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Tracy James
IU Media Relations

Charles Beeker
Underwater Science Program

Last modified: Monday, September 20, 2004

New laboratory brings shipwreck relics to Indiana University

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EDITORS: Charles Beeker can provide b-roll of some of the underwater explorations involving the Frolic, a Baltimore clipper that sank off the coast of California in 1850. Most of the relics in the new laboratory described below came from this shipwreck.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Charles Beeker's new laboratory isn't fancy, but it's functional.

Located in the basement of Indiana University Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, the 1,000-square-foot facility is abuzz with fans and archaeological activity. Sinks and tubs of water protect such shipwreck finds as 19th-century china from Hong Kong headed for the California gold fields, pig iron ballast, and hand-blown glass ale bottles from Germany. An occasional whiff of ocean water can be detected.

The crusty, algae-covered relics, a representative sampling of items found at two shipwrecks off the coast of Northern California, are awaiting the scrutiny and care of the students in HPER's Underwater Science Program, directed by Beeker. The students, with the help of IUB's Department of Physics and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, are learning conservation techniques necessary to remove harmful ocean salt from the objects so they can be cleaned and returned to California, where they will be displayed in museums near the shipwreck sites.

The public and university community can learn more about the laboratory, the Underwater Science Program and maritime archaeology during an open house and lecture series on Sept. 26-27, in conjunction with Discovering Archaeology activities at the Mathers Museum.

Visitors to the laboratory's open house from 1-4 p.m. on Sept. 26 can watch as Beeker and his students lower a corroded cannon into a tub of water where low-voltage currents of electricity will try to lure destructive chlorides from the cannon during the next 18 to 24 months. Visitors can learn about other conservation techniques and USP activities involving archaeological explorations and the creation of underwater parks in California, Florida and the Caribbean.

On Sept. 27, the public is invited to free lectures by three maritime archaeologists, who will speak from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Mathers Museum. Visitors will hear from Deborah Marx and Matthew Lawrence, both with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Scituate, Mass., and Sheli Smith, a maritime archaeologist with Napa Valley College and an adjunct lecturer with IUB's Department of Anthropology. The lecturers will discuss underwater archaeological investigations of shipwrecks, underwater parks, and the conservation of artifacts recovered from such sites.

Beeker and IUB have been involved in underwater archaeology, water quality analysis and the establishment of underwater parks in California, Florida and the Caribbean for 20 years. The relics in the new lab come primarily from the 1850 shipwreck of the Frolic, a Baltimore clipper that sank after colliding with a rocky reef off the Mendocino, Calif., coast. Some relics also come from the 1908 shipwreck of the Pomona, a steamship that sank in Fort Ross Cove, 90 miles south of the Frolic's resting place.

Students in Beeker's program can achieve a variety of certifications, culminating in the underwater resource management certificate. Students also can receive a bachelor's degree in underwater archeology in collaboration with the Department of Anthropology. Students involved in the program this semester are pursuing degrees in such diverse majors as music, animal behavior and journalism.

Danielle Leedy, a senior biology major, plans to pursue a graduate degree in marine science after graduating from IUB. She cannot imagine better preparation, despite IUB's Midwestern and nearly landlocked location.

"It's hysterical," she said. "No one would ever guess it, which is one reason it's so cool. The program is absolutely perfect."

Beeker's program received two grants from the California Department of Parks and Recreation to pay for the conservation work.

The new lab is located in the basement of HPER, which is on Seventh Street across from the Indiana Memorial Union. The stairway to the lab is located next to the racquetball courts. The stairs also lead to the men's locker room.

For more information, contact Beeker at 812-855-5748 or The IU Underwater Science Program's Web site is at