St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP)
An active, ethical, and scientific research program is a hallmark of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum research program. The Museum founded the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) in 1999 to conduct research and maritime archaeology to better understand and share 500 Years of Maritime Heritage in St. Augustine and the State of Florida. Check out What is Maritime Archaeology and Why it Matters for more information about this vital work.
Museum archaeologists survey inland and offshore waters to discover new shipwrecks and other submerged sites, investigate both underwater and terrestrial sites, and monitor known sites for any damage or changes (such as from a hurricane). They conduct their field research from the 1978 custom dive boat, “Empire Defender” along with the 13’4” Boston Whaler, Indefatigable or “Indy.” LAMP also maintains a side-scan sonar and magnetometer. Stay up-to-date with Current Projects and find out what is new from the Museum Conservation Lab. See our past research projects in the Project Archive.
Maritime Archaeology Education and Training opportunities are available for volunteers, university students, and professionals and include an underwater field school, training workshops, and scientific diving training. Visit the Maritime Archaeology Education and Training link for more information on these programs.
Funding for this work is provided by heritage tourism, archaeological contract work on a limited basis, and individual gifts and donations. Archaeologists share their work directly with the public through speaking engagements and a host of educational programs, presentations, tours, and exhibitions. Volunteers are included in every phase of the work from driving the research vessel to working in the laboratory.
500 Years of Maritime Heritage
America is a maritime nation, and no appreciation of American history is possible without understanding the story of America and the sea. This story begins over two centuries before the birth of our nation, and over four decades before English settlers landed at Jamestown. The story, which like America itself is both maritime and multicultural, begins with the founding of the Spanish town of St. Augustine. Dive deeper into this story at the links below.
What is Maritime Archaeology?
Archaeology is the scientific study of the human past. Through the investigation of artifacts, structures and the remains of plants and animals that have been altered by human beings, archaeologists can help everyone better understand our shared past, our unique cultures and the broader patterns of human behavior.
Maritime archaeology focuses on our naval past and explores historic and prehistoric relationships with the sea and inland waters. It is a specialized science combining techniques developed by archaeologists, marine scientists, historians, anthropologists, geologists, forensic specialists, oceanographers, and naval architects. Underwater archaeology requires strong diving skills to gather data underwater. Documenting and excavating a site by strict archaeological standards is a meticulous and time-consuming process.
Maritime archaeologists carefully record the precise location of every artifact on a shipwreck, just as a forensic scientist does at a crime scene. From this data, scientists reconstruct the lifeways of the people who lived and worked on the ship and learn much about the design and construction of the vessel itself. Shipwreck excavations can entail the recovery of large objects, such as 15-foot-long anchors, along with delicate ones, such as the wings of insects once present below deck. Not even the smallest artifact is lost. Samples are taken for laboratory analysis and species or substance identification, metallurgical composition or radiocarbon dating. Moreover, everything recovered is cared for in perpetuity.
Why Does Maritime Archaeology Matter?
For most of human existence, ships were the only way to transport people, goods, and ideas over long distances. Ships allowed global exploration, the formation of colonial empires and the development of the world economy that we all participate in today. Beneath the surface of our oceans, lakes, rivers, and wetlands lay evidence of these activities in the form of sunken ships and locally-built workboats, as well as the remains of piers, wharves, collapsed lighthouses and other maritime features.
Shipwreck sites are particularly attractive to archaeologists because they act as virtual time capsules. Everything on board a sailing vessel has the potential to be preserved. This includes organic artifacts made of wood, bone, cloth or leather that would not usually survive on land.
The maritime archaeology of St. Augustine waters is remarkably significant as this is the oldest port city in the United States. For nearly five centuries, ships voyaged to and from this colonial outpost. Hundreds of Native, Spanish, French, English, and American ships have been lost to the shifting sands and treacherous waters, each forming a unique time capsule giving archaeologists an exceptional view of a multi-cultural past.
Archaeology is not treasure hunting. Museum scientists seek knowledge of the past, not profits through the sale of artifacts. The process of scientific archaeology is so involved that it is just impossible to make a profit without cutting corners. Blowing holes in the seafloor to find gold can destroy the stories that these wrecks might have told. Any artifacts that St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum archaeologists bring to the surface remain the property of the State of Florida and are available to learn from in the future. The Museum helps share these stories with visitors from around the globe.
Archaeology is not just in the water. A great deal of time is spent in the lab and in understanding how best to present a story to an audience. Historical records document shipwrecks from the time of St. Augustine’s founding by the Spanish in 1565 through the early 20th century and even today. You can discover the stories of these Lost Ships of St. Augustine that tell of the varied and long maritime heritage of the oldest port in the United States. Visit our, Project Archive to find more discoveries from shipwreck investigations.