Category Archives: Technology

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.

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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.

Diving Deep to Discover the L.R. DOTY

The Discovery of the L.R. DOTY

Last week a group of divers descended over 300 feet into the 40F cold waters of southwestern Lake Michigan becoming the first people to visit the quagga mussel-encrusted grave of the shipwreck L.R. Doty.  Led by renowned Great Lakes maritime historian, Brendon Baillod, a team of technical divers made history when their video footage of the behemoth wreck came to light after 112 years. Until last week, it was the largest wooden ship that had been unaccounted for in Lake Michigan.

In a recent interview with Meg Jones of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Brendon Baillod stated that the Doty “vanished with no real explanation. She was a pretty new ship. We wanted to solve that mystery – why she disappeared in a Lake Michigan storm that she should have been able to handle.” Technical divers breathing a special blend of mixed gas (helium and oxygen) with and with equipment necessary to dive so deep recorded high definition video and photographs of the wreck site, which may provide clues as to how and why the Doty sank in a storm so fierce it damaged part of the Milwaukee break wall and destroyed the boardwalk in Chicago. One of these divers, Jitka Hanakova who captained the dive expedition, descended to the shipwreck which appeared at around 200 feet below the surface. “It just suddenly shows up like a ghost ship and the more murky it is, the spookier it is…it’s very exciting to be on a new wreck that nobody has ever seen – it’s like a diver’s holy grail.” http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/97008779.html

History of the LR Doty


Launched in May of 1893 at West Bay City, Michigan by F.W. Wheeler & Co. for the Cuyahoga Transit Company of Cleveland, Ohio, the L.R. Doty was named after Mr. Lucius Ramsey Doty, the general manager of the Cuyahoga Transit Company. She was and enrolled at the Cleveland, Ohio customs house on June 5, 1893 where she was awarded official number 141272

The Doty was built of white oak with a hull length of 291 ft., a beam of 41 ft. and a depth of 19.8 ft., with a capacity of 2056.34 gross tons. The Doty was built with steel arches embedded in her hull, providing additional stability for a wooden vessel of her size. She had nine deck hatches and was built with a tall fore-mast, on which she could set sail, but also had a large triple expansion coal fired engine for primary steam power. Fortunately, she was one of seven nearly identical sister ships built at this time, which included the: William F. Sauber, C.F. Bielman, Tampa, Iosco and Uganda. http://www.baillod.com/shipwreck/doty

Loaded with 107,000 bushels of corn, the L.R. Doty was pulling the four-masted schooner, the Olive Jeanette when the tow line broke in a gale as the ships passed Milwaukee heading north. As waves reached 30 feet, the Doty‘s captain, Christopher Smith, swung his large ship around to search for large schooner.  Ironically the schooner survived the storm, but the L.R. Doty was never seen again.

Condition of Shipwreck


As the divers illuminated the stern of the enormous wooden vessel, it failed to yield the ships definitive identity due to the entire surface being covered in a thick carpet of invasive mussels introduced to the Great Lakes within the past 20 years, suspected to have proliferated via ballast water offloaded from ocean going ships.

Despite not being able to make out the official name,  the vessels dimensions, unique characteristics, onboard cargo and geographical location (ca. 20miles off of south Milwaukee), pinpoint her as being the grave of none other than the L.R. Doty.  Both deckhouses were gone, likely due to her violent and tragic end in 1898. As the Doty began to sink, the incoming water displacing the air in the cabins would have caused them to blow off as witnessed on many other shipwrecks before and after this nautical tragedy. Moreover, her two masts and smokestack were tipped over, while a wheelbarrow used to move cargo still lays on the deck of the ship, holding nothing now but water and encrusted mussels.

Like all shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters, this wreck belongs to the state and is protected under federal legislation.  This means that no artifacts can be removed from the wreck site without permission of the DNR and State Historical Society.

In Memorandum


The 19 victims of this deadly storm were as follows: Christopher Smith (Captain, from Port Huron, MI), Henry Sharp (First Mate of Detroit), W.J. Bossie (Second Mate of Detroit), Thomas Abernathie (Engineer of Port Huron), C.W. Odette (Second Engineer), George Wadkin, (Oiler), L. Goss (Steward of Bay City, MI), W.J. Scott (Cook), Charles Bornie (Watchman), Peter G. Peterson (Wheelsman), Albert Nelson (Assistant Wheelsman), Joseph Fitzsimmons (Fireman), J. Howe (Deckhand), F. Parmuth (Deckhand), C. Curtis (Deckhand), William Ebert (Deckhand), Pat Ryan ( Deckhand), including the ships two cats Dewy and Watson.

Public Program

All are welcome to participate in an upcoming public presentation on this shipwreck discovery at DISCOVERY WORLD on Sunday July 11th at 4pm.  This public forum will bring the expedition team members together to talk about their personal accounts of the discovery, while viewing a sample of the high definition video footage recorded during the first dive to the shipwreck.  In addition to this exciting public presentation on ships history and loss, guests of honor attending will include several living descendants of the LR Doty, including family members of Captain Christopher Smith.

This event is free and open to the public.

Also, stay tuned for more programs on this and other shipwrecks at Discovery World. http://discoveryworld.org

Keeping Track of Time

Keeping track of time has been a human endeavor since the dawn of humanity and arguably before our species became anatomically modern circa 190,000 years ago. As a species we are not alone in living our lives by the ebb and flow of time. All species are affected by the patterns of Earth’s cyclical movements in concert with our sun and moon, rendering changes in behavior caused by night and day, waxing and waning of the moon and predictable annual seasons. Human cultures have been marking the passage of time in both linear and cyclical systems, depending on the cosmological and socio-religious established conventions adhered to by each population.

As we move into a new year and a new decade, I’m intrigued by how our collective consciousness and indeed social organization is fundamentally dependent upon keeping track of time, both on a day-to-day level, as well as our place within the broader context of historical time. On December 31st the majority of the world’s population will count down the seconds before midnight and celebrate the birth of a new year, 2010, and the beginning of the second ten-year count of 21 one-hundred year counts. Known as the Gregorian calendar this long count of time has become the internationally accepted civil calendar used to keep track of time.

The Gregorian calendar was introduced by the Roman Catholic Pope, Gregory the thirteenth, after whom the calendar was named, by a decree signed on 24th February AD 1582. The use of the notion AD, Anno Domini, is based on the beginning of the long count calendar at the year zero, or the traditionally held year of birth of Jesus Christ. Because of the widespread indoctrination of Catholicism across the world during the Middle Ages and the necessity to codify a universally acceptable day for Easter (the resurrection of Jesus), this calendar became the international de facto standard of recording time. Over time as countries began to adopt the calendar they had to account for differences between the earlier Julian calendrical system and were forced to skip forward in time between ten and thirteen days to make up the discrepancy. In this regard the British Colonies in what would become the United States lost eleven days when they adopted the Gregorian system on Thursday, September 14th 1752.

Source: Cambridge University

However, the Gregorian calendar is not a universally followed system of timekeeping. Today there are at least forty calendrical systems still in use worldwide. These are unique to each cultural and religious community and tend to be lunisolar (movement of the sun and moon) in principle. For instance the Islamic calendar is based on a lunar system of tracking time, where a crescent moon heralds a new month. Hence, the use of the crescent moon in Islamic symbolism. The first year of this calendar coincides with when the prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in Saudi Arabia, known as Hijra (AH anno Hegirae). This corresponds in Gregorian terms to the year AD 622. Therefore, 2010 in Gregorian terms is actually the year 1431 AH according to the Islamic calendar.

Archaeologically we can look to a number of “archaic” calendrical systems and astronomical observation structures that mark significant changes in seasons, namely the summer and winter solstice and/or spring and autumnal equinox. For example, I recently visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Newgrange, in the Boyne River Valley (Abhainn na Bóinne) of Co. Meath, Ireland. This impressive passage tomb built around 5,000 years ago by Bronze Age farmers is in essence both a mortuary tomb, but also a seasonal clock. As the sun rises on the eastern horizon during the winter solstice, a shaft of light shines through a window box at the front of the tomb, through the twenty meter long passage and illuminates the internal cruciform chamber. This event would have had important ritual significance for knowing when to begin planting crops and celebrating religious ceremonies.

The early civilizations of Central and South America had their own way of keeping track of time. The Mayan’s for example conceived of time as cyclical and established a complex system of tracking time. This Long Count calendar combines a day (k’in) into twenty days (winal). Eighteen winals make one tun. Twenty tuns are known as a k’atun. Twenty k’atuns make a b’ak’tun. Therefore, much like wheels inside increasingly larger wheels, each cycle records the passage of time. Many think the year 2012 is the end of the Mayan Calendar, but this is incorrect. It just means the end of the 13th b’ak’tun (394 solar years) and the beginning of the 14th b’ak’tun.

We’ll probably never know for sure when humans first started recording time. Very likely it is forgotten in the oral traditions of bygone generations and has receded into the ethereal mists of dreamtime, much like the aboriginal Australian notion of deep time. What we can say for certain is that to keep track of the time is culturally dependent and it is the clock by which we can set the rhythm of our daily lives. So when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, remember that our concept of knowing the actual time is all relative.

Tracking Trash in the Modern Archaeological Record

Artifact Deposition into the Modern Archaeological Record

Artifact Deposition into the Modern Archaeological Record

Have you ever wondered what happens to the styrofoam coffee cup that you recently tossed into the garbage bin? Once its liquid contents were consumed did you give any thought to the disposable container itself? Like most of us, the mass produced containers of our consumable society are taken for granted and quickly forgotten once they reach their designated garbage receptacles. It is precisely these disposed of pieces of our daily lives that the field of Archaeology studies, in order to understand material culture in the context of time and space. A broken piece of pottery from a 1,500 year old Woodland Period jar found along the Milwaukee River holds similar cultural meaning as an aluminum root beer can located in the same vicinity. Each elicits data pertaining to human rendered technology, cultural modes of consumption, environmental deposition, artifact preservation, etc. Yet, only a fraction of the cultural behaviors that were enacted to produce, consume and dispose of these disparately connected artifacts can ever be ascertained.

However, now with the aid of innovative technology developed by MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, modern artifacts are beginning to provide insightful information on the journey of a piece of trash through the “removal-chain.” TrashTrack uses hundreds of small, smart, location aware tags, which are part of a network of tiny locatable microeletromechanical systems currently under development. “These tags are attached to different types of trash so that these items can be followed through the city’s waste management system, revealing the final journey of our everyday objects in a series of real time visualizations.”

Data Collection Microchip

Data Collection Microchip

These kinds of data could have profound implications for how we think about the amount of waste we produce on a daily basis, as well as the distance and rate these objects travel over time. While this pilot program is designed for waste management purposes, the resulting data offer profound information for social scientists and certainly for future archaeologists. If someday all consumer products had similar microchips, one could locate the distribution and location of this garbage, which would be particularly important for environmentally degrading material culture, such as batteries, electronics, etc.

A Computer Midden from the Digital Age

A Computer Midden from the Digital Age

By cultivating a more informed population about the insights gained from this technology, perhaps our collective conscience will be more cognizant about our consumptive patterns of behavior. Perhaps now we will begin to confront the mounting question of where and when our trash is disposed of and how long it remains in the environment, before it is either destroyed or recycled. Nevertheless, a more informed public can only mean a more habitable future when we begin to address the impact we are leaving in the archaeological record.