Underwater archeology students descend on the Keys

Underwater archeology students descend on the Keys

Dr. Sheli Smith welcomed six academics from across the country this week to their temporary home and incredible hands-on classroom in Key Largo.

Smith is with the Ohio-based PAST Foundation, a non-profit educational and research team that builds partnerships around compelling scientific and educational projects, making them accessible to students and the public through transdisciplinary program-based learning, experiential field schools, documentary film, and interactive websites.

Lizzie Bloemer from the University of Evansville catalogued artifacts like this well-preserved lantern from the Queen of Nassau - originally commissioned as the GCS Canada in the late 1800s as part of the Canadian Fisheries fleet – during the first day of her two-week field school in the Florida Keys this week.

“This two-week experience functions as a field classroom,” she explained, elaborating that the first three days were spent cataloguing artifacts from the Queen of Nassau, a vessel believed to have scuttled in the early 1900s.

“We sketched, measured, described, and photographed all the artifacts,” the students reported Monday evening in their blog. “There were old plates and cups, a lantern, a running light, a taff log and a piece of cannon equipment. All the teams were dying to get their hands on the old rifle that sat in the display case.”

The PAST Foundation offers the field school to provide college students studying underwater archaeology an intriguing course of lectures and hands-on experience, introducing material culture, historical research and underwater documentation techniques over a two-week program. At the conclusion of their experiences, the team will produce a report for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS).

Program Support Specialist Brenda Altmeier commended Smith and the PAST Foundation for initiating the cooperative relationship six years ago.

“The students help us by cataloguing our inventory of artifacts, and they benefit from applying their knowledge in a hands-on setting when they go out into the field,” Altmeier noted.

The students participating this year include David Rose, University of Hawaii-Hilo; Reilly Jensen, University of Utah; Garrett Welch, University of Kansas; Elizabeth Bloemer, University of Evansville; Joseph Harden, Illinois State University; and Kimberly Stahl, of the University of Miami Ohio.

Through an intensive two-week training course program, students from the PAST Foundation collect data and map the submerged site in an ongoing effort to better understand the cultural resources of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). PAST, in partnership with FKNMS, continues the exploration of the late 19th century sailing ship Slobodna.

Following their material cultures this week as well as museum tour in Key West, the team will hit the water today for the site orientation to begin their survey of the Slobodna.

In March 1887, while sailing around the Florida Keys, the Slobodna, a 19th century Austrian sailing ship, experienced a sudden and severe storm that grounded the vessel near Key Largo. After several failed attempts to free the vessel, she drifted over 30 days until she came to her final resting place on the Molasses Reef. During the program, students dive for five days applying their knowledge of maritime archaeology and later publish a report.

Dr. Sheli Smith photographed shipwreck remains of the Slobodna at Molasses Reef in 2008. Photo by Debra Shefi

“We’re not only collecting artifacts and helping the Sanctuary, we’re helping people gain a better understanding of their cultural and economic heritage,” Smith added.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency that applies life through science, focusing on daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce.

NOAA manages National Marine Sanctuaries, including the sanctuary in Florida Keys. The FKNMS supports marine ecosystems that are the most unique and diverse assemblages of plants and animals currently in North America.


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