Re-Creating History; Model Helps Archaeology Students Learn

Article excerpt

Byline: Maggie FitzRoy, Shorelines staff writer

The British merchant vessel The Betsy disappeared into the murky depths of the York River in Virginia on Sept. 16, 1781, after being attacked by colonial forces in the Battle of Yorktown -- the last battle of the American Revolution.

Last week, a piece of it was resurrected in a classroom at Nease High School. Steve Muskett's marine archaeology research class, in conjunction with the Lighthouse Maritime Archaeological Program in St. Augustine, re-created a wooden master of the center of the ship's hull to be used to make a fiberglass model of the wreck.

"This is just like taking a 7-foot-by-8-foot plug right at the bottom of the ship," said Billy Ray Morris, underwater archaeologist and executive director of the lighthouse program.

"It's designed to teach kids how to map, record ship construction underwater and teach them how a ship would have been built."

Students in the class worked from blueprints provided by Morris, who built a similar model of a 19th century coastal trading schooner in the late '80s while a graduate student at East Carolina University.

Morris then spent 10 years diving and studying the site of The Betsy as director for the Yorktown Shipwreck Project, and an account of that venture was filmed as a BBC special and published in the June 1988 issue of National Geographic magazine. The ship remains on the bottom of the York River, but a model of it exists in a museum in northern England.

Morris created the Lighthouse Maritime Archaeological Program in 1998 after conducting archaeological research on the shipwreck sites off the coast of St. Augustine, which is one of only four archaeologic reserves in Florida. The lighthouse program is a co-sponsor of the program at Nease, which is new this year.

Students in Muskett's class have been studying boating and scuba diving since school began and many have received diving certifications through field trips to freshwater springs.

They will use the model of The Betsy to practice shipwreck explorations in a safe, controlled environment. The wooden cast they made will be used for a fiberglass model, to be constructed by Luhrs-Mainship, a St. …