Authors: Beverly Connor
Our cabin is small and dark with a low ceiling. We have two
cots low on the floor and the one table. Bellisaro takes most of the
space in our small cabin, but I do not begrudge him. He needs
space to spread out his maps to guide our course through these
waters-which look all the same to me. He will tell me nothing
about his skills, no matter how often I ask.
For the beginning of our journey, the sky was concealed day
and night by a blanket of clouds. For a full week the gray canopy
has hung over us. Knowing that a navigator needs the sun and
stars, I worry. Evidently, my worrying is enough for both of us, for
Bellisaro is unaffected. He has his compass, which I know points
north always. But even I in my ignorance figure that a more precise measure is needed if we are to find our way across the vast
ocean to some exact spot. I watch him as he drops a rope tied to
a lead weight off the side of the ship at some regular interval. He
will soon pull it up, as if hauling in a fish, and examine the mud
dredged up by the weight. He will rub the mud between his hands
and nod his head. I don't know what or how he reads from the
bottom of the ocean, but I am impressed.
Sharing the cabin with the capable Bellisaro does much to calm
my nerves. I have heard many tales among the crew of storms at sea and ships that disappear into the depths of the ocean-as
there are also stories of raids by corsairs upon the peaceful vessels
of commerce on the sea, and rumors of disputes and conflicts
between ships of our beloved Spain and fleets of the great seafaring states of England and France. Though I am reassured by the
size and strength of the ships in our convoy, I am daily reminded
of the perils that can befall us. The sea has great beauty, but I do
not want it to be my final resting place.
THE SUN was just high enough that it made a diffuse golden avenue
across the glittering blue-green ocean as the boat Lindsay rode in
approached the cofferdam. The oval dam, five miles out in the
Atlantic Ocean off the coast of one of Georgia's barrier islands, was
a structural marvel that held back the ocean and allowed archaeologists to work on the ocean floor as if it were dry land.
The boat docked outside the dam where a young Native
American held out his hand and helped her onto the dock. Luke
Youngdeer, his nametag read.
"Dr. Chamberlain, welcome aboard." He grinned at her with
even white perfect teeth, and nodded toward the pilot of the boat.
"He'll take your luggage to the barge."
Lindsay looked up at the metal outside wall of the dam extending some nine feet above the waterline. "Wow, this is big."
"Wait until you get inside," Luke said.
Lindsay climbed a metal staircase to the top of the dam and
stood on the wide ring of sand like an oval racetrack that filled the
space between the two steel bulkheads of the cofferdam. The structure reminded her of the walls of a castle, protecting the keep
within from the rising surge of water without. She looked down
into the dry center of the dam at a large pump that, like the fifth
Chinese brother who could hold the ocean in his mouth, had
sucked out the water and revealed the ocean bottom and its wondrous treasures.
The Spanish galleon Estrella de Espana, once 123 feet from stem
to stem, lay on her side, buried in the ocean bottom. When they had first uncovered her, she could have been a giant creature that
had been laid to rest in a flexed position with the frames as ribs
and keel as a backbone. Now, with layers of silt, sand, and her hull
removed, she looked like any other archaeological excavation,
with grid squares and walkways. But it was not hard for Lindsay
to visualize the ship upright and new, in full sail gliding across the
The remains of the ship and its cargo were criscrossed with
scaffolding that kept the weight of the crew and equipment off the
fragile wreck as it was being excavated. Several crew were already
stretched out on the planks, working under the tall roof shading
the site. Trey Marcus, University of Georgia underwater archaeologist and principal investigator of the site, looked up and waved
at Lindsay. She returned the wave and started to climb down the
"Rabbit, I see you're still wearing my hat," a voice came from
Lindsay whirled around and faced John West. His long black
hair was pulled back in a low ponytail and covered with a hat
identical to hers. She smiled, absently touching the bill of the West
Construction cap he had given her a couple of years ago to replace
her Atlanta Braves one. "John, it's good to see you, though I'm surprised you have stooped to working with archaeologists."
He took off his sunglasses and hung them on the neck of his
white T-shirt. "Anything to encourage you guys to dig up your
own ancestors instead of mine. You just get here?"
She looked around at the huge dam and the two support barges
anchored nearby. "Yes, I'm trying to take it all in."
"Me, too, and I built the thing."
Lindsay rubbed her bare arms. She was already getting sticky
from the salty ocean breeze. She nodded toward the ladder she
had just climbed from the dock to the top of the dam. "That young
guy, Luke, on the dock checked me in. He said he'd store my gear
on the barge. I guess that's where I'll be staying?"
As she spoke, John reached for the binoculars around his neck
and stared out across the ocean. Lindsay, shading her eyes, followed his gaze to several ships near the horizon. "Shrimp boats?"
"Some. Two are pirates."
She whipped her head back to face him. "Excuse me, pirates?"
He let down his binoculars but continued to stare out to sea.
His lips and even white teeth were somewhere between a snarl
and a grin. "That's what I call them. One belongs to Hardy Denton.
He thinks this job should have gone to him and not to some
upstart redskin. That schooner belongs to Evangeline Jones, who's
anything but good news."
John gave a little laugh and looked at her. "It should. She's a
world-class pothunter, and she seems to have gotten herself a
whiff of Spanish gold."
"Eva Jones. I remember. She's supposed to have looted the
Madre de Jesus off the coast of Africa just two years ago." Lindsay
squinted her eyes at the tiny sailing ship on the horizon.
"And the Byzantine wreck in the Mediterranean before that.
She's been going through Greece and Turkey like an anteater. It's
rumored that she stole and sold that T. rex discovered last year."
"How do you know so much about a pothunter?" Lindsay
tucked a few tendrils of hair under her cap that the wind had
whipped into her face.
"She has a reputation with your marine archaeologist friends
"What do you think she's doing here?"
John shrugged. "Spanish galleons mean treasure to a treasure
At that moment a diver dressed in spandex shorts and tank top
and a bright yellow vest climbed over the outside wall of the dam
and began stripping himself of his air tank.
"Here's one of my divers. Talk to you later." John turned and
trotted off before Lindsay could ask him anything else.
She looked out at the vast ocean surrounding the tiny manmade island. In one direction she could see only blue-green ocean
all the way to the arc of the horizon. In the opposite direction the
distant land was a thin strip between sky and sea. She took a deep
breath and climbed down the metal scaffolding staircase into the
middle of the dam where Trey Marcus and the other crew members were excavating on the ocean floor.
The interior of the cofferdam was enormous. Lindsay guessed
about a hundred and fifty by eighty feet, perhaps larger. Damp
metal walls loomed thirty-five feet above her head. It was like
being in a giant well, but a reverse well in which the water is on the outside and the hole is dry. A metal roof sheltered the excavation like an umbrella a good twenty feet above the top of the walls.
Large lights nullified the shadows made by the roof-it was a
bright well. The excavation itself was surrounded by a generous
path of ocean floor. A musty fishy smell wafted through the air. As
she walked toward the site proper, she caught whiffs of sunscreen
Lindsay grinned and held out her hands to Trey as he stepped
off the planked walkway. "I'm impressed," she said.
Trey beamed and took her hands. "If you aren't, then I give up."
He looked around at the interior of the dam as if for the first time.
"This is something, isn't it?"
"Francisco Lewis wanted his arrival in the Archaeology
Department to be spectacular, and I reckon it is. As hard as we all
work to come up with the few thousand dollars we do get for
archaeology, he manages to wrangle a couple of million in a flash."
"It does help to be a political animal. I really do think his
becoming division head of Anthropology and Archaeology will be
a good thing in the long run," Trey said, as she followed him onto
the walkway that stretched over excavation units latticed with
stakes and string. "Come on over and let me introduce you to
some of the folks."
"We're ready," shouted a square-set bearded man with his hand
on the rope at the end of a boom.
"We're just about to take up some more of the ship's timber,"
Trey said, nodding toward the man and a companion who had
joined him. "Because she's on her side, everything's a jumble."
Lindsay watched as he helped two crew members secure a
huge waterlogged beam to ropes on the end of a boom, then
steady the beam as it rose slowly from their reach and swung to
the deck of the dam. From there, others would lower it into a vat
on the deck of the waiting barge and cover it with wet burlap to
keep it from drying. At the end of the day, the barge would carry
the soaking timbers to waiting tanks of brine located in a lab on
one end of the island of St. Magdalena-a place Lindsay was
dying to visit.
Trey turned back to Lindsay. "This is Steven Nemo." He
pointed to one of the men who helped with hoisting the timber.
"He's in charge of the ship's timbers."
Lindsay's lips twitched into a small smile. He removed a glove and held out a hand to her. "I've heard every joke several times,"
he said, so stern-faced that Lindsay had to laugh.
"I'll bet you have."
"Juliana Welton is working Unit 3 over here. She's a student at
FSU," Trey continued. A woman stretched out on the planks lifted
her head long enough to wave, then bent over her work again. Her
long braid swung down in the mud and she shoved it back with a
Trey introduced Gina Fairfax, a student from North Carolina
recently transferred to Georgia, and Jeff Kendall, a Ph.D. candidate
from Virginia. Gina smiled and said hello. Jeff ignored them alltotally absorbed in his work. "Some of the others are up top," Trey
said. "If you need a break, we have a couple of trailers with
couches and stocked refrigerators."
Trey pointed to the area vacated by the timber. "You can work
in this unit." He stood facing her on the narrow pathway and
grinned broadly. "We have a pool going on for who will be the first
to find a human skeleton. We have twenty-five dollars so far. Want
"Sure," said Lindsay. "I'll put in another twenty-five." All
heads turned toward her, even Jeff's.
Trey gasped in surprise. "That's very generous of you."
"Not really," said Lindsay, not taking her eyes from his. "I win."
Trey leaned forward, raising his eyebrows. "What?"
Lindsay squatted on the plank and pointed out a shaft of bone
to the surprised crew who all came over to have a look.
"I don't believe it," said Trey, peering at the bone.
"It has to be human to win," Jeff said, squatting beside her,
looking at the protruding bone.
"It's the proximal end of a human left radius," Lindsay said,
gently stroking the bone with her fingers. "And looks to be in very
"I'll leave it to your capable hands, then." Trey gave her a pat
on the back and he and Steven resumed the mapping that had
been interrupted by the removal of the timber and Lindsay's
arrival. The others went back to their uncomfortable prone positions over their excavation units.
Lindsay stretched out on her belly on the narrow plank and
began uncovering the muck from the bone-going from the
known to the unknown with a wooden tongue depressor, occa sionally using her trowel. She worked her way up the shaft of
bone, gently loosening and removing the damp soil that clung to
it. She put the dirt in one of the several buckets nearby for that purpose, later to be hauled to the top and taken to one of the barges
where it would be screened for artifacts. Halfway up the shaft of
humerus she discovered matter that on close inspection revealed a
weave. Textile. Exciting, but it slowed her work as she carefully
separated the mud from the fabric.