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College of Arts & Sciences
Maritime Research Division


A Little Homework Helps Make Hobby Diving Meaningful

by Jimmy Armstrong and Cat Sawyer, MRD Volunteers

South Carolina is full of interesting history and much of it is under the water, but if you don't know the background of a given waterway it can be frustrating to locate new dive sites with potential.  Some dive sites are closely guarded secrets, so in order to develop some of our own, we decided to explore some historical resources that could help us find new dive sites.  

We are primarily interested in historic period dive sites related to local history. Sites with artifacts such as old bottles and shipwrecks in the rivers can be particularly interesting.  But the same methods could be applied to locate sites with Native American artifacts like projectile points, axes, pottery, celts, and beads.  

We began our search on the internet. You can get some general information for sources online, but the details lay in the information captured in handwritten letters, diaries, journals, and freehand drawings that are often found in offline repositories. These documents can lead you on an underwater adventure!

To find out more about potential sites we took a trip to the local Archives office.  Archives, libraries and depositories do have rules about when you can come and what you can bring with you. Make sure that you bring a pencil and a note pad to write with, some archives do allow for cameras, laptops, and tablets, make sure you call ahead to find out what is permitted and what is not.  Archives also have some un-written edict rules, Take a few minutes to introduce yourself to the person working there and tell them what you are interested in and what you are looking for.  They will be delighted to show you how and where to find information related to your project.

We recently went to the Kershaw County Archives and were assisted in research on the two ferry locations in Camden, SC.  We also wanted to learn more about the old Wateree River commerce and associated shipping information, as well as docks and wharf locations.  Kershaw County archives was able to provide us with access to maps and drawings concurrent with the time period we are interested in. This started to lead us down the trail to more specific information related to the history we are interested in.  The archivist also recommended several books related to the topic. 

We had the great opportunity to meet with one author and he gladly shared information with us that he had not been able to include in his book.  For example, in the early 1800s on one day alone, 33 steamboats arrived in Camden via the Wateree River to load and unload their goods.  Imagine that!  These boats were docked at the wharfs, tied off on the East and West riverbanks, and anchored midstream waiting to unload!   With all of this activity there was a good chance of finding a historical site beneath the waters edge. 

If your research leaves you with more questions, head back online and do some more searching. This will most likely lead you back to an archive or library.

When you get the facts and information, go dive the spots you have selected and see what you find.  You will not always find what you are hunting for, but when you do, there are usually lots of artifacts in a relatively small area. Keep in mind that you will wind up doing a lot of looking and very little finding!  At least at first. You have to be willing to keep exploring new spots.  Give an area a 15 or 20 minute dive and if you don't see anything move on to a new place.  Once you find a few nice spots you can re-visit them every so often and see if anything has been uncovered.  

Keep in mind that some places are not meant for divers. As much as we would love to explore certaint shipwrecks and sites, many are protected. There are rules and regulations about diving on shipwrecks where soldiers died in battle and sites protected under the federal and state historic preservation laws where collection is prohibited, such as Native American burials. Safety is also important, a site might be calling your name but if it is in waters that are outside the scope of your dive skills or comfort level go back when the conditions are more favorable.  Most importantly, have a good time, you can learn so much from local historians and if you do find something go back and share with them, We are sure that they will enjoy hearing about your find as much as you enjoyed discovering it. 

Jimmy's botomless colonoware pot: 

 

Dive buddy Gus Dunlop shows off a recent bottle find: