Category Archives: Interdisciplinary Studies

Eyes In The Deep: Exploring the Shipwreck APPOMATTOX

July 15th-17th marked the 5th annual Eyes in the Deep program, where the public are given the opportunity to explore and document local Lake Michigan shipwrecks along Milwaukee’s lakefront. This season, Discovery World once again assembled a team of experts to showcase underwater technology in the exploration and documentation of the shipwreck Appomattox located at the end of Capitol Dr. off Atwater Beach.  Our research platform for this maritime expedition was the Milwaukee Boat Lines bi-level vessel the Voyageur captained by Jake Gianelli.

This year David Thompson of Nautilus Marine Group and Portunes International brought his Proteus ROV (remotely operated vehicle), which were the primary “eyes” on the shipwreck.  Built by Hydroacoustics, the Proteus 500 ROV is 28 inches long x 16 inches wide x 13 inches tall.  It weighs 70 lbs (31.8 kgs) and can dive 500 ft (152 m) using on board rechargeable batters that power two forward thrusters, one vertical thruster and one horizontal thruster.  With around 500 lines of resolution, the video camera can tilt 170 degrees and switch between color or black and white, making it ideal for exploring in low visibility water.

Sector Scan Sonar mosaic of Appomattox, at 30 meters radius per scan

A few weeks before this event, we had the opportunity to work with Dave and his colleague Brian Abbott of Nautilus Marine Group to map the Appomattox shipwreck using acoustic imaging called Sector Scanning Sonar.  Brian has worked internationally on archaeological sites, including mapping the Titanic, so having him here was a great treat.  This preliminary sonar survey was performed off the Adventure Charter Boat catamaran Mai Tai , owned and operated by Captain Rick Hake.  In one weekend we successfully mapped four shipwrecks off Milwaukee.

Original photograph in Historical Collection of the Great Lakes at Bowling Green University

Built in 1896 at the James Davidson shipyard in West Bay City, Michigan, the 319-foot long Appomattox was the largest wooden bulk steamer ever produced on the Great Lakes, and possibly the world.  With an oak hull supported by steel bracing and powered by a triple expansion steam engine, the Appomattox was a truly modern vessel by contemporary standards.  She had an uneventful life on the Great Lakes until the night of November 2nd 1905, when loaded with a cargo of coal, she was blinded by heavy smog and industrial smoke emanating from Milwaukee.  As a result, the Appomattox ran hard aground on a sandbar, just north of the Milwaukee Harbor entrance off the end of Capitol Drive.  Unable to be freed, she was pounded in the heavy surf, stripped of valuables and eventually abandoned.  Today the Appomattox rests in 15-20 feet of water with large sections of her hull still intact.

This site plan was completed by the Wisconsin Historical Society's Underwater Archaeology and Maritime Preservation Program

On Friday July 15th at 10am sharp, the Voyageur left Discovery Worlds’ dock with over 30 middle and high school students onboard, as part of Discovery Worlds’ summer camp program in Underwater Robotics and Underwater Archaeology.  Several adult passengers were also aboard, as we made the forty-five minute voyage to the Appomattox shipwreck.  En route, all were given a presentation about the shipwreck that was previously researched by the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Underwater Archaeology and Maritime Preservation program, as well as the Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation.

Dave Thompson (left) teaches students about the ROV, while students (right) put the finishing touches on their ROVs prior to launch

Prior to arriving at the shipwreck, an auxiliary dive boat captained by Bob Jaeck left ahead of us in order to place a temporary mooring line for the Voyageur to tie off to.  This was done with the help of two divers, Brian Bockholt and Charles Hudson, who then assisted in guiding the ROV into the water.  To everyone’s amazement, within seconds the large shipwreck came into view on the monitors inside Voyageur.   The distinguishing feature of the wreck were the large keelsons, which formed the rigid internal skeleton of the ship.  These enormous oak timbers measure 1.5 feet across and over 30 feet in length.

Photograph by Tamara Thomsen (Wisconsin Historical Society)

Once we were safely on the wreck, the controls were turned over to anyone who wanted to pilot the ROV and explore the site.  We were even able to talk to the divers with the aid of an acoustic earpiece that picked up our voices from a hydrophone that was lowered into the water.  We spent over half an hour exploring the wreck, while the underwater robotics students got a chance to test out their hand-build ROVs.  Despite some buoyancy issues, the students’ ROVs performed very well. One was even fitted with a video camera that allowed us to see the shipwreck from its perspective.

Photograph by Tamara Thomsen (Wisconsin Historical Society)

The final expedition to the Appomattox occurred Sunday morning, July 17th, once again aboard Voyageur.  This time the auxiliary dive boat Mai Tai, captained by Adventure Charter boat captain Rick Hake arrived at the wreck site ahead of Voyageur in order to place the temporary mooring line for the larger Voyageur to tie off to.  Once on station, I put on my dive gear and swam over to Mai Tai, where Kimm Stabelfeldt (president of Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation) and Captain Rick were also ready to SCUBA dive with the ROV and help take measurements.  Wearing a full face mask with a wireless microphone, I was then able to talk to the passengers aboard Voyageur and describe what the ROV and my handheld camera were seeing.  Meanwhile, Kimm Stabelfeldt began drawing a section of the shipwrecks port side as I assisted with measuring.  Of particular note on this dive were the six inch-wide iron reinforcing cross straps, placed inside the hull of the Appomattox when it was built, to give it extra strength.  Once again, anyone who wanted to drive the ROV was allowed to do so, which made for a very memorable experience.

Overall, this year’s Eyes in the Deep went off without a hitch, which for any underwater expedition is a feat.  The big unknown factor is always the weather.  Even though it was quite hot, the important thing was that the lake was calm, making it very comfortable to hover over the shipwreck for over an hour.  Based on the favorable feedback from the participants, it is clear that this expedition was a smashing success and one that serves as a template for future shipwreck explorations.  Stay tuned for that and more hands-on archaeology opportunities offered through Discovery World’s Distant Mirror Archaeology Program.


Discovering New Secrets Beneath Juneau Park In Downtown Milwaukee

Most people would never guess that Juneau Park, located along Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee, was once home to some of Milwaukee’s founding citizens.  While the former homes are no longer standing, over the past four seasons, Discovery World’s staff archaeologist and director of the Distant Mirror archaeology program, Kevin Cullen, has led an archaeological survey in the park to document and excavate the remains of these 19th century affluent residences.


Known as the “Lost Neighborhood” site, this elegant lakefront green space is slowly revealing its buried secrets through hands-on archaeological research and cutting-edge technology.  This years participants in the Lost Neighborhood survey included Milwaukee Area Technical College civil engineering instructor David Langhoff, two of his students, eight Bay View High School students who are part of a semester-long program with Discovery World called “The Art & Archaeology of Me”, several Milwaukee-area residents, a re-enactor and scholar (Rob Nurre) of the 19th century scientist Increase Lapham, as well as members of the Juneau Park Friends.

This years survey focused in former block 106, located in the north third of Juneau Park.  We began work in this section of the park last year, yet, because of the potential for intact buried features it was decided to refocus our attention this season in this area.  The survey began on a sunny Friday, May 20th, with the establishment of the former lot boundaries inside the park, from which we could then determine the location of the former houses inside these lots. Once these former lots were reestablished, three archaeological survey grids were overlaid inside these lots corresponding to the hypothesized house locations.  The intention for these grids were for the use of  ground penetrating radar (GPR) to map the buried remains inside these grids using Discovery Worlds’ Noggin 500 smart cart.


Saturday May 21st began as an overcast Spring morning with the threat of sustained rain.  Despite a subsequent soaking rain, we forged on and began collecting GPR data, soil coring, test excavations, as well as GPS and compass mapping.  Our first test excavation was placed on the western edge of former lot 20 in block 106.  Deed research revealed that this property was first purchased by Charles Church from James Kneeland in the 1860s, but it wasn’t until the early 1870s that Timothy and Mary Dore built a two story brick veneered house and a two story brick veneered carriage house in the rear of the property.  In December of 1876 the Dore’s sold the property to Hugh L. and Margret Johnston for $16,000.  The family owned the property until 1926 when the City purchased it for $68,000 in order to demolish it for the expansion of Juneau Park.


As we began excavating a 50 cm X 50 cm shovel test above the former carriage house / garden shed, we began finding 19th century ceramics, brick fragments, etc. in the first 20 centimeters below the surface.  Below this we encountered a strata of clay between 20-60 cm below the ground surface.  Then all of a sudden we hit a layer of earthenware flower pots, square nails and brick fragments.  This pottery “midden” persisted for another 25+ cm until we hit a limestone base at 85 cm below the surface, which then filled with water.  This halted our excavation, but in all we had uncovered a surprisingly immense amount of late 19th-early 20th century artifacts.  Several of the flower pots were still intact, some of which were nested inside one another.  In all we recovered about 18 earthenware flowerpots, some with visible finger prints of the potter on the exterior!   This was a very exciting find for the students and everyone involved.


We completed our survey on Sunday May 22nd with another interesting discovery.  In another shovel test excavation, we discovered an unassuming prehistoric artifact.  It was a chipped-stone “flake” that is the result of manufacturing a stone tool, likely a spear or arrow point.  While we cannot date this flake accurately, we do know it was made prior to European’s arrival in this area.  Soon we had completed our GPR survey and test excavations, packed up the site and headed back to Discovery World to process the GP data.  The image below is the resulting GPR map of the grid we collected over the pottery midden feature in former lot 20.  The middle depth slice clearly shows the presence of several dense concentrations of artifacts, likely more pottery and construction material.

Overall, everyone was very surprised with what we found and all deserve credit for contributing to the discovery of the Lost Neighborhood of Juneau Park. After all, communities that document and protect their own cultural histories are more conscientious about the importance of preserving the past, which results in a greater appreciation for one’s own sense of place in time and space, particularly in the ever-changing human-built environment.  A final report on the past four seasons of survey will be available following laboratory analysis of the artifacts and GPR data obtained this season.

Brewing a 5,000 Year Old Scottish Ale

A Toast to the Neolithic Brewers!

“Wormus speaks of the drinking of heather-beer, as one of the pleasures which the souls of departed heroes enjoyed in the society of the gods.”

(W.T. Marchant: 1888)

The final Ale through the Ages brewing seminar of the 2010/2011 season wrapped up March 24th here at DISCOVERY WORLD in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  The challenge this time (sixteenth session) was to recreate a fermented beverage that was brewed throughout Europe’s western islands, during the Neolithic Period (ca. 6,000-4,500 years ago). This  recipe is based on molecular archaeological data and pollen analysis from pottery jar fragments found specifically at several archaeological sites in  Scotland.

In keeping with provenance, we used a generous amount of Scotland-grown 2-row barley malt, along with a dose of peat smoked barley, a dash of acidulated malt and finishing with several pounds of sage honey.  En lieu of hops (as it was not used in the Neolithic), heather tips, meadowsweet flowers and sweet gale were infused during the boil.  The final gravity for our 12 gallon batch was 1.082 / 21 Plato, making this a rare Ale.  We let it ferment  for three weeks with Old Ale yeast (W1318) in one six gallon carboy and Scottish Ale yeast (W1728) in the other 6 gallon carboy.  The resulting concoction is a tantalizingly delicious “Wee Heavy” scotch ale with hints of peat, heather and floral esters.

Cultural Geography of Europe’s Western Islands

More than one thousand islands comprise the European nations of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Today the predominant ethnic groups include: Britons, Channel Islanders, Cornish English, English Gypsies, Irish, Irish Travelers, Kale, Manx, Scottish, Ulster-Scots and Welsh. Most of these islands have been inhabited for at least 14,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age in a period know as the late Paleolithic. By around 8,500 years ago, most of the outer islands were occupied by the Mesolthic hunters and gathers.

Yet, it was around 6,000 years ago during the Neolithic Period that new waves of people moved onto the islands and brought with them grain agriculture and animal husbandry among other things.  Known as  the “Neolithic Revolution”, it spread new agricultural and technological traditions across the continent from East to West. Beginning in the 3rd millennium BCE pottery vessels found throughout Europe, usually in sets, indicate widespread fermented-beverage drinking traditions known by their pottery ware types: Baden ware, Globular ware, Corded ware, Bell Beaker ware, etc.

Neolithic Scottish Brew

The Orkney Island group contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. The Neolithic site of Skara Brae located on the main island is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Archaeological evidence indicates that brewing activities likely took place in one of the round stone structures, dating to ca. 3100-2500 BCE.

Moreover, at the site of Balfarg, Fife, in southeast Scotland, an intact Neolithic circular earth embankment (henge) now situated in the center of a housing estate, yielded some remarkable evidence of an ancient fermented brew. Residues of cereal grain and meadowsweet pollen found on pottery fragments dated to the third millennium BCE, clearly point to the adoption of a widespread tradition of the consumption of fermented beverages seen throughout Europe during this period.

Other brewing evidence comes from the site of Kinloch, on the Isle of Rum, located in the Inner Hebrides of NW Scotland. Near the village of Kinloch, a Neolithic habitation site, was discovered containing circa 4,000 year old pottery sherds. Residue of mashed cereal straw, cereal-type pollen, meadowsweet, heather and royal fern were  also discovered. (Nelson 2005:12). This is interpreted to be the remains of a Neolithic fermented floral grog ale (McGovern 2009:138).

The Decline of Heather Ale

Folklore tales attribute the original recipe for Heather Ale to have gone to the grave of a Pictish elder, at the hand of the Scots around the 4th century AD. The Scot Kenneth MacAlpine resolved to exterminate the Pict people of Caledonia (Scotland) sparing the lives of all but two…an aged father and son. Both possessed the recipe of brewing the valued heather beer. Their lives were promised to be spared if they divulged the secret recipe. The father asked for his life to be spared in exchange for his sons life…the father then said…“now I’m satisfied…my son might have taught you the art,  I never will…!”

The Rebirth of Brewing with Heather

Of the more than 55 breweries currently operating in Scotland, only a few have begun to brew traditional heather ales.  For example, the Williams Bros Brewing Company, run by Scott and Bruce Williams, is a micro brewery based in Alloa central Scotland. Among their line of traditional ales, the “Fraoch” from a Gaelic word for “leann fraoich” “heather ale” is worth checking out. “It is a 5% light amber ale with floral peaty aroma, full malt character, a spicy herbal flavor and dry wine like finish.”

A Toast to this Highland Heather Ale

Now that we’ve come full circle with how this recipe was concocted, the resulting rare Neolithic Period-inspired Highland Heather brew is one to age for awhile.  At 9% ABV, the resurrection of this robust ale will be well enjoyed when the right time presents itself for toasting the intrepid ancient brewers of  Europe’s western fringe! Slàinte Mhath!


Making the History of a Milwaukee Neighborhood Come Alive Like Never Before

Art meets Archaeology in Bay View Wisconsin

In a world of increasing visual media, today’s high school students are having to  become more adept than ever at navigating through this age of hyper-information, while often being exposed to conventional modes of academic learning in the classroom.  These challenges have recently been addressed in a Milwaukee neighborhood by bringing the classroom into the community through a unique public art installation.  This impressive outdoor exhibit installation called the <a href="http://discoveryworld/bayview“>Bay View Observatory is the result of a collaborative effort between Discovery World and Bay View High School students.  The Observatory is the culmination of a semester-long program called “The Art and Archaeology of Me”, where students were exposed to elements of Archaeology, Digital Arts, History, Geography, Genetics and Social Studies, in order to produce a one-of-a-kind public art intervention.

Located on the lawn of the Beulah Brinton house, which is home to the Bay View Historical Society, the Bay View Observatory is a public art installation and educational experience that celebrates the rich history of the Bay View neighborhood.   Over three Saturdays in August, Bay Viewers were invited to the Observatory to participate in the preservation of history through audio interviews, artifact documentation and portrait photography.  These stations were staffed by five Bay View interns who orchestrated this data collection for future generations to learn about the unique history of this Milwaukee neighborhood.

The Observatory is based on the idea of a compass. Four 12-foot tall vertical banners represent both the cardinal points and the visual history of the community.  Meanwhile, thirty individual markers point to historically or archaeologically significant sites in and around the Bay View neighborhood. In the center of the Observatory is a Community Table where a map of the neighborhood indicates where each marker is pointing to.  The Community Table also functions as a platform from which visitors can share their Bay View stories, artifacts, historic photographs and documents.

Three 15-foot tall Personal Archaeology banner columns greet visitors to the Observatory.  These personal banners represent the unique individuality and creativity of several Bay View High School students that participated in the Art and Archaeology of Me program.  Several other banners are currently on display at Bay View High School, as well as on Discovery Worlds’ grounds at the corner of Lincoln Memorial Dr. and Michigan St.

This Observatory is well worth a visit and is a successful model of the kind of innovative educational opportunities high school students can get behind. For more information, log onto the Observatory website to learn about the many personalities that make this historic Milwaukee neighborhood unique.  The Observatory is slated for de-installation by Labor Day weekend of this year, so come and see for yourself if you happen to be in Bay View, Wisconsin in the next few weeks.

Art Meets Archaeology in Public Spaces

The Art and Archaeology of Me student public art projects

The Art and Archaeology of Me student public art projects

Vanishing are the days when scientists and artists pursued their dichotomous avenues of expression through either empirically derived text, or aesthetic façades of beauty. More and more the silos of thought and expression are merging and the boundaries between traditional academic disciplines are blurring. Take for instance the coalescence between Art and Archaeology. True these two areas of study are no strangers to each other, indeed antiquarians have been studying ancient rock art even before archaeology became a formal discipline in the late 19th Century. Nevertheless, like many arenas of science, scientific rigor takes a firm grip, which often results in the production of banal prose stocked with data tables, appendixes and often enigmatic statistical equations. While all of this data mining is crucial to establishing sound theories about past behaviors, its perpetuation can also lead to alienation of a public eager to learn about our past.

In order to mitigate this sense of alienation, those engaged in the scientific pursuit of knowledge production ought to consider the use of public art as a way to bridge the gap between the ivory towers of academia and the concrete benches of civil society. Too often are these public spaces marred by superficial commercial interests trying to sell us something; instead, why not produce substantive public art that combines sound research without any commercial interest whatsoever?

Fortunately a vivid example of this altruistic pursuit involves a public art installation on Milwaukee’s lakefront, at the corner of Lincoln Memorial Dr. and Harbor Dr.. Standing nearly 20 feet tall, four high school students are depicted along with family photos, historic and modern maps, personal artifacts and thought provoking captions. These posters along with several others attached to lampposts along Harbor Drive are the culminating visual-arts projects completed this past Spring by 25 students from Bay View High School here in Milwaukee.

This project called “The Art and Archaeology of Me” was made possible by a Milwaukee Public School and Discovery World arts partnerships grant. Each Friday for nine weeks, students from Bay View High School worked with professional staff members at Discovery World in a project-based experience to motivate academic achievement through exploration of personal and urban archaeology, with the goal of developing a visual archaeological history of their own lives.

The resulting public art display certainly enacts a sense of pride and motivation for the students who are depicted along with their personal artifacts for thousands of passer-bys to wonder what it means, thus provoking deeper conversations about the impact of the our own pasts on the present.

Therefore, this example of personal and public archaeology is an effort to increase our awareness of how our past better informs us of the present and how the present affects the future. This subtext helps to promote a deeper understanding of how to access the past, which in turn brings it to the forefront of our collective consciousness so that future generations can retain a link to their histories and a connection to an otherwise ever-changing ephemeral landscape. Perhaps then, when we begin to acknowledge and respect our individual histories, will we become more tolerant of each others unique forms of cultural expression. Clearly this is a vital lesson humanity has yet to learn.

Bay View High School Student Posters

Bay View High School Student Posters