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Computers and Nautical Archaeology: Characterization of the C.S.S. Georgia Wreck Site

James Baker
Thesis: December 1982
Chair: van Doorninck
Nautical Archaeology Program

In December 1979, Texas A&M University began a series of investigations for the U.S. Army Corps of engineers, Savannah District, to investigate, characterize, and make recommendations regarding the wreck site of a Civil War period Confederate iron clad vessel, the C.S.S. Georgia. The survey proved to be difficult, since visibility in the Savannah River around the sunken vessel is zero. In addition, the wreckage extending above the sediments is comprised of bent and twisted railroad rails and rusted pieces of casemate which once formed her iron shell. A nine-foot tide fall, coupled with a current velocity up to 5.1 feet per second, makes diving on the tangled wreckage dangerous and difficult. Thus, only during high and low slack tides can divers grope over the parts of the ship which protrude from the river sediments. Even this is practicable for less than two hours per day.

A study of the history of the C.S.S. Georgia left many questions unanswered, such as her length and breadth. In order to provide accurate information and a meaningful site assessment, a series of remote-sensing surveys of the shipwreck and the surrounding area was initiated. Among the techniques employed were side-scan sonar, magnetometry, and bathymetry. During the course of this work, thousands of readings were taken. Records of these data required processing and graphic presentation in order to offer meaningful insights into the nature of the wreck site. Subsequently, a decision was made assigning computers a major role in this work. The development and use of computer-graphic techniques served to image large data bases in formats more easily understood.

A review of the literature relevant to computers, computer graphics, and computers in terrestrial, and nautical archaeology revealed that programs did exist to do this type of work, but they would require modification to suit our purposes.

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