• Austin Burkhard

The Shipwreck Tagging Archaeological Management Program (STAMP)

The Office of Archaeology at the Maryland Historical Trust adopted the Shipwreck Tagging Archaeological Management Program (STAMP) as a citizen science program to help monitor the degradation and location of beached shipwreck sites and disarticulated timbers over time. STAMP began in 2019 as my master thesis at the University of West Florida with support by the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the National Park Service Submerged Resources Center (NPS SRC). Since STAMPS creation, the program has been adopted and supported by the NPS SRC, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and SEARCH. The program is currently being reviewed for adoption by North Carolina, Delaware, Alabama, Texas, and South Carolina.

STAMP combines tagging of cultural resources, citizen science programming, interactive maps for submission feedback, and the utilization of crowd-sourced resource management. STAMP allows the trained public to gather preliminary data during tag deployment and provides QR codes to allow citizen scientists to report the tagged object.

The STAMP program consists of two distinct phases: tagging and recordation. During the tagging phase, trained volunteers participate in documenting unreported shipwreck remains. All materials and information for the tagging phase are stored in STAMP kits. The kit includes tags, stainless steel nails, stainless steel washers, hammer, measuring tapes, photo cards, and a camera. All of these materials are kept in specially marked toolboxes at the MHT offices and NPS visitor service offices to be checked out by trained volunteers or staff.

Unknown wreck in the intertidal zone at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy USFWS. STAMP’s second execution phase, recordation, allows anyone who comes in contact with a tagged shipwreck timber to participate. The volunteer uses their smartphone to scan the QR code or to enter the uniform resource locator (URL) found on the tag. This action takes the user to the online submission form, which is linked to the STAMP database. This form invites the user to answer a series of questions relating to the tagged timber location and integrity. More important archaeologically, the online form allows the user to upload GPS coordinates and photos. Upon receipt of the user form, the public participant is asked to “turn GPS location on.” This action grants permission for the form to extract the GPS information stored in the user’s phone.

STAMP Wreck Tag

A submission triggers two effects: population of the online database and feedback to the user. The submission is sent to the online database and submission alerts are sent to the project archaeologists. An automatic feedback form is also generated for the citizen scientist participant, thanking them for their submission. The feedback response contains a heat signature map displaying dots that illustrate where the shipwreck timber has previously been reported. The user can select the dots to display previously reported information. The feedback gives the participant a sense of value in contributing to a shared maritime history and urges them to continue participation in the program.

The launch of the program in Maryland occurred on February 5th, 2022. A one-day STAMP training workshop was held for interested volunteers and MHT staff. Topics presented in the workshop included a brief history of STAMP, program purpose, ship timber/wreck identification, timber/site documentation, and proper tag deployment.

As data continue to be collected by STAMP participants, the database capacities will continue to be tested. In coming years, STAMP will hopefully transform into a unified, large-scale, beached shipwreck management program encompassing multiple states and land managing agencies along the Gulf Coast and East Coast of the United States as a primary means to better document, monitor, and manage these delicate and finite resources. Because disarticulated timbers can be travelers via storm, wind, and wave, STAMP has the potential to provide a method for contiguous states and management agencies to share and compare information on their shared maritime heritage.

Coastal regions are dynamic locations that often prove difficult for resource managers to consistently document, monitor, and manage cultural resources when encountered. Beached shipwreck sites are no exception to these managerial challenges and STAMP provides the public with a beneficial way to participate in protecting and learning about these finite resources.

If you’d like to join STAMP as a citizen scientist, fill out MHT’s archaeology volunteer form:

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