As the mechanized stage of recovery began in earnest this week, marine archaeologists working on the CSS Georgia had just started to dig in for the long haul – anticipating tedious, 12-hour days of sifting through concretion-covered objects from the dregs of the Savannah River.
However, consider their surprise when the “five-finger” grapple delivered a 9,000-pound Dahlgren rifled cannon – previously undiscovered by several high-tech, multibeam sonar surveys – to their barge Tuesday.
It was especially surprising since the first Dahlgren, which Navy divers raised July 21, had been misidentified as a different, smaller sized cannon by sonar.
At least one archaeologist, though excited, wasn’t fazed.
Jim Jobling, a project manager at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory, said he kept telling colleagues they’d find a Dahlgren since before they started diving in January this year.
Jobling said the Dahlgren debate arose out of a discrepancy between two manifests from the CSS Georgia. The original manifest listed two Dahlgren cannons; however, a later manifest, dated October 1864, didn’t list any. The vessel was scuttled in December 1864.
However, as archaeologists began surveying the vessel, they discovered different types of shells, including shells that would have accompanied a Dahlgren cannon, adding more credence to Jobling’s theory.
And despite being vindicated, now for the second time, Jobling didn’t gloat.
“I’m very, very pleased,” he said.
Besides the big-ticket items like the second Dahlgren, archaeologists are recovering a plethora of Civil War minutiae – leather shoes, wrenches, ceramic bottles, an anvil – turning the tedious into a treasure trove.
“The range of artifacts that is coming up is staggering,” Jobling said. He added that the researchers, which include students working on their master’s degrees and Ph.Ds, are working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., sifting through as many as 25 to 30 grapple loads each day.
“They’re laughing, getting filthy … having a great time. It is exhilarating,” he said.
And now that they’ve found a seventh cannon, the real question becomes, what won’t they find.