By Lt. j.g. Chloe J. Morgan, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division
City councilwoman Redella S. Pepper presented George Schwarz, Ph.D., with the award for his guidance in excavating and documenting an 18th century ship found in Alexandria, Virginia.
“A 2016 Brenman Award for Outstanding Maritime Archaeologist is presented to Dr. George Schwarz of the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch for volunteering to provide expertise and guidance in the documentation, careful excavation and preliminary stabilization of the oldest ship discovered to date in Alexandria,” said Pepper while reading the proclamation. “And for sharing his knowledge about maritime history and the construction and use of the vessel, thereby helping make possible the eventual exhibition of this rare artifact for future generations to study and appreciate.”
Schwarz led a team of NHHC underwater archaeologists to help city archaeologists measure and record the excavated timbers at a warehouse in Alexandria April 12-16.
“We have the Navy team here helping us because their eyes are so much better in terms of looking for features that are significant on a wooden ship,” said Alexandria City Archaeologist Francine Bromberg during the excavation. “We have relied greatly upon their help and expertise to get a better understanding of what the ship was like.”
NHHC archaeologists used tools such as measuring tapes, calipers and plumb bobs to measure the remains. Data collected on the curvature of the frames could reveal the shape of the hull, according to Schwarz.
The recovered ship was built with thousands of trunnels to connect the different elements together. Also called treenails, trunnels are wooden pins that swell when exposed to moisture, contributing to watertight integrity.
“It’s a very strong, robustly built ship, and the extensive use of the trunnels is an indication of how structurally sound this ship was,” Schwarz said. “They put a lot of effort into the construction because the builders had to fabricate each wood pin, drill each hole in the timbers by hand, and then plug both elements to attach the planks to the frame. It represents a lot of work.”
NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) was first contacted in December when the buried ship was found at the construction site of a new hotel. The branch observed the site and provided advice on maritime archaeology and options for preservation.
“While the ship was in position, we used a photo scan program that allowed us to take photographs around the site itself, and then the program basically matched the pictures together and stitched different points to create a photographic 3-D model” Schwarz said.
Archaeologists believe only a portion of the original ship was buried. After being rediscovered, the pieces of the vessel were moved to a local warehouse for further studies.
Alexandria was built around a shallow cove with two points jutting out into the Potomac River. In order to make Alexandria a major maritime port for ocean-going traffic, the entire cove was filled between 1749 and 1798. The ship was likely intentionally used as landfill, according to Bromberg.
The UAB program was founded in 1996 due to an emerging need for the Department of the Navy to study and preserve its submerged cultural resources. Today, UAB's mission is to manage research, conserve and interpret the Navy's collection of sunken and terrestrial military craft, which includes more than 3,000 shipwrecks and 14,000 aircraft wrecks distributed across the globe.
“As archaeologists, we are interested in contributing to the maritime history of the United States,” Schwarz said. “We are learning more about our collective maritime past by working on this project, whether it is a military vessel or not.”
NHHC, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
For more news from Naval History and Heritage Command, visit www.history.navy.mil.
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