Field School - Summer 2005
One hundred forty-one years after the vessel’s sinking, faculty and students returned to the Otsego
as part of a phase II archaeological survey and East Carolina University summer field school. Under the direction of Dr. Lawrence Babits (principal investigator) and Dr. Nathan Richards (co-principal investigator), students documented portions of the vessel’s hull, accumulating over 600 dive hours between May 24th and June 26th, 2005. With visibility ranging from six inches to two feet, the Otsego
proved to be one of the largest and more challenging sites in the history of the program.
The Otsego project was made possible due to in-kind support provided by Mr. Harry Thompson, of the Port o’ Plymouth Museum, as well as the many local merchants who donated food, time, and numerous other resources. With a base of operations provided by the Ruritan Club of Jamesville and a donated portable shower system, students were able to set up a comfortable home away from home.
This season’s research on the Otsego was a continuation of an initial survey conducted by the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Branch in 2002. The field school, and subsequent thesis research, specifically targeted diachronic features, site formation processes, and environmental components for the only remaining gunboat of this type.
In conjunction with courses offered in methodology and ship construction at ECU, the location of the Otsego was confirmed in the Spring 2005 field week through detailed magnetometer, and sidescan sonar survey. Other anomalies identified along the Roanoke River became part of Franklin Price’s thesis: Conflict and Commerce: Maritime Archeological Site Distribution as Cultural Change on the Roanoke River. During the project, these sites were ground truthed by small groups of divers.
Upholding a tradition steeped in blackwater diving, students not only contended with poor visibility but also faced strong currents, considerable debris, and cold water. Despite these issues, field school participants worked quickly to set up baselines along sections of the bulwark, clearing large portions of the wreck from fishing nets and large branches.
With each new leg of the baseline set, divers followed sections of the hull, recording different areas of the wreckage. Trilateration points confirmed measurements taken from specific sections of the baseline and helped identify a significant break in the portside hull. Other features identified along the port side of the vessel suggested this section was once a part of the engine room.
Although permission was obtained through the Naval Historical Center to excavate and recover artifacts, research on the Otsego remained non-invasive. This summer’s investigation revealed that while the vessel was very disarticulated, site integrity remained surprisingly well preserved, despite heavy traffic through this area by recreational fishermen.
– Brian Diveley