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Nelson's Dockyard Seawall Project
Underwater Archaeology

The Nelson’s Dockyard served as the base of British Naval operations in the Leeward Islands, and a facility to repair and providing supplies for British Naval ships during the age of sail.

The focus of the archaeological recovery is to sample various sites along the seawall where different activities took place. This may provide a diverse range of artifacts and information. Funding and support is provided by the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park.

During the 2002 June and July field season, we managed to recover over one thousand artifacts. Many of these are currently in conservation and analysis. The recovery of this large volume was due to the presence on island of numerous archaeology students, and professional divers who volunteered their time. As it was the slow season, several professionals from the English Harbour community volunteered their equipment and services.

The primary tool being used is an airlift. This home-made device consists of a compressor, a garden hose, a 10ft length of 4 inch pvc piping and a few adaptors. As the air rises in the pipe, it expands and creates suction. All material is deposited in a series of floating screens/sieves and then sorted on land. Metal detectors are also used underwater and on land to find the small items hidden in the thick coral encrustation.

The Sea Bed
The sea bed in front of the wall has three distinctive layers. The first is a layer of fine silt that is filled with modern day garbage. It clouds the water on contact and greatly reduces visibility. The second layer is a black pasty layer that gets progressively harder with depth. This layer has many shells and ancient artifacts. The third is a sterile layer of pristine white sand in places, clay and bedrock in others.

Artifacts Recovered
Artifacts fall into two classes: accidental loss overboard, or, throw away trash. Modern artifacts include: cell phones, sunglasses, batteries, boarding ramps, bottles, worn fittings. Old artifacts represent a period between 1770 and 1890. These include, uniform buttons, musket and cannon balls, coins, bayonets and gun parts, parts of rigging, fittings, glass lenses, china, and bottles.

Conservation is the biggest challenge that faces this project. We do not have adequately trained personnel or long term storage facilities. We cannot conserve large iron artifacts, but the small manageable ones are placed immediately in fresh water tanks and the water changed weekly. A qualified technician must be brought to Antigua. As other islands have a similar problem, I propose a hands on workshop format.

The Next Step: Where do we go from here?
Continue sampling.
Locate and train additional personnel.

Get training in conservation.

Improve storage facilities.

Speed up analysis of large items that have to be returned to the sea. (This will free storage space).

Goals for the Future
New museum exhibits.
Publications:books, booklets and papers for presentation.

Popular media documentary.

Digitize info on CD for educational purposes.
Establish a project web site.






Seawall before excavation Seawall during excavation Original Stone Seawall Team Seawall after excavation