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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review-Wreckers

Bathurst, Bella. 2005. The Wreckers: A Story of Killing Seas and Plundered Shipwrecks, From the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.

This book is 307 pages long with a centerpiece collection of photos. It is best read by those with an interest in sailing and maritime activity or for those interested and familiar with British history.

By far, the best aspect of this book is the author's discussion about the ethics involved with wrecking. She delves into the points of view of the wreckers, the vessel's crew, and the government officials. Each has a reason and an understanding of what goods from the ocean means. Each relates to a wreck in a different and unique way. The author captures this perfectly and manages to point out the less savory aspects of wrecking without either demonizing or heroizing the participants.

I did find the order of geographic regions confusing. It does not move around the compass rose clockwise or counter clockwise from North. It does not seem to be ordered based on severity of shipwrecks or infamy of the wreckers.

In addition, the general map that illustrates all of England could be clarified, with larger lettering or bold formatting for the specific regions that are covered in the book. And I found myself craving a separate map with a more detailed topography including both terrestrial mapping and submerged bathymetric mapping.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Maritime Tattoos


Sailors in the military have a long history of tattooing. Certain symbols have been associated with service in different countries. British sailors were tattooed with swallows, which was often a visual representation of 5,000 nautical miles sailed. Swallows are a land bird, but are found throughout the temperate world including Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia. Swallow tattoos have adorned military sailors in several Western cultures. The nautical star is commonly seen on military servicemen from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, representing the shape of the stars on the U.S. flag and the dual-tone coloring of compass roses on historic nautical charts.

General Watercraft-

In addition to the battleship pictured above, some sailors' vessels were represented through tattoo. This seemed to occur more frequently in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which is understandable considering sailors from earlier centuries did not serve continuously aboard a single vessel. Another recent trend has been historic vessel tattoos, such as the tattoo of the historic warship Vasa shown below.

Monsters and Sea Creatures-

Sea monsters and creatures from the deep have always fascinated people. There has always been a subtle but pervasive fear of the ocean, which is in part due to it being a different and in many ways a dangerous element. A monster puts a face to that fear. Tattoos of sea monsters and sea creatures look "tough" and usually indicate a love of the ocean. Octopi and sharks are fairly common tattoos. As tattooing becomes more popular and people search for unique designs and patterns, expect to see more historic representations of sea monsters and sea creatures (real and unreal) in the future.


Similar to the use of historic representations of sea creatures, some people are getting inked with tribal representations of sea animals and fish that were not typically depicted in tattoos, but rather on houses or objects. Traditional tribal tattoos are also becoming more common, both among members of a tribe or group and among non-members.

These tribal tattoos often represented coming of age, such as the v-shape for women in Papua New Guinea, of the elaborate face tattoos of Maori, indicating lineage and status. The whorls frequently found in Polynesian tattoos carry multiple meanings. The shape is similar to Polynesian fish hooks and the meaning is frequently ascribed as the coming together and divergence of people. Similar to the settlement pattern of these islands themselves, people carried by wave and wind to islands throughout the Pacific.

Some people are tattooed with this because it is their heritage, while some people are adopting these tribal tattoos because they are aesthetically pleasing. For those tattooed in the tradition of their culture, tribal tattoos on other people can appear trite or demeaning to their cultural heritage. It can also feel like personal theft and insult, especially the sacred forms of tattoo such as Moko.

Blog Posts

This is a wonderful post on historical maritime tattoos including the common themes and some of the reasons for their popularity.

Modern maritime tattoos-

Scholarly Articles

An article from National Geographic, "Skin as Art and Anthropology" describes what tattoos mean to different people.

Dissertation by Mary Bowman, "Ink, Image, and Initiation".

An introduction to tattoos as identifiers in autopsies and medical examinations, "Tattoo and Tattooing Part I: History and Methodology" by Kris Sperry, M.D.


Tattoo: An Anthropology by Makiko Kuwahara
Tattoo History: A source book by Steve Gilbert
Tattoos and Indigenous Peoples by Judith Levin
Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of a Body Art by Michael Atkinson

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day of Archaeology 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012 was the Day of Archaeology, a project started to showcase what archaeology is and what archaeologists do. Last year, there were about half a dozen posts related to maritime archaeology, this year, there seemed to be fewer. Next year I'll try to spread the word a bit more-see if we can't provide some glimpses into a day in the life of a maritime archaeologist.

These two were pretty interesting and offered a quick view into what our days frequently entail. The first is the land excavation of a medieval cog from Antwerp. The second provides a video clip of underwater archaeological site recording with NGO Archaeologica in Macedonia.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Google Earth, Seattle

The Seven Hills of Seattle. Known for the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and Starbucks Coffee to tourists.

To locals, Seattle is more of a land and sea of opportunity. Business opportunity in the city, trade by sound and sea. The city is nestled on the shores of the Puget Sound and Lake Washington. It also encompasses Lake Union. Small wonder that house boats are so common and that a house boat was chosen as one of the settings for Sleepless in Seattle. 

Puget Sound has a maximum depth of 930ft but averages about 600ft deep in the main basin (between the entrance and Tacoma, WA). The Puget Sound is ideal for shipping with such ease of access for carrier ships. Lake Washington has a max depth of 214ft. Lake Union has a max depth of 50ft. Both lakes connect to the Puget Sound and can accommodate trade and shipping. 

A bit of  famous Seattle overcast!

Similar to the development of California, there was some sparse trade occurring in the Seattle area prior to the discovery of gold, but population increased tenfold once gold was discovered. Gold was first discovered at Fraser River, located in British Columbia, in 1857. The doorway to the Fraser River was the Puget Sound and the miners poured in to pan the rivers in search of gold dust. Another smaller gold rush occurred on the Clearwater River within NezPerce reservation lands between Washington and Idaho in 1859. Gold was discovered in Alaska in 1897 and this was later known as the Klondike Gold Rush. Gold was brought to the states onthe Alaska steamer Portland and Seattle quickly became the staging area and last civilized stop for miners who were heading into the wilderness of Alaska.


Petrey, Whitney. By Ship and Rail to the Gold and Woods of the Puget Sound: the motives and means behind the development of the Pacific Northwest. Research paper for Maritime History since 1815 at East Carolina University.


Friday, May 18, 2012

European Maritime Day-May 20

This Sunday is European Maritime Day! Check out the events that will foster greater appreciation and understanding of the Great Big Blue that supports us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

CV in Timeline Form

I decided to approach my resume in a different fashion, using a timeline and graphics to condense several pages into one. The reason for this decision was largely due to having heard back from a potential employer that more than 200 people had applied for the same position! Also, Doug's Archaeology introduced me to the idea of a timeline resume. The only loss was a list of my publications.

Sooo, here it is . . . Let me know what you think! (Click on image to enlarge)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Exploring Charleston

Google Earth, Charleston

I had been looking forward to visiting Charleston since I presented "Slaves in Revolutionary America: Plantation Slaves in Virginia and the Charleston Slave Trade" in my American Revolution class. It was not quite what I expected. I expected a city. With a lot of history. History yes, city no. Charleston is the most non-city city I have ever visited. There was no business section and no sky scrapers. I would say it is quaint, but that doesn't quite capture it either, it was a little run down to be quaint. I did love the historic feel to it and  that it was small and crowded. It was a small historic port town. I missed out on the actual museums and exhibits because we were there on a Sunday, but I enjoyed some lovely walks.

One of our walks was along the waterfront. The walk was well maintained. I thought it was very interesting that the waterfront did not have a specific shipping area or terminal area. It seemed slightly random, with shipping containers, a cruise ship and yachts, all within a few hundred meters of shoreline. This got me to thinking about port organization and regulations in other cities and may well be the subject of a future post.

Yachts, shipping containers, and cruise ships.

The Spirit of South Carolina was beautiful. I can see how one would be drawn to sail this gorgeous ship and hang from the ropes while rolling sail!

I'm not sure if we just caught the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge on a bad day-but it was not the most aesthetically pleasing bridge I've seen. Stout and dark gray, it just seemed brooding, kind of like the Cooper River itself. 

Next along the shoreline walk was the Ft. Sumter Memorial. I wasn't able to actually visit Ft. Sumter (missed the ferry) but the memorial building was interesting and the grounds were beautiful.

I wandered around for quite a while looking for the Charleston City Market and the Gateway Garden Walk. I had just about given up, when I finally saw the Unitarian Church where the Gateway Garden Walk begins. It was the most beautiful UU church I have ever seen and may be my favorite church in America so far. The church was built in 1772 by the Society of Dissenters. The German painted glass behind the altar depicts the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Beneath that are Aaron the Priest, the movable ark, the Torah and Moses the lawgiver. The stained glass along the side has the Hebrew Old Testament phrase "God is One" and the Greek New Testament phrase "God is Spirit". I loved the synthesis of the Judaic tradition and the Christian tradition. I also thought that the Gothic Fan Tracery on the ceiling and the pipe organ were wonderful!

And I loved the Gateway Garden Walk! The gardens and cemeteries were beautiful. The UU cemetery in particular was the most lovely garden, flowers growing wild and greenery overflowing everywhere along the brick paths.

The path wound through downtown Charleston, through a small shopping district and ended a few blocks from Charleston City Market, a low open brick building that is a permanent street vendor market. 

The most unique aspect of Charleston were the two story buildings, one room wide, with porches running the length of one side, all in very close proximity to the next house (a la San Francisco). These are known as Charleston Single Houses. They were everywhere in the city. Some were well-kept and some were dilapidated. Loved seeing this architectural style first hand. 

An interesting port town all around!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Titanic post . . .

100 years ago on April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sunk taking with her the souls of 1,514 people. And people are remembering that loss today. Some are sailing the same route that the Titanic took, hopefully with better results (a bumpy start, but things appear back on track). While others hold candlelight vigils.

In the Maritime Archaeology community, this centennial has brought about a flurry of conferences and discussion regarding the sunken remains. Debates about conservation, protecting the wreck from submarine visitors, and respecting the ship remains as a grave site abound. All very important conversations.

I'm going to veer away from these conversations and talk about passenger responses to the disaster. I have heard all kinds of stories about the Titanic. Stories of someone having a bad feeling and deciding not to go. Some of those who did go on the ship stepping into hero roles. Few stories of people who responded poorly, though. Should we remember the person who shoved someone else out of the way to get to a lifeboat? Yes. There should be an attempt to understand how people respond to disaster-all of the responses-not just the heroic ones. If only for the purpose of improving our responses in disasters and emergencies.

Martin Gibbs wrote an excellent article on how passenger responses to disaster affect site formation processes (such as what to save-human lives, expensive items, food, etc). 

During a disaster only about 20% of people respond in an effective manner. About 75% are ineffective through confusion and impairment of reasoning and thought capability. The remaining may respond in such a way that causes greater harm to those around them (Leach 1994; Leach 2011). What does this indicate? This means that someone who went down with the Titanic who had a medical background, may not have stayed aboard to heroically treat the injured.

On the other hand, I think there is a reason that the men of the FDNY responded at Ground Zero in the manner in which they did. They had been trained to risk their lives saving others. And firemen are frequently portrayed as heroes and this cultural expectation may also have played a role in their actions.

Were there firemen who were overcome by the tragedy around them? Who may have been in shock and unable to think clearly? Most certainly. But in this case, even those people are seen as heroic. For some Titanic survivors, focusing and extending the heroism may have been a coping manner, as was likely the case for Col. Archibald Gracie who wrote a memoir in 1913. Nearly 100 years have passed since the sinking of the Titanic and we are just now beginning to look behind hero attribution to examine what actually went down.

As Richard Coleman states in the link to his article above,
If nothing else, the idea of so many boats filled only with women and children lent some degree of dignity to a completely undignified disaster.
It becomes a bit of a balancing act. Carefully looking at the actual responses while also retaining dignity and respect for those that experienced the disaster.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tarpon Springs

Google Earth, Tarpon Springs
In the 1860s the small village of Anclote was founded along Anclote River just three miles west of present day Tarpon Springs. In 1881, Hamilton Disston bought 4 million acres of land from Governor Bloxham including land at the mouth of the Anclote River that Disston thought would make a great winter health resort. Disston sent Anson P. K. Safford to develop the area [1]

Sponge boats in Anclote River
Tarpon Springs gained its name in 1879 when Mary Ormond Boyer saw Mullet (which she thought were Tarpon) jumping out of the water of the Springs [2]. The name Tarpon Springs grew popular over time. But Tarpon Springs did not flourish as a winter health resort nor did it become famous for its mullet, instead prosper and fame came from the rich sponge harvest in the nearby Gulf waters. 

A view of the Spring Bayou (original springs)
Spring Bayou lined with docks and a promenade
In 1891, the first sponge boat was outfitted by John Cheyney, who also established the Anclote and Rock Island Sponge Company at Bailey's Bluff, a bluff overlooking the northern shore of the Anclote River and the Gulf [1]
Modern Fishing Boat
In the 1880s and 1890s, diving was not a part of the sponge diving industry in Florida. Metal buckets with glass bottoms were placed in the water to provide a spyglass to the seafloor, where sponges in shallow water would be hooked and dragged up to the boat. The railroad was established in 1884 and the town of Tarpon Springs was incorporated in 1887. A sponge exchange was established in Tarpon Springs in 1905 which was conveniently located near the railroad depot-the present day home of the Tarpon Springs Historical Society [2].

Tarpon Springs Railroad Depot

Also in 1905, Cheyney hired John Cocoris a young Greek sponge diver who convinced Cheyney that mechanized sponge boats and diving were more efficient means of harvesting the sponges. By 1907, five hundred Greek divers had immigrated with their families to Tarpon Springs from Aegean and Dodecanese Islands [1]. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral may not have been the same physical building that stands today but the congregation and community were well-established by 1907.

Tarpon Springs built in 1936, refurbished in 2009, currently listed on the NRHP


The most famous tradition associated with the Greek Orthodox community of Tarpon Springs is Epiphany, a holiday that takes place on January 6 of every year. In this celebration is a practice unique to Tarpon Springs. Hundreds gather around the springs from which Tarpon Springs gets its name, known as the Spring Bayou locally. Every year a priest throws a cross into the Spring Bayou and young Greek boys dive to see who will be the first to bring up the cross (link to great pictures and summary of this event here and here). 

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Greek flag flying before the Cathedral

The prosperity from the sponge trade only lasted a few decades. A red tide algae bloom killed many sponges in 1938 and another algae bloom attacked the remaining sponges in 1947. This along with the introduction of synthetic sponges, affected the sponge export business in Tarpon Springs permanently. Today, the sponge trade is slowly reviving as a tourist attraction and the sponges themselves are proving to be a unique curio. 

Inner workings of a sponge boat

Sponges are placed in nets after harvest from and prior to drying treatment.

Sponges drying

Sponges for sale!

Sponges for sale everywhere!! You could even incorporate them into art, household plants and garden pieces! It was really enjoyable walking along Dodecanese Boulevard and taking in the live music, sponge docks, sponge boats, Greek bakeries, Greek restaurants, tourist shops, and historical plaques and statues. 

Dodecanese Boulevard

*All photographs were taken by Whitney Rose Petrey on January 28, 2012. Reuse permissible if linked to this site.

1. Kilgo, Dolores. Tarpon Springs. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing (2002).
2. Hedman, Carol Jeffares. "Storied Past, Vibrant Present Mark Tarpon Springs" Tampa Tribune. April 11, 2002, p. 8.
3. Moskos, Charles C. Greek Americans: Struggle and Success. 2nd ed., New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers (1989).
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Maritime Culture by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License