By India Mackinson – UNC Institute for the Environment, Outer Banks Field Site
With technology more accessible than ever before, it’s easy to forget the essentiality of pencil and paper, especially for maritime archaeology. Dr. Nathan Richards and nine East Carolina University graduate students have studied the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck in Rodanthe for two weeks, which means it’s time to compile the data they’ve collected into a highly detailed, hand-drawn map of the site. Over the past few weeks, each person studying the wreck has measured and captured the location of every detail, drawing section by section of the site on waterproof mylar sheets while snorkeling and carefully climbing over the oyster-encrusted ship. By the start of their third week on the project, they had data spread across dozens of mylar sheets. That’s where the jigsaw puzzle of drafting a site map begins.
With ten different people making drawings of the site, discrepancies in the location of some details will arise. The students first worked with a partner to align the sheets for their assigned section of the wreck, carefully taping them together to create a complete picture. Once every individual section had been put together, the real puzzle―and sometimes debating―begins. While the process of aligning the mylar sheets was civil for this project, some of the graduate students have seen conflict arise from this process on past projects. In drafting shipwreck site maps, getting details drawn as accurately as possible is extremely important, so when two points don’t perfectly align along the edges of the mylar sheets, debate over whose data point is right can occur.
Once all the mylar sheets are aligned and taped down, the light table is turned on, draft paper is rolled out, and tracing is started. For the next couple of hours, six or seven students at a time leaned over the light table with a pencil in one hand and eraser in the other, lightly tracing the lines on the mylar sheets onto the gridded roll of draft paper. Every once in awhile, the students put their pencils down and turned off the light table to check their progress and evaluate any points of doubts, placing sticky notes on uncertain areas of the map to return to later. They placed their free hands-on strips of paper towel to keep oils from their hands from getting onto the paper and smudging their work.
During their last week on the Outer Banks, the students will continue the drafting process on bad weather days. When they do get a chance to get in the water, they check and re-record any discrepancies found while drafting. With the data compiled on a site map, more clues to the identity of the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck may come into focus.