The following is an article excerpt from the Fall 2019 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full story! 

By David Malakoff

One evening this past May, maritime archaeologist Michael Brennan was driving to his house in Jacksonville, Florida, when he received an urgent email: Could he help identify a mysterious shipwreck that had just been discovered hundreds of miles away, deep in the Gulf of Mexico? Moments after arriving at his home, Brennan, who works for the cultural resource management firm SEARCH, opened his laptop and clicked through to a high-resolution video stream that was being broadcast live over the Internet from a robotic submarine hovering over the wreck. Then he joined a conference call with other archaeologists and marine experts from around the United States to discuss what they were seeing. They were all linked by satellite to the crew of Okeanos Explorer, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) research ship that, while on a cruise to test its submersibles and other equipment, had unexpectedly discovered the wreck.

Robert Ballard (left) discusses the dive plans of a remotely-operated vehicle with the science and operations team aboard E/V Nautilus. | Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live
The operations team aboard E/V Nautilus bring Hercules, a remotely-operated vehicle back on deck after a dive. | Credit: Erin Ranney/Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live
Robert Ballard (left) discusses the dive plans of a remotely-operated vehicle with the science and operations team aboard E/V Nautilus. | Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live
COVER PHOTO: Archaeologists onboard Nautilus and scientists ashore get a close view from Hercules' camera of one of the F9C-2 Sparrowhawk biplanes that went down with USS Macon in 1935. | Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live

“This is exploration at its finest!” exclaimed one of the archaeologists as they asked the NOAA crew to steer their submersible along the 124-foot-long hulk. The cameras revealed that the wreck sat upright on the seafloor, a ghost-white crab perched picturesquely on its bow. But only the lower part of the wooden hull, which was clad in copper that had turned a turquoise-green, remained. The rest had likely been “consumed by marine organisms,” one of the experts explained to his colleagues. Members of the public, who had signed up to get emails and social media messages about this project, were made aware of it about two weeks later, and they sent in their questions and comments. “We were getting messages from all over—Kentucky, you name it,” recalled archaeologist Joe Hoyt, NOAA’s acting National Maritime Heritage Coordinator, who was monitoring the action from the agency’s headquarters near Washington, D.C.

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