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College of Arts & Sciences
Maritime Research Division

MRD Returns to Charleston and Yamasee Indian Sites

by Daniel M Brown, MRD

SCIAA’s Maritime Research Division (MRD) kicked off its 2015 field season with a return to Charleston in an attempt to locate the remaining yet elusive vessels of the 1861 and 1862 Stone Fleets. Working over three weeks in April and a fourth week in May, MRD Head Jim Spirek with underwater archaeologists Joe Beatty, Nate Fulmer, and Dan Brown along with volunteer hobby divers Ted Churchill, Joy Krutek, and ECU graduate students Ryan Bradley and Nicholas DeLong, conducted remote sensing survey and dive operations. The goal was to establish the coordinates of eight ships sunk as part of the Stone Fleets not yet located during previous MRD efforts. 

Using Side-scan-sonar and a magnetometer, potential targets were marked using GPS and divers conducted reconnaissance and line searches, successfully finding the last of the 16 vessels of the First Stone Fleet scuttled in the Main Ship Channel and four of the seven missing vessels of the Second Stone Fleet sunk in Maffitt’s Channel. While the weather was cooperative the first week of field work, south-westerly winds and heavy seas made land lubbers of the crew a few days over the course of the survey. When diving was not an option, remote sensing continued as weather permitted. The locations of the vessels conform relatively close to a pattern mentioned in historical sources and the heavy loads of stone used to sink the fleet have kept many of the wrecks well entrenched in the substrate. On good days the team managed to capture video of wreck features, the stone cargo, and even the wooden ships’ fasteners (right). Though three vessels remain left to be found, the team was pleased with the success of the operations after the foul weather that impeded the 2014 Stone Fleet Survey.

 In June, with the addition of Jessica Irwin to the Charleston Field Office, MRD convened with SCIAA’s Chester DePratter and two hobby diver volunteers, Cat Sawyer and Jimmy Armstrong, to continue work on Yamasee Indian sites in Beaufort County. 

Continuing field work that took MRD to the Combahee River in 2014, this year the investigative team was working on the Whale Branch River near the town of Yemassee. The crew conducted brief remote sensing operations early in the week (top of article) then commenced diving (left). Over subsequent days, the team conducted dive operations in the murky, sometimes turbulent, waters of the Whale Branch River. Terrestrial searches located some prehistoric and historic artifacts, while underwater searches only yielded a handful of colonial objects, mostly bricks and a single bottle base. As disappointed as divers were not to find any stone points or prehistoric ceramics, the field work was considered a success because as we all know in archaeology, negative evidence is still evidence—in order to figure out where something is, it helps to know where it’s not!

 Later this summer the MRD plans to do some field work on the Great Pee Dee River and participate in the SC-BOEM Cooperative Agreement offshore Myrtle Beach and Georgetown.