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Documenting a Shipwreck

Field Research: Evaluation and Predisturbance Survey (Phase II)

Once a site has been found it may be selected for more intensive survey and evaluation. At this point, archaeologists must pose more site-specific questions. A Phase II, or predisturbance survey, is non-intrusive and involves recording the site as it is, generally with no excavation or retrieval of artifacts. Representative artifacts and construction features that may indicate a site's age or cultural significance are examined, sketched, and left in place. This level of documentation usually includes taking precise measurements and developing a detailed map of the site. Other evaluations, such as identifying potential threats (human and natural), recreational possibilities and preservation needs are also made during a Phase II survey. Ideally, a Phase II survey is done soon after a shipwreck is found, though many shipwrecks remain popular dive sites for years before being studied archaeologically.

Archaeologists use a baseline/crossline system to form a grid over a shipwreck
Archaeologists use a baseline/crossline
system to form a grid over a shipwreck

Phase II surveys employ a variety of mapping and documentation methods. In producing a site map, the simplest method is to use manual tapes and measured baselines to map out fixed points in relation to one another. Using basic geometry to measure trilaterated, triangulated, and offset distances, archaeologists are able to "tie" all of the wreck's different components together.

The team of archaeologists working on the Lumberman and Birmingham Shipwrecks Site projects, will utilize a system that involves a baseline and several intersecting crosslines, which together form a grid over the wreck. Each "square" in the grid serves as a frame of reference. Each member of the field crew will be assigned a different "square" and map the contents within his or her area using a pre-determined scale. Eventually, the individual scaled drawings will be pieced together to form an overall picture of the site, called a site plan.

Hetty Taylor site plan

Phase I 

Phase II

Phase III

Site Reconnaissance Evaluation and Predisturbance Survey Excavation


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