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SHA Conference 2011

January 8th, 2011

2011 Society for Historical Archaeology Conference

January 8, 2011

Susanne Grieve, Director of Conservation


For the past week, faculty and students have been visiting the fun and entertaining city of Austin, Texas to attend the annual Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) conference. The dozens of sessions and forums were devoted to the discussion of historical archaeology on both terrestrial and underwater sites with several subfields also represented, such as conservation. As with any conference, there were also a lot of fantastic events surrounding the conference including a book room, technology demonstrations, drink socials, awards dinners, and a pub crawl to see Austin’s best bars and restaurants.

While there were lots of interactions to mention, this blog will highlight my experience and some of the sessions I attended. The conference started on Wednesday evening with an opening general session that set the stage for the conference theme and allowed the Texas hosts to showcase some of their historical highlights.

My Thursday started with attending the curation, collections management, and conservation committee where current objectives for the group were discussed including archiving materials both physically and digitally. The morning underwater symposium was about treasure hunting, archaeology, and the law. All of the presentations were thought provoking and were conducted by many different policy makers and government representatives which made for an interesting discussion based on their many years of experience. The symposium began with a general introduction to some of the shipwreck cases that have involved treasure hunters and how archaeologists have interacted with the salvage companies. The next paper outlined the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and gave some suggestions for a revised terminology. Vic Mastone gave a great presentation on his experiences as the Chief Archaeologist for the state of Massachusetts. Representatives from NOAA then discussed the evolution of the USS Monitor project detailing many of the lessons learned during planning. The ECU group then spent time preparing for their presentations in the afternoon detailed below.

The afternoon sessions I attended included a forum “Into the Cloud: Archaeology and Media in the Borderless Information World”. The panel introduced the projects they have been working on and discussed some of the tools archaeologists can use to reach out to the public. Following the forum, I headed for the ECU underwater symposium on “Diamonds, Whaling, and Mercantilism” which detailed the work that was done by faculty and students on the summer abroad in Namibia, Africa. Dr. Lynn Harris gave a wonderful introduction on the current state of archaeological research in Namibia and outlined some the vessels we worked on. Danny Bera then discussed the work we did during the Fall 2010 field school in Charleston, South Carolina. Jennifer Jones gave a great presentation on the sites in Meob Bay, particularly the surf boats that we recorded and documented. Kate Schnitzer and Tom Horn presented together on the fascinating history and documentation of the Eduard Bolen wreck in the Namib Desert. Kate and I then gave a presentation on some of the conservation challenges we faced while working in remote environments. Theresa Hicks finished the session with her presentation on her thesis topic of the Bowling Farm sight and the relation of historic wharfs to plantations. The ECU session was very successful and allowed students to showcase their research interests and practice presenting to an audience of their peers.

Friday morning began with a really fantastic session on the Vasa project. Dr. Fred Hocker started the morning by introducing the history of the project, outlining the session ahead. Magnus Olofsson discussed how the climate surrounding the Vasa was causing concerns and the steps that were taken to mitigate the problems. Dr. Hocker continued by detailing the support structure of the hull. Nat Howe, an ECU graduate student, discussed the success of the total station mapping projects including details on methods. This was followed by Dr. Kroum Batchvarov’s talk on recording the frame of the Vasa which gave archeologists a better understanding of the methods of construction. Kelby Rose talked about the naval architecture of the ship and future work that he hopes to conduct on the vessel. Another fantastic student at ECU, Stephanie Gandulla, gave a presentation on her thesis studying the treenware, or wooden tableware, from the Vasa collection. John Radcliffe, also an ECU graduate student, presented his information on the casks from the Vasa. Very fascinating! Dr. Hocker then presented a brief paper on the interpretation of the carved heads on the Vasa. Midshipman Howell then discussed the US Naval Academies use of GIS to analyze the location of artifacts on the Vasa’s gun decks. This session ended with a great discussion on the success of the Vasa project.

While there were many great underwater sessions, I headed for the Ghost Ship session in the afternoon, which turned out to be very rewarding. The Ghost Ship is a fascinating discovery in the Baltic Sea by Deep Sea Productions/MMT. This deep water survey led to a plethora of information on this unique wreck site. Check out the website for more information: http://www.deepsea.se/?id=current&productionid=29&image=148.  My last forum for the day was on teaching historical archaeology. This panel discussion was an invigorating exchange on the past methods of teaching archaeology and future methods that should be implemented. I am always interested in learning what other professionals are teaching and what the students would like to learn. I also want to express the importance of including conservation courses in the curriculums for historical archaeology. The last day of the conference included a morning working session on collections, curation, and stewardship. I found this discussion to be very beneficial personally and helped provide some ideas for formulating good collections policies and conservation planning procedures. The afternoon session I attended was on the use of X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) for archaeology and conservation. I also caught some of the University of West Florida (UWF) student’s presentations on current research they are conducting.

The final session attended was the one that I was anticipating for the entire conference. George Schwartz hosted a great session on archaeological conservation that showcased a lot of the projects currently being undertaken at Texas A and M, and of the graduates of the conservation program that have gone on to other positions. Jim Jobling outlined the importance of conservation through several case studies of objects that have been treated at the Texas A and M labs. Peter Fix then detailed the planning and design of the support for the La Belle vessel. George then outlined the activities of the Submerged Cultural Resources Center which include a variety of responsibilities. Among these is conservation of objects from shipwreck sites. Also with the Submerged Cultural Resources Center is Alexis Catsambis who detailed their use of a laser scanner for documenting artifacts. Brennan Bajdek then discussed the conservation of two carronades from the USS Shark. The process was amazing to see unfold. Bill Utley then showed us how he has used XRF on artillery shells from the USS Tulip (love that name!). Shanna Daniel from the Queen Anne’s Revenge lab also discussed her use of XRF for analysis on their objects. We hope to purchase an XRF unit in the near future to increase our ability to perform research on historical objects. Chris Sabick did a fascinating presentation on PCB contaminated archaeological wood. The final presentation was by Doug Inglis on preservation concerns with sunken watercraft. The world will surely keep a close eye on the research by Texas A and M into this growing area of concern.

Donny Hamilton was a final discussant for the session and he gave a great summary of conservation at Texas A and M. Donny is one of the founding fathers of waterlogged archaeological conservation in the US and noted he has been teaching conservation for 40 years. Overall, the conference was a fantastic experience and really showcased Texas history and archaeology. While I was formally trained at University of West Florida and the University College London, my mentor, Dr. John Bratten was a graduate of Texas A and M. Without his mentoring and exposing me to conservation, I would have never had the experiences in conservation that I have had in my career. The influence and reach of the conservation classes at Texas A and M is undeniable and is a testament to the value that the program offers to the field!

General Conservation

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