Scuba divers examining a shipwreck underwater.
Virtual Fieldtrip
Come learn about archaeology, Maryland's history and some sites at the Park.


Airlift – A suction device that uses compressed air passed through a long tube to remove soil from an underwater archaeological site.  The compressed air is pushed into the lower end of the tube in the form of a bubble, which then creates a suction as it rises to the higher end.  This suction pressure also brings up the soil into the tube.

Artifact – Anything made or modified by humans. Spear points, ceramics, clothing, and machinery are all examples of artifacts. Also see the definition for feature.

Barney, Joshua – Joshua Barney was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1759.  He served in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War and then in the United States Navy in the War of 1812. He held the rank of Commodore.

Battles of St. Leonard Creek – A series of skirmishes during the War of 1812 between the British Navy and US forces. On June 10 and June 26, 1814, the Chesapeake Flotilla, commanded by Joshua Barney, engaged a large British force along St. Leonard Creek in Maryland. These are called the First and Second Battles of St. Leonard Creek, respectively.

Blockade – An attempt to cut off an area or country from access to trade and travel, usually referring to a naval blockade. During the War of 1812 the British blockaded the east coast of the United States and interrupted trade.

Culture – The set of learned behaviors that people use to organize and conduct their lives, and which separates them from other cultures. People learn their culture from parents and people in their community. 

Cofferdam – In underwater archaeology, a cofferdam is a structure used to hold back water during some excavations. Large metal pieces are connected to create an enclosure around an area of the site that archaeologists are excavating. The water is then drained out, so archaeologists can work more easily.

Feature – An immovable artifact, something that is made by humans but cannot be picked up and carried off a site. This includes (among many others) foundations, cooking hearths, and post holes (which usually are nothing more substantial than darkly-colored soils). Features are recorded in detail in the field and often represent specific, short duration events in the past.

Flotilla – A group of ten or more vessels that work together. A flotilla is often comprised of similar types of vessels; the Chesapeake Flotilla was primarily made up of barges. The word flotilla comes from the Spanish word for fleet.

Hydroprobe – A non-destructive method for finding underwater sites. Small puffs of air are forced through a tube placed underwater and any air resistance is measured and mapped. By doing this, archaeologists create a map of the boundaries of a site, without damaging the wreck or any artifact, which is what can happen with rigid tools such as a metal probe.

Magnetometer – An instrument that measures the strength of the earth's magnetic field and the differences between that field and other iron-containing objects. They are often used to detect the presence of metals, such as a ship with metal sides or rivets, though some newer machines are sensitive enough to detect ancient hearths and clusters of ceramics.

Maritime – Having to do with the sea, waterways, shipping or sailors.

Provenience – The original, three-dimensional location where an artifact or feature was found.

Quay – A structure where boats dock along the water's edge. Similar to a wharf.

SCUBA – Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus – Developed in the 1960s, this equipment has greatly advanced our ability to explore underwater, especially in shallow waters (less than 100'). SCUBA gear typically consists of oxygen or mixed air tanks carried on the diver's back while they breathe through a mouthpiece called a regulator.

Scuttle – To purposely destroy your own vessel by allowing water to flood the vessel and sink it. This was often done so that opposing forces would not capture the vessel.

Sidescan sonar – An instrument that uses sound waves to detect the presence of objects underwater. The machine is towed behind a boat and sends out sound waves. The waves bounce off objects and return to the instrument. They are processed through a computer and an image is created. This image can be detailed enough to locate wrecks or even small features.

Site – A location of human activity. Some sites are very small and contain few artifacts and features; others cover large areas, are extremely complex and represent decades of human occupation.

Terrestrial – On land. Most archaeology is conducted on land and is considered terrestrial archaeology. This is in contrast to underwater archaeology.

War of 1812 – A conflict between the United States and Great Britain, lasting from 1812 until 1815. There were several factors that led to the declaration of war including trade disagreements and impressment of US sailors by the British Navy. Impressment is when British vessels would capture US merchant (trade) ships and force the US sailors to serve on British vessels. 

Water dredge – Similar to an airlift, but uses water to move the sediment off the site.

Wreck – The remains of a vessel found partially or completely underwater.

Interested in learning more about underwater archaeology?  Try these links…

Maritime Archaeological and Historical Society | Calvert Marine Museum
Museum of Underwater Archaeology | Institute for Nautical Archaeology
The National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Washington Navy Yard
Underwater Archaeology Branch, NHHC | Maryland Historical Trust
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC)
Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology


Bowens, Amanda (ed.)
2009    Underwater Archaeology: The NAS Guide to Principles and Practice Second Edition. Blackwell
             Publishing, The Nautical Archaeology Society, Portsmouth.

Enright, Jeffrey
1999     An Archaeological and Historical Survey of a Jeffersonian Gunboat Master's Thesis, Program in
             Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina.

Eshelman, Ralph
2005     Maryland's Largest Naval Engagement: The Battles of St. Leonard Creek, 1814, Calvert County,
.  Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum Studies in Archaeology No. 3. Crownsville,

Shomette, Donald G.
1995     Tidewater Time Capsule: History Beneath the Patuxent, Tidewater Publishers, Centreville,