LSexE - What's going on right now

Published by Kathy Abbass on Thursday, 21st September 2017 - 12:00PM

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The LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® Study Area, looking north from the Aquidneck Mooring research vessel. © RIMAP 2017

INTRODUCTION

© RIMAP 2017

The Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour®  2017 fieldwork began in Newport Harbor on Monday, September 11. The work is co-sponsored again this year by the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) in Sydney, Australia, and the first week's team was made up of RIMAP's professional archaeologists, local trained volunteers, and two professional archaeologists from the ANMM.

The fieldwork will be limited to an area of Newport Harbor to the northwest of Goat Island and south of the Newport/Pell Bridge. Archival research has indicated that this is the area where the British scuttled five vessels in 1778, one of which was the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour®. These five were part of a larger fleet of thirteen transports sunk to protect Newport from the threatening French fleet during the American Revolution. RIMAP has found and mapped nine of the thirteen vessels, and they all deserve careful investigation because of their importance to the history of the Revolution, but of course the international interest is in the possibility that RIMAP may find the Endeavour.

For the 2017 season, RIMAP has as its focus the area where the three sites had previously been found, plus a fourth site discovered in 2016. The purpose of this year's work is to map the new site, and confirm the presence or absence of any other 18th-century shipwreck sites in the study area. This will set the foundation for the next phase of the research to determine which sites might be which ships, and perhaps identify the potential sites that could be the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour®.

In 2016 RIMAP purchased and prepared special buoys to mark the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour® restricted zone, and installed the moorings to receive them. These buoys identify the special "No Anchor/No Dive" area issued by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. The buoys were installed prior to the 2017 field season. 

The work will continue through September 29, and RIMAP will announce its finding on this website and a special media event near the end of the 2017 work. Details will be posted in due course.

The buoys to mark the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour® restricted zone. © RIMAP 2016

THE FIRST WEEK: SEPTEMBER 11-15

On the first day of work the dive team members checked the three previously mapped shipwreck sites in the LSexE Study Area. They appear not to have been disturbed since the 2016 season. 

RIMAP divers then began to prepare the fourth site to be mapped. By the end of the week, the perimeter of the site had been established, cement blocks had been installed at 3' intervals around that perimeter, and the team began to install the strings that serve as the temporary site grid. 

Conditions in this area appear to be very rocky, or perhaps the ship is sitting on ledge, a common local geological phenomenon. In either case, it was too difficult to install the usual PVC stakes around the perimeter to support the grid, as had been done on the previous site mapping efforts. Also, at first look, this site appears to be more disturbed than the others that RIMAP has mapped, but when the task is completed, we still hope to get a general idea of the original ship's size. 

The local weather this week tended to be warmer and more humid that usual in mid-September, and there were a number of days of heavy fog that limited visibility. But the lack of significant wind, and the research vessel's stable platform, made the work quite efficient.

A sketch of the 2017 study area. The yellow dots are the sites RIMAP has already mapped, The red dot is the site to be mapped in 2017. The pink rectangles are the areas for further investigation, to determine if more sites might be found. © RIMAP 2017

THE SECOND WEEK: SEPTEMBER 18-22

After a weekend off, on Monday the team continued installing the materials to create the temporary string grid that will allow controlled sketching of the structure. Unfortunately, beginning on Tuesday, Narragansett Bay suffered from severe winds and high seas associated with Hurricane Jose. Although the storm passed far enough offshore that little permanent damage has been done, some residents of the state have suffered from power outages, downed trees, and especially high wave actions along the exposed south shores. RIMAP's policy is always to be very conservative about continuing fieldwork during dangerous conditions, so the diving was cancelled through Friday, and will resume on Saturday. Weather permitting, the teams will work through October 1 and the results will be posted in due course. 

Although we are disappointed that RIMAP's work has been delayed, Rhode Island has suffered minimal inconvenience, compared to the Caribbean residents that faced the fury of Jose and the earlier hurricanes this season.

THE THIRD WEEK: SEPTEMBER 25-29

The plan to continue the work on Saturday was foiled by continued bad weather, and even Saturday morning had to be canceled. Part of the team was able, however, to return to the site that afternoon to continue the site set-up. That allowed the full team to continue the work on Sunday, and by Wednesday afternoon, the whole grid area had been mapped. This map shows a very scattered field of geological material, with what appears to be a badly disturbed ballast pile and few cultural materials visible in that area. The reason for these conditions are not yet understood, but the essay about how the Endeavour came to be in Newport Harbor suggests a few of them. 

To identify which archaeological site may be the Endeavour will include a process of elimination, and this site appears to be too small to be the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour. Further investigation may confirm that assumption.

Finding and mapping all of the sites in the study area is the first task, and on  Thursday the team began to search the area to the north of the newly mapped site. Once the presence or absence of any other potential 18th-century sites in the study area has been confirmed, RIMAP will then turn to the complex process of determining which sites are which ships. That process will require a proper facility to conduct the sample analysis and artifact conservation needed for that proof.

SPECIAL EVENT SEPTEMBER 29

The public was invited to observe the RIMAP team as it demonstrates its work at 10 a.m. on Friday September 29, on the homepage of this website. That event was followed by an interview by local ABC-TV Channel 6, to feature our Australian colleague, Dr. James Hunter. A video will be posted here later to describe all of the 2017 fieldwork activities.

2017 FIELDWORK CONTINUES INTO THE FALL

The original research design planned to complete all activities by Friday September 29. Unfortunately, the delay of 4 days in the second week left the schedule behind. The plan for the team to work on September 30 was foiled by bad weather, and after that the team dispersed. But the RIMAP volunteers will continue the work (as weather allows) on weekends into the fall. We will post the results of the 2017 study when the fieldwork is complete, and then the next phase of the work can proceed in 2018.

RIMAP was able to mount one more team in October because the weather has been so mild this fall. The task to remove the mapping equipment equipment on the site studied this year was completed, and now is the long process of washing, drying, and stowing all the gear (especially the lines) that were  used. The plan to continue the searches of the nearby area were not completed, and if we get one more mild weekend date, and a good team, we will try to do more of that. 

OTHER RELATED TASKS

RIMAP has also contracted to create another short YouTube video to summarize where we are in the study of the Newport transport fleet, and the progress on finding the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour. That is scheduled to be done by early January and will be issued at the RIMAP Annual Meeting. Watch for when it is posted on this website! 


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