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


These pages explore how archaeologists discover information about the past from underwater sites.  About 70% of the earth is covered in water – that’s equal to about 333 million cubic miles!  For many thousands of years, boats were the primary way humans moved themselves and materials around.  If archaeologists are interested in studying past human behavior (and they are), how do archaeologists find sites, recover artifacts and learn about the past that is now under the water instead of under soil?  We can’t see most of these sites and many are hard to get to, but they are vital to understanding our past.

Divers map an underwater archaeological site.

What exactly do underwater archaeologists study? They look at any area of human activity associated with water. They are not only interested in shipwrecks, though that is one kind of site they study.  Research focuses on all aspects of maritime activities, such as docks, quays, harbors, and even submerged sites – sites that were on land when they formed but have since become covered in water due to sea level changes. Archaeologists also study trade through underwater sites, since waterways were the “roadways” during much of the past.  A sunken ship is like a time capsule of its day  - pretty much everything on board is just as it was when it sank.  One of the main focuses of underwater archaeology is to look at the technology and how it changes through time.  For example, excavating wrecks can tell us how ships were constructed – something that is often not recorded in documents – and how people improved them.

We’ll look at underwater archaeological sites near Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum to help understand how this all works and what we can learn from studying underwater sites.

  diver * Follow the SCUBA diver to find out how underwater archaeologists do their work at underwater sites. turtleshell * Follow the turtle shell to learn about two underwater archaeology sites in Maryland from the War of 1812.