DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY & HERITAGE COMMAND
UNDERWATER ARCHEAOLOGY BRANCH
31 July 1995
From 19 through 27 June and again from 3 through 10 July, the Alabama volunteers, under the direction of Captain Max Guerout (French Navy, retired), pursued for the eighth consecutive year, the archaeological exploration and study of the remains of the famous Confederate warship.
Their investigations were again concentrated on the area of the ship's stern, in the vicinity of the officers' quarters, a zone which the divers know very well after having worked there for several years. The principal objective of the research conducted in this sector, while waiting to reach the quarters of warrant and petty officers and temporarily leaving aside the study of naval artillery, is still the study of life on board. However, two additional objectives oriented this year's work: first, efforts to find ways and means to understand, if not control, the movement of vast amounts of sediment transported back and forth by the strong tidal courant, and secondly, to test a new water dredge powered by batteries adopted to underwater work, designed and built by engineers and technicians of the Societe Generale des Techniques Nouvelles and its associates under the name of Reseau Eurisys, all located in or near Cherbourg, who had worked for several month on their own time to develop and experiment, in collaboration with Alabama volunteers, a system to facilitate the clearing of the site and consequently its archaeological exploration.
High winds and heavy seas during the first dive period, 19-27 June, made diving impossible for safety reasons during four and one-half days. Forcibly shore-based during that time, Alabama group made a deflector that was placed on-site the day before the interim of strong tides separating the two dive periods. Work continued also on the water dredge and it as experimented on-site from 7 through 10 July. The possibilities of this prototype were amply proven, and with a few improvements to be made before next year's field season, it is expected to be of great help in finding and retrieving objects, especially those covered by the sediment.
During the interval between the two dive periods, two other deflectors were made and placed on-site when diving resumed. There too, promising results were obtained, even through it is obvious that the tide can deposit sediment on the site as easily as it can sweep it away, especially on rugged terrain with mounds and hollows, as is the case with Alabama. This year, 122 dives were made on-site, which brings the total since 1988 to 890. Eighteen objects were retrieved, including two bronze rings from the mizzen-mast that will make splendid museum pieces. the American archaeologists Gordon Watts continued his study of the stern pomp, and, thanks to one of the deflectors, the stern pivot gun was seen for the first time. Now, only one of the six 32-caliber cannons is still to be located.
On the whole, the 1995 field work gave good results for a transition period. In the future, more important --- and more costly -- means of intervention than those used on the site during the first eight seasons will be required.
03 May 2009