Sunday, August 21, 2005


Priceless Experience in Archaeology


Union Leader
By Gil Bliss
August 18, 2005

AMHERST — Stephanie Allen can say she went treasure hunting in the Florida Keys on her summer vacation from school, but her view of treasure doesn't come in terms of disposable income.

Allen, 24, a Souhegan High graduate now pursuing a master's degree, spent two weeks with other students studying two shipwrecks as an archaeological study.

"Many people think of underwater archaeology as a treasure hunt, but the treasure isn't gold coin," she said. "The treasure is what you can learn about our cultural heritage."

Allen is a graduate student working on her masters in maritime studies at East Carolina University, following up on her Hampshire College undergraduate degree in archaeology and material culture.

Paired in a team of three with an undergrad and a high school student, Allen and the other teams were led by a team of professional archaeologists and anthropologists from the PAST Foundation of Columbus, Ohio, and studied two wrecks in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

In the first half of the project, the teams studied a group of artifacts recovered in 1992 which were believed to come from the wreck of the Adelaide Baker, which was lost in 1889 just south of Duck Key.

Built in 1863 in Maine, the bark Adelaide Baker is one of the nine wrecks that form the National Marine Sanctuary's Shipwreck Trail and the artifacts were recovered through court action against a notorious treasure hunter, Allen said.

The students' teams documented all the objects and helped ready them for use in a touring exhibit and educational program.

"Treasure hunting isn't what it's all about," Allen said. "These artifacts can be used to foster intellectual understanding about those people and those times.

"People remove things and they just shouldn't disturb the sites," she said.

For the second part of the project, Allen was able to call upon her experience as a certified rescue scuba diver.

The team studied a second shipwreck by actually diving to the site. The Slobodna was built in 1884 in Austria and lost only four years later on Molasses Reef in the Keys. A composite ship built of wood and iron, the Slobodna was sailing with a cargo of cotton from New Orleans and today sits in 28 feet of water.

Although the wreck is a well-known dive site, Allen said there never had been a comprehensive site map and the teams created a detailed map locating the various ship parts resting on the bottom.

She learned to scuba dive 12 years ago through her parents, Mark and Marjorie Allen of Amherst, both of whom are scuba divers. This was her third underwater project, previously she dove in a North Carolina river investigating the remains of the Union gunboat the Otsego, sunk during a Civil War gun battle and now resting in more than 20 feet of water.

Allen said the Florida dive was far superior, as the river visibility was only about 6 inches, as compared to the well-known clarity of the water off the Florida Keys.

"For that project, you needed a good mental image of the boat in advance and even then you had to watch out for the iron spikes that were routinely attached to the outside of the gunboats," she said.

"We were going in to answer a specific question, as to how many changes were made to the boat from the original design as a result of the war action," Allen said.

"The Slobodna was more exciting and challenging," she said. The remaining parts that hadn't deteriorated were mostly made of metal and found on the ocean floor in the configuration of the original vessel.

"There were no photos of these ships and if the objects were left in the correct location, one can reconstruct a complete model," she said. "Shipwrecks are everywhere and people should preserve them."

Allen has previously been on land-based archaeological digs "but I didn't like sitting and digging in the dirt. Underwater is more fun." An important previous project was a post-excavation analysis of the New York African Burial Ground in 2002.

When Allen finishes her masters thesis, she'll have to decide between teaching or working in the field.

Her thesis is about the maritime elements found in landscape design in the Florida Keys, such as the many historic cannons one might find embedded in various front lawns. "This is a spin-off a 1982 study, as it's now illegal to have these items," she said.

Her course work will be completed in December and she'll finish the entire degree by May.

If it's in the field, Allen would like to work studying various sites for a maritime museum, such as the St. Augustine Maritime Museum in Florida.

"If I decide to teach, I'll continue on for a PhD (doctorate)," Allen said, "promoting education about archaeology and teaching about material culture."


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