December 2010

Marine Archaeology: Hidden History Beneath the Sand and Sea

Robert F. Westrick, Marine Archaeologist, C&C Technologies

Abstract Summary

This presentation will provide a brief history of underwater archaeology and maritime history in general including a synopsis of several projects on the Atlantic coast, before turning the focus towards deepwater shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. In the Fall of 2009 and 2010, an interdisciplinary team consisting of marine archaeologists, marine biologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, and other ocean scientists conducted investigations of six deepwater shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. The sites ranged in depth from 530 meters and 2,250 meters. The field investigations are part of a four-year study sponsored by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (NOAA OER), and the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP). The shipwreck component is part of a deepwater coral study focused on Lophelia. Both the archaeological and biological components of the project rely heavily on acoustic data such as side scan sonar and multibeam bathymetry for site selection and initial site evaluation. This presentation will focus on the archaeological findings and the sophisticated technology, data, and equipment utilized to locate and study these sites.

The shipwrecks include: the Viosca Knoll Wreck, the Ewing Bank Wreck, the Green Lantern Wreck, the 7,000-foot Wreck, Gulfpenn and Gulfoil. They were found during industry geophysical surveys and each was reassessed using the latest Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) technology. The field investigations utilized the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), Jason II onboard NOAA’s flagship R/V Ronald H. Brown. Jason II is a sophisticated ROV operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and is specifically designed for scientific research. The archaeological objectives of the project were to assess each wreck site to establish its type, date of construction, use, and positive identification if possible. Ultimately the research team seeks to determine each sites potential eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) through archival research and the analysis of the field data. Each site is potentially eligible for the NRHP and represents an important snapshot of our global maritime heritage.

Biographical Sketch

Robert Westrick holds a Master’s degree in Maritime History & Nautical Archaeology from East Carolina University. He is a registered professional archeologist. Westrick has worked on numerous shipwreck projects over the past eighteen years ranging from remote sensing surveys to complete excavation and mapping investigations. In 1997 he secured the necessary permits from the United States Navy, obtained funding from the Institute for International Maritime Research, and completed the first archaeological survey of the U.S.S. Peterhoff, a Civil War steamship lost off the coast of North Carolina. The Peterhoff was the first shipwreck ever to be placed on the National Register Historic Places, despite that distinction, no prior detailed archaeological survey had ever been conducted on the site. In addition to his work on various Civil War shipwrecks in North Carolina and Virginia, Westrick has worked on projects ranging from 17th century Spanish merchant ships off Bermuda to 19th century schooners in Lake Erie.

Mr. Westrick currently works as a marine archaeologist for C & C Technologies, one of the world’s leading companies specializing in the field of deepwater Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and archaeological survey work. He is serving as an archaeologist for the “Deep Wrecks” Project. The project, a four-year study in conjunction with NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) of the U.S. Department of the Interior, utilized the latest in ROV technology to study six shipwreck sites located in 3,000-7,450 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico.

His publications include his Master’s thesis, The U.S.S. Peterhoff: An Historical and Archaeological Investigation of A Civil War Shipwreck (2001), An Investigation and Assessment of Civil War Shipwrecks off Fort Fisher, North Carolina (contributing author, 2001) and numerous articles in various publications. He recently finished another book, Shipwrecks & Maritime Archaeology of the New World - 1492-1900: A Comprehensive Directory. (2011).