Monday, 29 October 2012

A day in the life of a maritime archaeologist

Guest post!

Despite having similar theoretical backgrounds, it is obviously clear that the methods and technologies used in maritime archaeology differ drastically from terrestrial research. Though volumes have been written on my particular discipline, I wanted to present a more personal and perhaps more accessible example of what life on the water is truly like.  
As with any field archaeological project our day starts early, typically before sunrise. We usually rise somewhere around  5 am and prepare for the day. We arrive at the local marina where our survey vessel is currently stowed, in this particular case we have the luxury of keeping the vessel in the water and don’t have to launch and recover it on a daily basis. Supplies are refilled, boat engines are checked and the equipment is prepped. For the current survey we are utilizing a side-scan sonar and magnetometer, supported by an echo-sounder to gather bathymetric data (water depth, etc.). The side-scan sonar and magnetometer are housed in “towfishes”, or instruments that are towed behind or off the side of the survey vessel. The echo-sounder is mounted to the vessel so the only equipment that needs to prepped and tested are the remote sensing towfishes.  

Once all equipment is tested and prepared we make the trek some 20 miles offshore to begin the day’s survey. The journey takes around an hour depending on the weather. Once on site, the equipment is deployed off the stern of the vessel and all lines secured. Once satisfied that the equipment is stable and recording accurate data we begin the bulk of the day’s activity, driving lines or “mowing the lawn”, which simply consists of piloting the vessel in parallel transect spaced an equidistance apart over the entire portion of the previously identified survey area. Both data outputs can be observed in real time but any real analysis is done after processing. On this particular day we are accompanied by a pod of dolphins which are often attracted to the survey vessel. Presumably they are entertained by the sonar pings as they seem to be particularly attracted to it, in some cases masking the data altogether.  

Survey time on the water is only limited by weather conditions and available sunlight (or in poorly planned excursions, gas levels). On this particular day, we are able to survey for a solid 10 hours and return to land in time to refuel the vessel, stow the equipment, and refill any depleted supplies. Once back in hotel/house/condo the data is processed, food is cooked, weather predictions for the following day consulted, and a cold beer consumed. Ah the life of survey on the water.    

Maritime Archaeologist, Southeastern Archaeological Research Inc.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Musings from Mississippi

The not-so-glamorous bit afterwards
It's been rather quiet for me on the blog front in October especially after the flurry of postings in September. One reason is that I've been away in the US again, not for fieldwork or conferencing (the usual excuses) but to spend some time with my husband, a lovely Oregonion who is currently living in Florida and working along the gulf coast doing maritime archaeology. That means he gets paid to go sailing around on a boat in the lovely warm waters of the gulf, occassionally diving on shipwrecks and swimming with dolphins. Seriously. Suddenly my days in the lab playing with chemicals and ancient poop seems way less exciting.

So, not too much  to report from me; I've just been getting on with article corrections for a monster 30 page submission to Geoarchaeology (now accepted, hurrah!), finishing a new article on external areas at Catalhoyuk, and a multitude of writings and data analysis for the Ecology of Crusading project. I took a short break from writing to spend a few days with Drew in Mississippi, alas not out on the boat, though I did help clean the boat afterwards. Then I decided it would be quite fun if he wrote something about how much more exciting his days were than mine, so look out for a guest post coming soon!