Underwater Archaeology - Your Participation
The continued existence and protection of Florida's submerged cultural resources depends on the people who live in and who visit our state. Many Florida elementary, middle, and high schools incorporate archaeology into their curriculum. Laws are in place to provide a legal basis for management of the resource, but the Bureau of Archaeological Research needs your help, interest, and support in ensuring the survival of these fragile and non-renewable resources!
One of Florida's most innovative continuing projects is the establishment of Underwater Archaeological Preserves at shipwrecks and submerged sites around the state. Created by state and community partnerships, these parks are for scuba divers, snorkelers, fishing enthusiasts, and anyone who enjoys the water.
Get Involved in Your Past
The best way to get involved in underwater archaeology as a hobby is to coordinate your activities with those of local archaeological and historical societies whose members, while not necessarily concerned with diving, share the same interest in Florida's past. You may want to join a local chapter of the Florida Anthropological Society and become part of the growing network of amateurs throughout the state. When projects come up, you'll have an opportunity to participate.
Often, university- or government-sponsored field projects will accept volunteers to help conduct the research. Traditionally, most archaeological expeditions count on the assistance of volunteers, who tend to be highly motivated and hard-working members of the team. Due to the usual budget limitations, most first-time volunteers seldom are paid, although they may receive room and board.
If, in the course of your underwater explorations, you find a site that might be a potential candidate for a new Underwater Archaeological Preserve, you are encouraged to nominate it for consideration. A Preserve should be within state waters, have public access, good diving conditions, and interesting cultural and natural site features. The development of a new Preserve is an excellent opportunity for your diving group to become involved in an underwater activity with lasting results.
What to Do if You Discover a Shipwreck in Florida Waters
Let's say you've discovered one of Florida's many underwater archaeological sites. Maybe you and your diving buddies have been looking for new and interesting dive locations, or maybe you've just accidentally come across something interesting on the bottom or along the shore. Since the advent of scuba diving in Florida in the 1950s, many underwater sites have been discovered by sport divers and amateur archaeologists, but there are hundreds of others about which we know very little.
Before disturbing or removing anything from a site that you've found, you have some responsibilities as an explorer who has made a potentially significant discovery. After the initial excitement of swimming across an encrusted cannon, a section of ship's timbers, or a strange assortment of pottery and glass, many questions should run through your mind:
- What kind of a site is it?
- What laws govern underwater sites?
- How can I protect this discovery?
- Whom can I contact to help to interpret the site and its contents?
- How can I investigate this discovery to solve its mysteries?
When divers discover a submerged historical or archaeological site, it may be one that has already been reported, recorded, and studied. On the other hand, it may be a previously undiscovered time capsule. Before disturbing or removing anything from the site, divers should contact the State Underwater Archaeologist at the Bureau of Archaeological Research, B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology, 1001 de Soto Park Drive, Tallahassee, Florida 32301, or call 850.245.6340 for assistance. This office can help divers to assess and date underwater discoveries, as well as offer advice on how best to proceed in researching the nature of the site. Many important historical and archaeological sites in Florida have been named after their discoverers, who had promptly reported what they had found to seek the help of professionals. Often these individuals have participated in the resulting research and recovery of information from the site they first discovered. On the other hand, many unique sites have been permanently damaged or destroyed by well-meaning but uninformed persons who did not realize the consequences of their actions.