbance results from excavation and removal of timbers. “We do not plan to remove artifacts at this stage but a conservator will be on hand in the event anything of major importance has to be recovered,” said Bernier. More to come on the Archaeology Hour broadcast next month.
A full transcript of the Technical Briefing is provided by Parks Canada and is found at : http://wp.me/P5zmjV-24
The Canadian Government announced this morning that divers from Parks Canada will dive on the wreck of the recently discovered HMS Erebus in April, months ahead of the originally planned season to begin in July. The archaeologists will be supported by a military operation and will place divers under an ice cap over the wreck site that normally thaws for a few weeks after July each year.
The announcement states, “As part of an effort to unlock the secrets of Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Erebus, and to learn more about the fate of the Franklin expedition, Prime Minister Stephen Harper today announced that Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Navy divers will join together for Operation NUNALIVUT and conduct approximately 11 days of intense ice diving and underwater archaeology in April.”
There is no explanation for the advanced schedule but archeologists and historians worldwide welcome the new effort to study this important time capsule of early 19th century British exploration. The Erebus was lost in 1845 as its leader, Sir John Franklin sought to discover a north west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Years of searching for the HMS Erebus and its companion ship the HMS Terror proved fruitless – until local legend pointed Park Canada archaeologists to a stretch of water where remote sensing equipment found the wreck.
The Archaeology Hour has an interview scheduled with lead archaeologist Marc-Andre Bernier on Sunday March 6th. Results will be reported immediately on the podcast’s blog and a full audio interview will appear on an upcoming edition of the enhanced podcast.
The announcement was made following at the Royal Ontario Museum where the “Erebus Medal” was presented to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen by John Geiger, CEO of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and Dr. Paul Ruest, President of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. The award was made for contributions to and support for the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition which led to the discovery of HMS Erebus.
The Prime Minister said. “Operation NUNALIVUT will showcase to the world the extraordinary abilities of Canadian Armed Forces ice divers and Parks Canada’s underwater archaeologists. I wish all participants the best as they embark on winter dives beneath the Arctic ice to learn more about HMS Erebus.”
The Prime Minister added that the award, “…recognizes our commitment to discovering one of our country’s greatest maritime mysteries. This discovery would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition made up of government, private and non-profit partners, including The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. I had the privilege to take part in the search last summer during my annual northern tour and was impressed by the professionalism and dedication of the searchers plumbing Canada’s frigid northern waters. ”
“We cleared the rubble away and shone our torches down the passage way—that’s when we saw the statue of Osiris. Mila and I looked at each other and we both said ‘Yes!’”
That’s how archaeologist Irene Morfini described the moment when she and her colleague Mila Alvarez Sosa discovered an amazing new tomb complex at Sheikh Abd el-Gourna, near Thebes in Egypt. The two young women had just made their names—and their careers—in the male dominated field of classical Egyptian archaeology.
Both Sosa, the project director and Morfini, deputy director, had worked in the area prior to their discovery. “We worked on a number of projects and built up relationships with other investigators and the Egyptian Ministry for State Antiquities, “ Morfini told The Archaeology Hour. “Eventually we were able to create a project of our own and we were given concessions on two small tombs.”
Those concessions were for “TT109 (tomb of Min) and Kampp -327- (anonymous tomb).” The tomb of Min had been discovered as far back as 1887—but it remained largely undocumented. The second tomb is attached to the first and had never been published. The Min tomb had even been used for storage and as a stable at one time. Despite the unspectacular nature of the site, Sosa and Morfini raised funds and began work. Both tombs had been robbed, vandalized and damaged by earthquakes over time.
“Once we got the concessions, we created The Min Project (http://www.min-project.com) as a joint Italian-Spanish effort to document the two tombs in cooperation with Ministry of State for Antiquities. We began last year with a pre-disturbance survey. This is an assessment of the contents and condition of the two tombs before any excavation work is done. It was during this activity that we discovered a separate room hidden by rubble. This was the moment when we realized we had made a major discovery. We shone our lights into a passageway—and at the end we could see the carving of Osiris, God of the Underworld!”
A team of specialists moved into the new area under the direction of the two archaeologists. They found a complex system of shafts and rooms carved into the rock—all designed to mirror the Osiris legend of the journey and resurrection of the dead soul.
For the rest of the archaeological season, during autumn when summer temperatures cool down, the team began the now larger task of documenting the contents of the tomb complex.
“We will be back in the tomb in October of this year, “said Morfini, “and we will continue the work of documenting everything. I think it will take at least another season to complete the recording process before excavation begins. After that, I think we may have a ten or fifteen year project on our hands.”
Not only are Sosa and Morfini breaking new ground in their chosen profession–they are also being highly innovative in the field of fund raising. Funding research is the bane of every archaeologist. One of Sosa and Morfini’s solutions was to author a graphic novel on ancient Egypt that centers around the story of Queen Hatshepsut (who else) the remarkable ‘Pharaoh’ whose history was partially erased by a later male Pharaoh — her son. You can read more about the book at this link: (this link is no longer working – update follows!)
You can donate directly to this amazing team of archaeologists at: