Monday, July 20, 2015

For the second summer the Northeast Regional Center has hosted a summer book club series that meets once a month at our own Markland Cottage. It's been a lot of fun with readers getting into it by dressing up, bringing festive food or beverages that go with the theme, or incredibly by reading the books! Last summer we read Tatham Mound, Killing Mr. Watson, and A Voyage Long and Strange also featured as a Monday Morning Book Review (read here).

While last year was a line up of mostly fiction, this year the non-fiction muse paid a visit with books including 1491, Submerged (this week), and the yet to come Lives in Ruins next month.

Archaeology Book Club Fliers from Summer 2014 and 2015. 

SEASS Diver (
Submerged is a book I heard about while learning to dive and working with the Pedro Menendez High School Maritime Archaeology class years ago. I got the book as a gift, gave the Florida sections a quick read, and put it on my pile of archaeology books to take a closer look at during down time.

Turns out there never is a downtime for public archaeologists. There's always something we should be doing, promoting, gearing up for. And this month I'm gearing up for my swim test at UWF under the supervision of our Dive Safety Officer so I'm cleared and ready to go for next month's SEASS workshop at Key Biscayne. What a perfect time to revisit Submerged, be inspired by the daring feats of those who make the waters safer for us to visit, and brush up on my underwater archaeology history.

Submerged is written by Daniel Lenihan who we first meet as an avid cave diver in the beginning, then veteran of the National Park Services dive team who help start the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit. True to the reviews on the cover ("A gripping saga of archaeological exploration." says Clive Cussler), it is a fast paced, thrilling read that takes you surprising places around the globe including Florida, the Great Lakes, Micronesia, France, Pearl Harbor, the Aleutians, and Mexico just to name a few.

I liked how the book places underwater archaeology within the context of the 1970s as it was gaining recognition as a science, developing guidelines and protocols for safety and practice, and emerging from it's previous placement as a step-child of anthropology in the 80s. I also liked how Lenihan frames shipwrecks as places of necessary caution. Submerged sites by their definition are dangerous, illustrated by the passage: Archaeologists seldom get to pick where they will dive but almost by definition the area won't be benign...If this lake were a forgiving place, we wouldn't be here (p.5). It's true, when you dive for work rather than for recreation there is a different feel to getting in the water. Shipwrecks are sites of trauma and some are in fact memorials. Underwater archaeology is not to be taken lightly and not without figuring out the obstacles and circumstances that brought the ship below your ship or platform down.

Parts of the book remain timeless. When I read the following, "Even organizations I respected in the past, such as National Geographic, were celebrating the destruction of this aspect of the nation's resource base while they waxed sanctimoniously on natural resource protection (p.47)," it brought me right up to present day and the ongoing issue of the National Geographic Channel's archaeology based reality show Diggers. Even today I received an email from the Society for American Archaeology's President Diane Gifford-Gonzalez who provided an update on their ongoing consultation with NGC on Diggers, as did the Society for Historical Archaeology on their blog posts by President Charles Ewen (They're Back, and previously Diggers Making Progress, and Is Diggers Better?).  National Geographic is a visual and scientific institution that for the most part holds the public's trust. But National Geographic and their affiliate programs love affair with treasure is historic and ongoing. They wouldn't celebrate ivory poachers on their cover now would they. No way. Environmental resources are to be studied and conserved, for cultural resources the pendulum swings.

I loved Lenihan's recalling Mark Twain's words from Tom Sawyer, "There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy's [eta: or girl's] life when he [/she] has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasures (as quoted on p. 12 by Lenihan)." National Geographic, other media outlets, and in fact archaeologists rely on this strong, emotional connection humans feel to the ground and the objects in it. It seems too much to dream that the quote should end with "has a raging desire to go somewhere and systematically excavate for objects made and used by people."

Shipwrecks are special, and the public feels some shipwrecks are more special than others. They do evoke a different response from people than say terrestrial sites do. To this Lenihan had this to say:

The lesson was shipwrecks hold a special place in the heart of the public, and Civil War shipwrecks are the most compelling than even gold or silver....There was a natural sex appear to what we were doing that, if packaged right, could generate support and dollars for our program (p. 59).

First, I think this is true especially for public archaeologists. We rely on that natural sex appeal and try and get the information packaged right, sometimes with more success than others. Support, funding, and I would add a sincere preservation and stewardship goal to the outcomes we hope to gain from the packaging. Second, this section also reminded me of when Chris Amer, Deputy State Archaeologist for Underwater Archaeologist in South Carolina, came as keynote for the Maritime Archaeology Symposium. His lecture was titled, "A Survey for the 1526 Wreck of Lucas Vazquez De Allyon's Capitana." During that lecture he compared the public interested between Spanish Galleons and Civil War ships (I presume a Confederate wreck mentioned here) and shared similar frustrations with a public fervor over raising Civil War shipwrecks over the study of sixteenth-century Spanish shipwrecks. This doesn't feel true in Florida as I weigh public interest in the Maple Leaf over say the Emanuel Point wrecks, but it's in the back of my mind when talking to the public about underwater archaeology.

EP 1 Locastro Painting (ECL article)

Maple Leaf site plan from

Which Wreck Wore Sexy Best: Spanish Colonial or Civil War 

I do have a criticism of the book. The book is heavy on adventure and diving, but light on the archaeology. The SCRU team dives some unbelievably historic and significant wrecks. You learn a little about them as they are there to map and record. Beyond the mapping, the archaeology is nearly non-existent. Reading this book won't make you more versed in parts of a ship, or what general artifacts illustrate different kinds of behavior of people before the ship wrecked. He touches on this in the "Contemplation vs. Action" chapter where the case is made for an increase in the social science component of underwater archaeology. The Shipwreck Anthropology symposium happens and ultimately the book with the same title is published, but these kinds of interpretations are not made as a result in the book. The style returns to the pre-chapter 13 pace of adventure, close call, new safety protocol for diving or personal anecdote, then on to the next dot on the map.

Sarah at Ginnie Springs, location featured in the book.
In defense of Lenihan, he has packaged his strong preservation message into a book that naturally appeals to a non-academic community. If this book's target audience is sport divers, then what a great way to start a conversation about why you leave a point in the place you found it, or why not blow out the bottom of the sea floor in looking for gold coins that are not likely there. Case in point, several of our book club readers had difficulty finding the book as it was in the Sports section and not History or Archaeology. Just when I'm ready to write off the book as being for sport divers, I remember the great context presented at the beginning for the start of the National Park Service dive team, reservoir project, and historic wrecks that brings me back to professional/amateur equilibrium.

He also doesn't state that he made a career out of doing research. Late in the book he says he "made a career out of assessing risks to doing research (p.202)." The more I thought back to each section in the book the more I believed Lenihan's contribution was as park ranger, making the sites safe for people to visit, making sure they have a bit of knowledge about what they're going to dive on, and making sure all the divers that go down come up again to share their story with others. The pride of diving at Isla Royale is not the research per se but installing the interpretation. As he says, "You don't be a good steward of a resource you don't understand." Personally, Submerged help me understand underwater resources more as a whole and appreciation of what's come before me in the long line of scientific divers. And for that, I'm grateful, and I hope to be a better steward for underwater resources.

One more thing I want readers to know. I was delighted to read names familiar to me from attending Society for Historical Archaeology's annual conference: Pilar Luna, James Delgado, and George Fischer to name a few. These underwater archaeology heroes are still hard at work, accessible to normal people like you and me, and are today interpreting and writing about underwater archaeology for the public.

If you're interested in other underwater archaeology books, I have these to recommend, albeit more on the academic, non-fiction side:

 And for kids, read our previously posted Monday Morning Book Reviews for Shipwreck, Hurricane Dancer, and Derek the Dredger posts.

And if you're interested in joining us next month as we discus Lives in Ruins, we will meet at the FPAN Center, Markland Cottage on Flagler College campus. The book club meeting is free and open to the public Tuesday August 11th from 5-6 pm. For directions or further questions, contact us here.

Text: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff except excerpts from the book in purple.
Images: Book Covers via Amazon, National Geographic cover from, SEASS diver from, and shipwreck images credited in the captions. Sarah at Ginnie provided by Sarah Miller, FPAN staff.

Lenihan, Daniel
2002  Submerged: Adventures of America's Most Elite Underwater Archaeology Dive Team. Newmarket Press, New York.

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