Thursday, November 03, 2005


Archaeologists search in Charlotte Harbor


By Kevin Lollar
November 01, 2005

Slowly, very slowly Monday, the 24-foot twin-engine Parker bumped through the choppy green water in Charlotte Harbor.

Three archaeologists intently watched two screens — one hooked to a side-scan sonar "tow fish" trailing behind the boat, the other hooked to a magnetometer tow fish — seeking the harbor's maritime history.

"This is really exciting work; going 3 to 4 knots, looking at the bay floor," said J. Coz Cozzi, Mote Marine Laboratory's nautical archaeologist. "This is as exciting as it gets."

With the help of scientists and equipment from Panamerican Consultants Inc. of Memphis, Cozzi has started the first systematic search for sunken and abandoned vessels and the remains of historic structures in Charlotte Harbor.

"The harbor has a long and fascinating maritime history," Cozzi said. "The oldest residents here, Native Americans, used boats and dug canals.

The Colonial Spanish stopped by here. Cuban Spanish fishermen were here for 200 years fishing from rancheros."

Charlotte Harbor's maritime history extends through the Civil War, when Union ships preyed on ships carrying cattle to Confederate troops, to the steamship era and into the 20th century.

"I hope Coz finds a ship out here, because he's known for his meticulous excavations, and it would be fun to see it again," said Michael Faught, a maritime archaeologist with Panamerican.

"Meticulous excavation on land is one thing. Meticulous excavation underwater is a whole different ball game."

Among Cozzi's previous projects is the Emanuel Point Shipwreck Excavation off Pensacola in 1997.

That excavation uncovered one of the ships from the fleet of conquistador Don Tristan de Luna.

He was sent in 1559 to what is now Pensacola to start a Spanish colony but failed after a hurricane sank most of his ships. The Emanuel Point is the oldest discovered shipwreck in Florida.

Following extensive research and interviews with local fishermen and boaters, Cozzi has picked out more than a dozen areas in Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound and nearshore Gulf of Mexico to investigate, including:

• The mouth of the Peace River, where some historians think Hernando de Soto came ashore in 1539. Others say he landed in Tampa Bay.

• The entrance of Boca Grande Pass, where several shipwrecks — some say six, Cozzi thinks four — have been reported.

• Pineland, at the mouth of the canal that the Calusa Indians dug across Pine Island.Notice there are no pirate-related sites: Despite the old stories, pirates did not hide out in Charlotte Harbor.

On Monday, Cozzi, Faught and Panamerican archaeologist Michael Krivor set out to look at two sites — Quarantine Rocks, where a quarantine station once stood at the northeast end of Cayo Costa, and a possible ballast pile east of the Boca Grande phosphate dock. That's a pile of stones that was used to balance sailing ships so they wouldn't tip over.

Built in 1890 and abandoned in the 1920s, the quarantine station checked passengers aboard vessels entering Boca Grande Pass for yellow fever. The station was built over the water, and the archaeologists hope to find remnants of the structure and possibly an abandoned schooner.

"The quarantine station is part of a real story that went on here, unlike the pirate thing," Cozzi said. "It shows the conditions people had to deal with and the steps they had to take to survive in this environment."

One of the team's tools was $35,000 side-scan sonar, which gives a three-dimensional image of the bay floor and can actually distinguish between individual fish.

"Think of it as a big, expensive fish finder," Faught said.

The other tool was a $25,000 magnetometer, which detects ferrous — iron-containing — material.

"Unfortunately, it can't tell the difference between modern and ancient iron," Cozzi said. When they were searching for the Emanuel Point wreck, the first thing they found was a pizza oven.

Running a series of parallel transects, the scientists picked up interesting bottom features and magnetometer readings at Quarantine Rocks.

Then they moved across the pass to the supposed ballast pile that had been reported to Cozzi by Boca Grande developer Bill Caldwell, who discovered it in the 1980s.

"I was looking for a place to fish for grouper," said Caldwell, who had come out on the water in his own boat to point the scientists in the right direction. "The water was clear, and I saw something down there, so I jumped in and it looked to me like ballast rock."

As the boat slowly moved over the area Caldwell had pointed out, the magnetometer got a hit, and the screen of the sonar clearly showed a large pile of something measuring 62 feet by 46 feet.

The pile is in a logical place for a shipwreck: Inside the pass in 12 feet of water, where a deep-draft sailing vessel could run aground.

But Cozzi won't know what is at this site or at Quarantine Rocks until next year, when he and other divers go down to investigate.

Science is a slow, methodical process, with many steps sometimes leading to answers; Cozzi said his team took some positive steps Monday.

"I think we had a good day," he said. "We were able to document the locations of two sites, one known, the quarantine station, and one, the ballast mound, that I don't believe the state knows about, so it's a new site."

Next year with divers, we'll try to distinguish the pizza ovens from the shipwrecks."


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?