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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                       

Contact: Susan Moss, Public
Relations Manager, 334-230-2678


May 12, 2022



(Montgomery, AL) Alabama Historical Commission and
Resolve Marine report findings from 10-day exploration of the shipwreck Clotilda.


In the FY 2021 budget, the State
of Alabama
 through the Governor and Alabama State Legislature
appropriated $1 Million to the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) to
begin Phase 3 of preservation efforts for the Clotilda. This
multifaceted phase included targeted artifact excavation with industrial dive
efforts supporting environmental and structural assessment of the site and an
engineering study of the riverbed to inform stability. The environmental study
examined the composition of the sediment around the wreck, monitored water
movement, and performed a biological review of the species that have colonized
the wreck area. A structural assessment appraised the level of deterioration
and condition of the wood. This 10-day exploration began May 2 and ended
May 11, 2022.


After transporting the
barge and equipment to the project site and securing the work platform, (AHC) held a consultation meeting with the
Africatown community and a press conference in the Robert L Hope Community
Center. The RESOLVE dive team removed 10 trees, one stump, and a displaced buoy
from the archaeological site to provide access to the archaeological divers and
to provide unobstructed images in the remote sensing.


After confirming that the archaeological site was clear of
obstructions, RESOLVE divers systematically removed 94 disarticulated timbers
for archaeological assessment. That work focused on cataloguing every recovered
timber, measuring, and photographing them, and in some cases with diagnostic
ones, scanning them three-dimensionally. As this work progressed, professional
maritime archaeologists from SEARCH conducted the initial archaeological
analysis and preliminary identifications.


The RESOLVE dive team worked their way methodically around
the wreck and finally through the center of the vessel to ensure that all the
loose pieces were recovered and recorded. After the divers exited the water,
Survtech ran multi beam sonar and aerial LiDAR to provide the first clear image
of the wreck without all the trees, snags, and disarticulated timbers that
previously obscured the view. SEARCH maritime archaeologists continued to
collect side scan sonar imagery each morning so any changes to the site could
be observed daily.


Conservators from Terra Mare joined the team and began a
preliminary assessment of the condition of the disarticulated timbers and
artifacts recovered. They also stress-tested a disarticulated piece of a hull
plank to collect information about hull strength. Select artifacts were X-rayed
by Applied Technical Services. SEARCH scanned the artifacts and disarticulated
elements using Pix4D software to create photogrammetric images that may be
viewed from multiple angles before RESOLVE divers placed them back inside the


Much of the work in this phase of investigation focused on
environmental science. Dauphin Island Sea Lab is investigating what grows on
and in the wreck, from bacteria to more visible marine organisms, and the role
that those organisms play in the condition of the wreck. While some of those
organisms are very visible, like the barnacles that colonized the timbers above
the sediment and the small crabs and worms that crawl from waterlogged timbers,
less visible organisms are also being studied, such as bacteria inhabiting the
mud and the wood. Sealed in anaerobic mud, timbers are often protected from
being eaten by riverine and marine organisms. The best conservation practice
for the timbers that are not selected for further study is to place them back
inside the wreck itself.


Maritime archaeological divers from SEARCH and Diving With a Purpose (DWP) dived the wreck and were
finally able to inspect it without obstruction. RESOLVE divers established a
centerline in the wreck, laid a 2.5-foot grid, and began systematic probing to
confirm the portions of the wreck buried under the mud remain intact and to
ascertain the depth of the mud inside the vessel and collected hand cores to
observe the nature of the sediment in and around the vessel. The centerline and
grid also help the archaeologists carefully control and record the location
where samples are collected and where artifacts are recovered.


Once the recorded and tagged timbers were carefully placed
back inside the wreck, the team prepared the tank on the barge for screening
sediment. The amount of sediment removed during the current investigation is
limited by the Army Corps
of Engineers (ACOE) permit. During the late morning, on Tuesday, May 10,
RESOLVE divers began excavating by hand fanning silt and mud into a 3-inch
dredge with a quarter inch screen on either end to remove the sediment in a
very small section of the hold of the wreck. The purpose of the excavation is
only to take a small sample for scientific analysis from the base of the
sediment. These samples will inform the preservation state of the vessel and
help AHC understand
both the flora and fauna inhabiting the wreck and the preservation state of the
buried portion of the vessel. The sediment was also hand screened by SEARCH
maritime archaeologists as it was pumped into a holding tank onboard the barge.
Screening sediment is standard archaeological methodology aimed at recovery of
any small artifacts but none of significance were recovered during this
investigation. As RESOLVE divers neared the base of the excavation, scientists
from Western Carolina University and Stantec arrived onboard and prepared
sterilized receptacles to receive scientific samples, secured the samples for
travel, and took custody of the specimens for transport to the respective
scientific labs in which the samples will be analyzed. Following the collection
of the last samples for scientific analysis, burlap bags were filled with
screened sediment collected in the holding tank. RESOLVE divers carefully
placed the sandbags back in the vessel as a protection measure for the vessel
itself and the timbers placed back inside. On Friday, May 13, the barge will be removed from the site.


In addition to the collection of scientific samples, the
scope of the project allowed for the retention and conservation of diagnostic
and display quality artifacts. Most of the disarticulated elements that were
recovered were timbers and iron fasteners, but five artifacts were retained for
additional analysis and possible conservation. AHC Historic Artisans worked
with Terra Mare Conservators to build a smaller tank to hold and protect the
largest selected artifact, which is a large timber with an iron pulley and
fragments of rope in the pulley. There is a tentative identification, but
additional analysis is needed to confidently identify its role on the schooner.
The other items selected were a lead hawse pipe which a thick rope cable passed
through to raise and lower the anchor, a small section of hull planking held
together by iron drift pins, and a section of planking that retains marks from
a circular steam saw. These artifacts will be temporarily
stored at the History Museum until they have been analyzed for conservation. After
analysis and conservation, t
hese artifacts will help illustrate the
story of the enslaved people on Clotilda.


During the entire 10 days on
the project, conditions both on the river and underwater remained very
favorable. The divers report that the visibility underwater was the best that
has yet been observed on Clotilda since archaeological study of the wreck began
in 2018 (ranging from 3” to about a foot). The current was low, and with the
removal of the trees that once covered parts of the wreck, the dive team had an
unobstructed view of the wreck. As with all responsible scientific
investigation, this was a slow methodical process from which a picture of the
wreck is slowly emerging. That picture will become even more clear as the data
from the scientific analysis is analyzed and incorporated into the existing body
of knowledge. What can be said with confidence in this preliminary stage is that
the wood below the mudline is much better preserved than the sections of the
shipwreck that extend into the water column. Probing in the stern section
indicated that the ship is in two or more pieces with a section of the stern
broken away and possibly preserved beneath the mud. Divers were able to get a
first glimpse inside the hold where captives were held and observed vertical
posts and a bulkhead that does not appear to part of the ship’s original
architecture. It is too soon to speculate regarding the function of these
features. More will be learned about them as the analysis stage of the project

“As the guardian of the Clotilda, the Alabama
Historical Commission takes the stewardship of this priceless artifact
extremely serious”, said Lisa D. Jones, State Historic Preservation Officer
and Executive Director of AHC
. “The preservation of The Clotilda is
important to Africatown and the nation.” Jones continued, “Careful
consideration for the protection, preservation, and interpretation of the Clotilda has
been methodical, strategic and deliberate.”   


The samples taken for specialized analysis will be sent to
their respective scientific labs. The four artifacts selected for additional
study will be analyzed and conserved. The team will continue to collect data
from the flow monitor for the next year and the team will continue to process
the copious amount of data collected during the past two weeks. This
information will be collated into a draft report. Once a draft report is
written, it will be peer reviewed and submitted to the ACOE who will conduct
appropriate consultation. Each of these steps takes time, but once all the data
is collected, AHC will have a management plan for the wreck which we can bring
to the stakeholders. This management plan will provide the information needed
to make an informed, responsible decision regarding the best possible path towards
protection, preservation, and interpretation of the Clotilda wreck site.

the Alabama Historical Commission

Located in historic downtown Montgomery at 468 S.
Perry Street, the Alabama Historical Commission is the state historic
preservation agency for Alabama. The agency was created by an act of the state
legislature in 1966 with a mission to protect, preserve and
interpret Alabama’s historic places. AHC works to accomplish its mission
through two fields of endeavor: Preservation and promotion of state-owned
historic sites as public attractions; and statewide programs to assist people,
groups, towns, and cities with local preservation activities. For a complete
list of programs and properties owned and operated by the AHC, hours of
operation, and admission fees please visit  ####





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