Forward Deck Documentation


In early July, eleven students and five staff members from East Carolina University, Program in Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology arrived in Jacksonville for a four week summer field school. The goal of the field school was to excavate and document the forward deck of the Maple Leaf, from the stem post to the engineering spaces. The forward area of the ship offered a definitive point to begin excavations while permitting the work area to expand as time allowed. The investigation concentrated on the starboard side to examine damage sustained in the explosion that caused the vessel to sink.

Diving operations took place from the SJAEI dive platform which housed a drawing table, two dredge pumps and a large work area for documenting recovered materials. Two Maritime History Program boats provided transportation to and from the site; a 24 ft. Privateer and a 21 ft. Cobia.

University students and staff completed all underwater work using scuba and underwater lights. Within the silt barrier, lights provided visibility ranging from 6 in. to 3 ft. The silt barriers proved successful in diverting clear river water down to the main deck level that provided adequate visibility to map and document ship structure. However, dredging to remove overburden temporarily eliminated all visibility and excavation work had to be done by feel alone. Wireless communication equipment became available near the end of field school allowing two divers to work effectively together and speeding recording procedures.

Students began the process of exposing the forward deck by removing sediment from SB-1. This silt barrier extended from the stem post aft approximately 34 ft. SB-2 and SB-3 were added progressively as the excavation proceeded. Intervening walls between barrier areas were removed.

Using two water induction dredges, divers moved approximately 700 cubic yards of silt and exposed 50 ft. of the forward deck. In accordance with state and federal environmental permits, water turbidity from the dredge outflow was monitored every 4 hours while the dredges operated. Water samples were taken 100 meters down current from the dredge exhaust and compared to background samples taken at the same time. The difference between the two stations never exceeded 13 Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU), well below the 29 NTU maximum allowed.

Once overburden was removed, a center baseline was stretched along the deck from the inside of the stem post to the aft edge of the forward cargo hatch. Transverse lines crossed the baseline at 5 ft. intervals. These were extended to the edge of the excavated area to define individual mapping units. The end of each transverse line was triangulated from the base line to locate each unit. For record keeping purposes, each unit was given an alphabetical designation with reference to the port or starboard side. Within the mapping unit, deck features were documented using a combination of triangulation, offset measurements and direct base line measurements. Each evening, the day's data was transferred to the site map. Any errors or questions were resolved the following day.

The forward deck excavation produced few artifacts, either from the overburden or from the deck. When an artifact was found, its location was plotted then brought to the surface for documentation including black and white photographs, a written description and a measured drawing. Each piece was assigned a catalog number utilizing the provenience designation system instituted by SJAEI. Recovery numbers specify a group of artifacts collected from a particular area. Each item within the recovery area receives an individual artifact number. Recovery 053 designates artifacts found on the deck and in overburden during the forward deck excavation. The artifacts are discussed in detail in Appendix I. The overburden is considered disturbed by channel clearing operations and contaminated by material accumulating on the site since 1864.

Most artifacts recovered while excavating and mapping the forward deck were not considered diagnostic. After recovery and documentation, non-diagnostic artifacts were tagged with a catalog number and returned to the wreck for on-site storage. This policy allows artifacts to be documented with minimum damage and returned to the site environment without incurring extensive conservation costs.