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This summer, students pursued passions during maritime archaeology field school

August 3, 2018 | By: Jordan Ardoin |

Students on diving platform preparing scuba gear
The UWF Maritime Archaeology Field School offers a unique opportunity to interact with the Deluna shipwrecks.

“Stop. Breathe. Think. Act.”

On the dive platform of UWF’s Maritime Archaeology Field School this summer, students recited this mantra together as they prepared to dive on the Emanuel Point II and III shipwrecks. The mantra reminded students what to do in an emergency situation and represented a commitment to communicate and support one another beneath the waves.

During the last day of the Maritime Archaeology Field School, students were busy wrapping up details from the summers’ research activities. Each year, the school provides undergraduates and graduate students the opportunity to conduct hands-on investigations. This summer, students focused on the Emanuel Point II and III shipwrecks.

After a supervisor reviewed safety procedures and hand signals, a dive team comprised of one graduate student (a supervisor or supervisor-in-training) and one to three undergraduate students dove to the floor of Pensacola Bay. There, segments of the ship and other small artifacts from Tristán de Luna y Arellano’s 1559 settlement of Pensacola awaited the students.

Depending on the day and whether they worked on the Emanuel Point II or III site, the dive teams’ duties varied. They dredged through sand in order to uncover pieces of ship and look for artifacts, carefully recorded and piece-plotted their findings and, toward the end of the summer, buried the wrecks once again with sand and ballast stone to preserve them for future archaeologists.

In addition to working on Emanuel Point II and III, field school students conducted surveys in Blackwater River and Blackwater Bay. During surveys, students used magnetometers and side-scan technology to search for new cultural resources, such as more shipwreck sites.

While participating in this summer’s field school, undergraduate and graduate students alike gained hands-on experience in these and other archaeological techniques.

For these passionate archaeology students, however, field school was more than just an opportunity to gain experience in their field. It was a chance to do work that they genuinely love to do. Working on the Luna shipwrecks, students were able to connect with Pensacola’s history in a personal way and become a part of that history themselves.

Meghan Mumford, a graduate student who has worked in UWF archaeology field schools for six years, acted as senior supervisor on site this summer. Mumford was part of the team that initially discovered the Emanuel Point III wreck in 2016.

Of her experience, she said, “My favorite moments are when we find an exposed structure and I think, ‘wow, I’m the first person to see or touch this in 450 years.’ It gives me chills every time.”

Each semester, graduate students who participated in the field school, like Mumford, act as site supervisors while serving as divers and archaeologists. They train undergraduate students who are new to working in the field. For many, teaching other students and watching them fall in love with maritime archaeology is one of the highlights of field school.

Keilani Jordan, historical archaeology graduate student and this summer’s field director, said she loved watching students’ faces light up the first time they found artifacts or came in contact with a piece of the shipwreck.

“These artifacts haven’t seen the light of day in 450 years. We’re actually touching history and connecting with history. You can see it on the students’ faces,” Jordan said.

At the end of field school this summer, students sealed the Emanuel Point II shipwreck to preserve the site for future archaeological endeavors even as work on the Emanuel Point III wreck has only scratched the surface. Potential abounds for the same work to continue in the future.

This year’s field school was a success because of the hardworking UWF archaeology students who poured their hearts into the Emanuel Point shipwrecks project. The work and research they completed this summer would not have been possible without their enthusiasm for archaeology.

Frank Patti, Jr. of Patti Marine Enterprises’ donation of a new dive platform earlier this year helped make the field school possible as well.

UWF’s Marine Services Center, part of the Division of Anthropology and Archaeology, provides diving and research platforms for university projects and initiatives involved in underwater ventures in and around the Gulf of Mexico.

For more information about the Division of Anthropology and Archaeology’s field schools, visit the division’s website.