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Guest Contributors...           Edwin R. Scollon

Diving Lake Champlain...
The Valcour Bay Research Project-VI (a)

 

The Archaeological
Mapping of Valcour Bay

Valcour Bay, Lake Champlain      Photo Credit: Doug and Mark Harwood

As we’ve discussed in the previous pages, the locations of the battle’s artifacts have as much educational potential as the artifacts themselves.  Preserving that potential is the primary concern of the U.S. Navy and New York State Museum officials that oversee the project.  The team would have to meet a series of archeological requirements before any consideration would be given to the artifacts’ removal from the bay.  Developing a means to accurately record the placement of the artifact scatter was the team’s first priority.

Mapping an underwater archeological site involves conditions and challenges not inherent to those of land sites.  Conventional surveying equipment and global position systems (GPS) won’t function in an underwater environment.  Limited underwater visibility and the absence of distinct landmarks in the bay further complicate the issue and raised concerns of the survey divers becoming disoriented.  The team’s response was to develop an artificial system of landmarks from which the divers could plot artifact locations and find their way about the site.

The survey team developed a system that relies on the use of a series of posts embedded into the bay’s floor.  The posts are constructed from three-foot sections of PVC pipe.  PVC (poly vinyl chloride) is a plastic material commonly used in household plumbing.  The material is durable, non-soluble and non-corrosive and poses no threat to the bay’s ecosystem.  It’s also white in color, making it highly discernable against the grayish-brown sediments of the bay’s floor.

Click on the thumbnail images to see a large photo.
 

During the 2001 survey, the team had 25 divers complete 154 dives in two weeks. We completed twelve survey grids during that time. The team soon moved away from the anchor pad that we had also used as an entry and exit point. During the 2001 survey, the team had 25 divers complete 154 dives in two weeks.  We completed twelve survey grids during that time.  The team soon moved away from the anchor pad that we had also used as an entry and exit point.
Here, LCMM diver, Pierre LaRocque, pulls the buoy to the pre-selected grid posts and assists Mr. Bennett with obtaining his DGPS data. Here, LCMM diver, Pierre LaRocque, pulls the buoy to the pre-selected grid posts and assists Mr. Bennett with obtaining his DGPS data.
This image was taken just after 1999's Hurricane Floyd paid the Champlain Valley a visit. The storm's power pushed heavy currents and massive amounts of debris through the bay. The grid posts were some of the few objects that offered any kind of resistance to the flow of water and debris. The team spent several days removing the tumbleweed from the posts. This image was taken just after 1999's Hurricane Floyd paid the Champlain Valley a visit.  The storm's power pushed heavy currents and massive amounts of debris through the bay.  The grid posts were some of the few objects that offered any kind of resistance to the flow of water and debris.  The team spent several days removing the tumbleweed from the posts.
The white grid posts stand out clearly against the dark sediment. The white grid posts stand out clearly against the dark sediment.
The grid posts came to the rescue again. We saved precious dive time by stringing guide lines onto the grid posts that rested between the anchor pad and the advancing survey sites. In effect, they took the "navigation" out of our navigating. They also provided a measure of safety by assisting the divers in making their entry and exits from a common predetermined point. The grid posts came to the rescue again.  We saved precious dive time by stringing guide lines onto the grid posts that rested between the anchor pad and the advancing survey sites.  In effect, they took the "navigation" out of our navigating.  They also provided a measure of safety by assisting the divers in making their entry and exits from a common predetermined point.
PVC transect, grid and anomaly posts. The channels in the grid posts are cut to secure measuring tapes and lines. PVC transect, grid and anomaly posts.  The channels in the grid posts are cut to secure measuring tapes and lines.
Submersible compasses are often as valuable to divers as their dive computers and their depth and air pressure gauges. They're a standard piece of equipment that's commonly included on gauge consoles like this one. Submersible compasses are often as valuable to divers as their dive computers and their depth and air pressure gauges.  They're a standard piece of equipment that's commonly included on gauge consoles like this one.
Tools of the trade. Clockwise from top left: gauge console that features a submersible compass; carabineer to secure equipment to the diver's vest; clipboard, with attached mechanical pencils and a waterproof sheet of Mylar; PVC transect, grid, and anomaly posts; 50' and 100' tape measures; spring clips to attach lines and tapes to the PVC posts; and a "goody bag" in which drivers typically carry their gear. Tools of the trade.  Clockwise from top left:  gauge console that features a submersible compass;  carabineer to secure equipment to the diver's vest;  clipboard, with attached mechanical pencils and a waterproof sheet of Mylar;  PVC transect, grid, and anomaly posts;  50' and 100' tape measures;  spring clips to attach lines and tapes to the PVC posts; and a "goody bag" in which drivers typically carry their gear.


The team decided to reduce the survey site and their efforts into manageable 50’ squares, or grids.  The PVC posts, or grid posts as we call them, are used to form the corners of the grids and the skeleton of the grid system.  Because they’re placed at precise 50’ intervals, they become landmarks from which artifacts locations can be accurately plotted and from which the survey map can be drawn. 

Since divers navigate underwater through the use of submersible compasses, the grid posts and resulting grid system are aligned with magnetic north.  This alignment assists divers in navigating about the site.  Once divers locate a grid post they need only proceed directly north, south, east or west to find their way to another.  A unique designation is also written on each grid post so the divers can determine exactly where they are within the site.

The system mimics the geographical system of latitude and longitude, from which precise points can be recorded on the map and relocated on the lake floor.  The intricacies of the system are beyond the scope of this site and probably the interest of most of its viewers; but a model of the survey site and map is posted below.

As the survey divers encounter battle artifacts their precise location within the site is plotted upon a master survey map.  The result is a permanent record of that will be available for researchers to study.  From the artifact scatter they may be able to glean information unavailable from historic accounts.  
 

 


Continued here: VBRP's Underwater Survey

Back to the VBRP HOME PAGE

 

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Other links about Valcour Island and the Battle of Valcour within The Lake Champlain and Lake George Historical Site

The Battle of Lake Champlain:

The American Revolution on Lake Champlain

Download a copy of The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum's Official VBRP Cannon Raising Commemoration Program- Click HERE.

Also of interest: LCMM's Valcour Island Battlefield Preservation

 IMPORTANT NOTE: Artifacts on the bottom of the lake are the property of the People of the States of New York and/or Vermont by law. It is illegal to remove or damage them under State Law(s) without the appropriate clearances and permits. Removing them and transferring them across state lines violates Federal law & makes one liable to Federal prosecution.

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