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Tracy James
IU Media Relations

Charles Beeker
Office of Underwater Science

Geoffrey Conrad
Mathers Museum of World Cultures

Last modified: Thursday, April 22, 2004

IU helps Dominican Republic sink shipwreck museum

A member of the Indiana University research team helps return to the sea artifacts recovered from 18th-century shipwrecks. The IU Bloomington Office of Underwater Science helped establish an underwater museum off the coast of the Dominican Republic.

NOTE: Reporters can reach Charles Beeker and Geoffrey Conrad by telephone on April 22-23 and after May 1. They can be reached via e-mail throughout these times. See below for contact information.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Archaeologists from Indiana University Bloomington are helping the government of the Dominican Republic to open a second underwater museum featuring cannons, cannon balls, olive jar fragments and other items recovered from early 18th-century shipwrecks.

The Guaraguao Reef Cannons Preserve, located in roughly 40 feet of water along a 600-square-foot reef zone, will be dedicated on Monday (April 26). Faculty and students from IUB's Office of Underwater Science are intricately involved with the establishment of this preserve and underwater museum, just as they were two years ago with the establishment of the Dominican Republic's 1724 Guadalupe Underwater Archaeological Preserve, the first such underwater museum in the world.

The first preserve, located in 12 to 15 feet of water, was designed to be accessible to snorkelers. The new preserve is located about 100 yards offshore of the Canoa Coral by Hilton Hotel, near the city of Bayahibe -- which has been particularly supportive of the IUB team's investigations. This site is geared toward scuba divers.

Charles Beeker, director of the Office of Underwater Science in IUB's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, said the artifacts exhibited in the underwater museum -- described as a replica shipwreck -- are on loan from the Dominican Republic government and include items recovered from several Spanish shipwrecks that occurred along this Caribbean island in the early 1700s.

"These museum-quality artifacts are better protected in the water than they are on land," Beeker said.

For more than 10 years, IUB undergraduate and graduate students, archaeologists, geologists and park professionals have sought to resolve through underwater and land-based investigations some of the mysteries surrounding Columbus' arrival in the New World, since his first landing was on this Caribbean island in 1492. The inhabitants, the Taino, were the first Native American people to encounter European culture. The preserves are part of an effort to help the Dominican Republic protect some of its natural and cultural resources while it benefits from the tourism potential of the unique underwater museum sites.

Beeker said the cooperation and support of the Canoa Coral by Hilton Hotel, local businesses and government agencies have been key to IUB's investigations.

"We wouldn't be there if we weren't working with the government agencies and local businesses to protect their maritime heritage resources," Beeker said.

Geoffrey Conrad, director of IU's Mathers Museum for World Cultures and a professor in the Department of Anthropology, received a $33,232 grant from the Indiana University President's Arts and Humanities Initiative to help fund additional research in the Dominican Republic this summer. This will enable IU to conduct a unique archaeology project involving land and underwater investigations. Conrad's long-term goals are the land survey, excavation, dating and analysis of late prehistoric and early historical Taino sites around La Isabela, the first New World settlement established by Christopher Columbus in 1494. Beeker's goals are to search for several of Columbus' ships sunk by the hurricanes of 1495, based on archival research and a previous IU magnetic survey of the bay. Together, the two IU archaeologists hope to rewrite the historical contact of European and Native American cultures from the perspective of the Taino -- "the people who greeted Columbus."

This summer Beeker will direct five underwater projects involving sites in the Cayman Islands, the Florida Keys, California and the Dominican Republic. The work, which involves seven graduate students and 34 undergraduate students, is funded by state and federal grants totaling almost $200,000. Some of the work involves turning shipwrecks into historic sights, national historic register nominations and underwater parks.

Beeker can be reached at 812-855-5748 and Conrad can be reached at 812-855-5340 and More information about the underwater science program is available at