Saturday, May 1, 2004

Underwater Artifacts: College Receives New Hi-Tech Seabed Scanner For Archaeology, Environmental Studies Programs

Chestertown, MD, April 30, 2004 — Ever wonder what secrets lie in Davy Jones's Locker, or just at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay? Washington College students will soon find out. The College's archaeology and environmental studies programs have received a new tool for underwater archaeological and environmental surveys. Produced in Scotland by the firm SonaVision, the RoxSwath Seabed Classification System will add a new dimension to the College's undergraduate learning experience and allow students to study the marine environments at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

According to John Seidel, associate professor of anthropology and environmental studies and an expert on underwater archaeology, RoxSwath can help to determine what objects of archaeological or environmental significance might be hidden under the surface of the Bay.

“We are very excited to have this new tool,” he said. “RoxSwath is a multibeam instrument that uses acoustics to map different seabed types. Simply put, the instrument uses multiple transducers to map a swath across the bottom of a river or creek and then makes fine discriminations between different types of mud, sand, shell, coral, grass, and so on. We have taken delivery of the first system in the U.S.”

On April 5-7, representatives of SonaVision trained a group of College personnel—including Seidel, Dr. Wayne Bell, Director of the College's Center for Environment and Society, Wendy Miller, Geographic Information Systems Program Coordinator at Washington College, and College senior anthropology major, Christian Mears—to use the system through a series of live demonstrations on the Chester River.

Following the field gathering and a post-processing of the data, the survey demonstration found several oyster beds—larger than anticipated—thriving in the river.

“This is an example of the type and the value of the data that this system can produce,” said Seidel. “Combined with our sidescan sonar, marine magnetometer and positioning and survey systems, this places Washington College well out in front of all our peers with regard to marine and estuarine survey capabilities, whether for archaeology or environmental science. We are taking archaeology and environmental studies to a much higher level for our students and letting them experience first-hand the most up-to-date methods in this field, with the Bay and its tributaries as our natural laboratory.”

For more information on Washington College's archaeology program, visit

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