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About the State Underwater Archaeology Program

In 1987 the Society began studying Wisconsin's shipwrecks with an historical inventory designed to identify types and locations of reported underwater archaeological resources. Over six-hundred shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters were identified. This initial inventory was used to assess the potential for underwater +archaeological resources in given areas of state bottomlands to aid in planning archaeological field survey.

Since 1988 the Wisconsin Historical Society has surveyed, mapped, and documented more than fifty underwater archaeological sites. These sites have ranged from inundated eighteenth-century fur trade posts, to nineteenth-century schooners and steamers, to twentieth-century fishing tugs. While much of this work has been conducted using simple sketching, mapping, or photographic methods, joint projects with other institutions and governmental agencies have allowed the underwater archaeology program access to sophisticated remote-sensing equipment, infrared and microwave survey equipment, and deep remote-operated vehicle technology.

The systematic documentation and evaluation of our state's submerged cultural resources has been — and continues to be — important in integrating these resources into state and federal resource management and preservation programs. The underwater archaeological resource inventory is also helping to define areas for consideration both as state maritime trails and as National Marine Sanctuaries.

The Laws
In January 1988 the Wisconsin state Legislature provided initial funding for the Wisconsin Historical Society to conduct a study of underwater archaeological resources with the purpose of improving the management of historic shipwrecks and developing underwater preserve areas for resource protection and recreation. This program was the result of new state and federal efforts to protect and manage submerged cultural resources in the state by means of the 1987 Wisconsin Act 395 and the federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987. The latter act charges the states with the protection of historic shipwreck sites, and the revised state archaeology law ( s. 44.47, Stats.) provides stricter penalties for damaging or destroying underwater archaeological or historical sites on state-owned lands, including the bottoms of the Great Lakes.

More Information
For more information on the State Underwater Archaeology Program, contact Tamara Thomsen.


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