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Smithsburg grad part of maritime project to map shipwreck off Florida Keys

August 11, 2008|By JANET HEIM

Scott Tucker of Halfway chose a college near the water, but this summer he's spending a couple of weeks well below the surface.

Tucker is one of seven students, along with a high school teacher and maritime archaeologist, involved in an underwater field school to map and document the Menemon Sanford shipwreck in the Florida Keys.

The 2002 Smithsburg High School graduate has a degree in anthropology/sociology from St. Mary's College of Maryland. He will begin graduate school this fall at the University of Southampton in England, with plans to study maritime archaeology. He is to graduate in fall 2009.

The dive in which Tucker is participating is a two-week-long project that began July 28. There are five days of diving with two dives daily, Tucker said.

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Tucker said that to begin his career he needed the experience of a field school in underwater archaeology. He learned of the one he's attending through Internet searches and with the recommendation of Maryland's State Underwater Archaeologist Susan Langley.

"It has been a great experience and I am learning a lot. There is no place I can think of that would be better to learn the practical side of maritime archaeology than the Florida Keys, where the water is warm, clear and calm," Tucker said in an e-mail.

The Menemon Sanford was a coastal paddle steamer that was struck hard in December 1862 near Key Largo while carrying a regiment of New York infantry. Although all the crew and soldiers were safely evacuated, the steamer was a total loss and the ship's pilot was arrested for criminal negligence.

The Sanford is one of more than 2,000 shipwreck sites in the Florida Keys and the only known side-wheel paddle steamer of its type. There is some question about whether the steamer's grounding was an act of sabotage by a southern sympathizer during the Civil War, according to a press release from the PAST Foundation, the principal investigator for the project.

The experience has helped Tucker find his focus for graduate studies. Through this experience, he is excited to study site formation in underwater archaeology - the study of bottom sediment movements, coral growth and degradation of the site from natural forces.

The students are creating a searchable database of images, posting daily updates to their log on the PAST Foundation's Web site at www.pastfoundation.org/2008FloridaKeysFieldSchool/index.htm.

"This is a field where the classroom setting can only take you so far. To really understand it, you have to get in the water and start applying what you have learned," Tucker said.

He is the son of Jerry and Janice Tucker of Halfway.

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