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

Underwater Archaeology - How It Works

How do you investigate a site under water? Where you can’t breath without assistance and where, in Maryland, it is hard to see more than a few feet in front of your face?  And how do archaeologists find sites they can’t see anyway?  Read on and we can find out!  

One of the sketches Joshua Barney submitted to President Madison, showing the kind of barge he was planning to build for the Flotilla.BACKGROUND RESEARCH

The first step in any archaeological project – whether under water or on land – is to do research.  Archaeologists look through modern and historic maps, deeds, letters and journals, newspapers, drawings, and other written information about the area they are investigating.  They gather all of this information to get a better idea of what to expect when they go out to dig. 

Drawing of map was also done by Barney, and shows the locations of the American and British forces during the Battle of St. Leonard Creek on June 10, 1814. Maps of battles, design plans for ships, locations of harbors and sunken vessels, and diaries, letters, and ships’ logs are invaluable to underwater archaeologists. Combining historical accounts of events with maps and drawings allows researchers to narrow searches. Two examples from the Flotilla project include this map and this boat design.

The drawing above was a sketch Joshua Barney submitted to President Madison, showing the kind of barge he planned to build for the Flotilla. This drawing and others like it give archaeologists an idea of what to expect when they look for the wrecks underwater.

The drawing to the left was also done by Barney and shows the locations of the American and British forces during the Battle of St. Leonard Creek on June 10, 1814. Once the background research is completed, archaeologists then make a site visit to examine the current conditions and see if anything is visible. Sometimes waterways have dramatically changed course over a few hundred years. Once a likely site location is selected, remote sensing surveys and a dive inspection are the next steps.

Click on each map picture to view a larger image.

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Links to a larger image view of Barney's drawn barges. This drawing was also done by Barney, and shows the locations of the American and British forces during the Battle of St. Leonard Creek on June 10, 1814.