message Board EDUCATION RESOURCES SUNKEN CITIES RECENT DISCOVERIES SHIP WRECKS MAIN PAGE INTRODUCTION GLOSSARY TIMELINE LINKS CONSERVATION METHODS LOCATING THE WRECK EXCAVATION TECHNIQUES SHIPWRECK DATA BASE About This Site
The Excavation of Port Royal
Robert Marx was the first nautical archaeologist to attempt serious research of the area and began excavation in 1966. Marx and his team worked on the site for two years. This first excavation resulted in an astounding 50,000 artifacts and uncovered around 40 buildings as well as two shipwrecks. They found many expensive pieces of jewelry but most of the artifacts were glass bottles, clay smoking pipes, broken crockery, and copper and brass objects.
In 1981, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in conjunction with the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust began the underwater archaeological examination of the submerged ruins of a portion of the Commercial center in what used to be Port Royal. In ten years time Texas A&M archaeologist have excavated eight buildings and catalogued thousands of artifacts.
Nautical Archaeologist research all available documentation before and during the excavation process. They study land patents, wills, ship and mercantile inventories, complete histories and survivor's descriptions. They attempt to match names and family histories with excavated houses, businesses and ship wrecks. Researchers have learned many fascinating details about trading activity and island industry. They have uncovered information about the pewter trade and the significant impact it had on the economy during late 17th-century Jamaica. Previously little was known about Jamaicans role in the Pewter trade.
Nautical archaeologist must contend with the usual harbor sewage and residential trash as well as local sea predators. Using high-tech equipment, core samplers, suction pumps, dredging tools and sand sub-bottom profilers, they are able to determine the size and shape of objects on the seafloor. Most of the excavation work takes place in 20 feet of water and requires painstaking attention to detail and elaborate research and planning. Nautical archaeologist use a metal grid frame to plot the excavation site. The underwater environment although somewhat murky, is usually clear enough to conduct this type of detailed research.
Although researchers have been excavating Port Royal for over 30 years there are still many secrets yet to be discovered. With each new find, nautical archaeologists are able to reconstruct life in 17th-century Jamaica and gain new insights into what life was like 350 years ago.
Photographs courtesy of Texas A&M University and the INA