Thursday, August 5, 2010

Searching for the USS Scorpion

The following post was written by SHA lab director, Nichole Sorensen-Mutchie.

The Bladensburg Archaeology Project has now branched out into the waters of the Patuxant River in Upper Marlboro. The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) in partnership with the US Navy and Maryland Historical Trust has begun the search for Commodore Joshua Barney's flagship, the USS Scorpion. With the British in pursuit, Barney (pictured below) ordered the burning of his flotilla. It was better to have the ships destroyed than have them fall into enemy hands. After the ships were scuttled, Barney and his men went to Bladensburg on foot and fought in the battle there.

I spent the last two days assisting in the underwater archaeology operations underway to confirm the location of the USS Scorpion. This was a new experience for me, I had never worked on a shipwreck site. I couldn't help but think about how both terrestrial and underwater archaeologist have the same mission, but with completely different methods. First, you are confined to a metal barge! As you can see from the lower right picture, a lot of equipment is needed, which doesn't leave much room to move around. Then there is the various dangers the divers could potentially face. For one diver in the water, there are several people assisting them up top to communicate with them and be ready to jump in should the diver get into trouble. "Digging" is done with dredge, a motorized vacuum system that sucks water, sand and artifacts from the river floor to the surface. The sediment and artifacts then flow into a screen on the surface, which is inside a metal tub as seen in the lower left picture. Another hose is inside the tub to pump out excess water and sand into a holding tank to later be disposed of. No artifacts associated with the shipwreck were found while I was there, however the divers have come down on the wooden planks. Although there is very low visibility in the water, a lot is being learned about where exactly the ship is and how it is oriented.

There is a separate blog for the USS Scorpion project. Please visit, as well as the Facebook page, USS Scorpion Project.