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An Archeological Race Against Time

Sep 14, 2012

The meeting with Ravenscroft was taking an unexpected turn. Reaching into a box, she pulls out a skull with one hand and with the other slides a flimsy, dull looking metal plate onto its forehead.  She muses, “One, two thousand years ago she was buried with a fine silver plate. Now it’s more silver oxide than anything.” Her “office” has dozens of neatly organized piles of stones placed throughout the room on sturdy bench tables, and boxes everywhere… perhaps more bones.  Open, screenless windows provide the only light.

Still holding the skull and pondering who she might be holding she quotes Shakespeare, “Yorick I knew him well… Look at the teeth, she probably used them to chew leather.” Who was this person that lived so long ago? Poor enough in life to use her teeth to make leather softer, yet respected enough in death to be buried with such finery?  Perhaps just as perplexing, who was this woman whose office I now stood in?

Eric and I had been in country for nearly two weeks.  Having just accomplished our primary mission of testing our newly engineered bomb detection equipment deep in the Lao jungles of Sepon, I had made the two flights to get to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, to meet the National Museum’s Marion Ravenscroft (pictured above, with umbrella).

Marion went over to a window, lit a cigarette and blew a couple of clouds of smoke politely out the window.  About my age, this Aussie expat with thick-rimmed glasses had a sense of urgency written all over her face.  She needed to save Laos’ past from its future.  That’s what rescue archeology is all about.  Her commitment is indefatigable as she coordinates entire archeological digs on budgets so miniscule as to be comparable to a couple months rent in Manhattan, often working under crushing timeframes of a few days. It’s no coincidence Indiana Jones’s love interest in the first Indiana Jones film is a woman named Marion Ravenwood.

-continues from newsflash here-

Marion had a job for us.  The government had just granted her a twenty day window to perform an archeological survey and rescue on a two acre plot of land along the Mekong River before the construction of a school would begin.  She wanted us to use our EM equipment to perform a survey to help locate metallic targets, perhaps artifacts.  It was an ancient plot of land, used by humans for thousands of years.  Back in the 1500’s Vientiane was a walled city with only one way in from the Mekong River: the fortified City Gate.  Marion believes that the remains of this entrance gate are buried at this soon to be construction site.  The leather chewer’s skull had been found nearby.  This was most definitely an important site.  If we didn’t hurry everything else might be lost forever.

When a project like this comes your way it’s impossible to say no. Unfortunately I had other business to attend to back in the States.  I flew back, but left Aqua Survey’s Eric Smith behind onsite to perform an EM survey and assist in the recovery of relics.

The survey has been completed.  There were over 60 metal targets identified.  Ten of the targets in a row are probably a forgotten modern pipeline.  The other 50 are more promising.  In the coming days much will be revealed.

Look for an update next week.

-Ken Hayes, President Aqua Survey, Inc.

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HANDLE WITH CARE: Surviving the Centuries

Aug 27, 2012

“Antiquity is the aristocracy of history.”
-Alexandre Dumas Père

Dwarfed by a penny, its delicate filigree metal-work could easily be crushed between your fingers.  Yet, amazingly, this small gold bead has survived nearly four hundred years on the bottom of the sea.

Most likely once part of a rosary, the bead experienced markedly better luck than the ship that carried it, the Santa Margarita.  The Margarita along with her sister ship the Nuestra Senora de Atocha were part of a 1622 treasure fleet transporting unimaginable wealth from the New World back to Spain for the crown.  The trip was cut short when a massive storm sank both vessels not far from the Florida Keys.

Since 2008 Aqua Survey has been providing surveys of the wreckage debris trails of the Margarita and Atocha.  The bead, as well as a dagger which Aqua Survey helped recover, was a gift from Captain Dan Porter of Blue Water Ventures in gratitude of the EM survey work we provided him as a client. 

Blue Water Ventures worked the widely dispersed Margarita trail from 2006 to 2011 recovering more than $16 million in rare and extraordinary treasures and artifacts.

Whether it’s a handgun, a priceless artifact or an unexploded Mark 81 bomb, if it’s underwater we’ll help you find it.

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MAXIM News Article

May 08, 2012

“(the) gun was just pulled from the canal behind America’s most famous haunted house. It could change everything we thought we knew about the grisly murders that took place there 38 years ago.”

Read the entire article here.

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CASE STUDY:  Amityville Handgun Recovery

Feb 28, 2012

Aqua Survey was contracted by LA-based documentary-maker Ryan Katzenbach who had been researching the infamous 1974 DeFeo family mass murder in Amityville, New York.  Police at the time recovered one weapon, a .35 caliber Marlin 336 hunting rifle.  Based on his research, Katzenbach suspected a second weapon, a snub-nosed .38, was also in the killer’s possession the night of the murders.  He called in Aqua Survey to perform an EM survey of a section of canal near the scene of the murders where he believed this second weapon may have been discarded. 

Towing an EM-array behind one of our vessels, we located 317 metallic objects in the area of interest.  The location of all objects were charted within inches of accuracy using survey-grade DGPS.  Next, our geophysicists performed an advanced computer analysis on the targets in order to distinguish and prioritize them.  From the 317 metallic targets found onsite, the ASI team narrowed the possibilities down to a handful of targets to be investigated. 

Using DGPS an ASI survey vessel placed the recovery team over each suspected target location.  An EM-Probe was then hand-pushed into the sediment to further pinpoint each object.  Divers used the probe’s location to guide them through up to 4 feet of soft mud to reach each target.

Upon diving on the third target, a volunteer diver from the Long Island Diver’s Association soon surfaced.  He held in his hand the remains of the trigger/receiver section of a top-break revolver, seemingly of .38 caliber.  The gun was promptly bagged and tagged by the Suffolk County Police who supervised the recovery.

Go Beyond Side Scan Sonar and Magnetometer - Call Aqua Survey

Looking for a key piece of evidence from a crime that happened forty years ago or yesterday? Propel your team past the well known limitations of Side Scan Sonar and Magnetometer equipment.  ASI’s topside scientists are here to help you find what you’re looking for by giving your dive team an EM military-grade electronics edge. 

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Symposium News, NASA Astronaut Joins Speaker List

Dec 15, 2011

It’s official! NASA astronaut Dr. Rick Linnehan will be giving a special presentation to the attendees of the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Contaminated Sediment Symposium. 

A veteran of four space flights, Dr. Linnehan has logged over 58 days in space, including 6 EVAs (spacewalks) totaling 42 hours and 11 minutes. In August 2009 Linnehan returned to the Astronaut Office after completing a Master’s degree in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Boston, MA.  Dr. Linnehan is currently assigned to a 12-month tour of duty at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

Linnehan, who served as chief clinical veterinarian for the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program before joining NASA, is a truly engaging speaker who is able to convey the diverse and intriguing experiences of his life to audiences in a fun and compelling manner. 
While the other symposium presentations might be a little bit more down-to-Earth (literally speaking), we are no less excited by the rest of the lineup of fantastic speakers we have planned for the day.

The 2012 Contaminated Sediment Symposium is being held at an intimate venue in Liberty State Park near the Statue of Liberty.  There are still a few seats left but you will need to act quickly. 

Contact Aqua Survey’s Don Nazario ASAP ( or 908-347-4104) to inquire about available seats.

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Back from Cleopatra’s Palace

Nov 09, 2011

Archeological diver and Aqua Survey employee Eric Wartenweiler Smith recently returned from an expedition in Egypt diving on Cleopatra’s sunken palace as part of renowned underwater archeologist Franck Goddio’s dive team.  Read on to find out his thoughts on:

-Life in post-revolution Egypt

-Tantalizing news on what still waits to be found in the murky depths of Aboukir Bay

-The future of underwater survey technology

Aqua Survey would like to welcome Aqua Survey employee and archeological diver Eric Wartenweiler Smith back from his annual trip to Egypt. 

Each year, Smith participates as a member of renowned archeologist Franck Goddio’s dive team. Goddio is responsible for the discovery of Cleopatra’s sunken palace as well as Napoleon Bonaparte’s flagship. Smith has participated in Goddio’s expeditions since 1996.

No stranger to Egypt, Smith wasn’t sure what to expect in returning for the first time to the country post-revolution. “Besides hearing the firsthand accounts of the revolution from my Egyptian friends, and witnessing many demonstrations and marches in the streets as the process of forming a new government unfolds, I was also particularly impressed by the attitude of the people I met in the street; there was a palpable air of national pride and friendliness, and a real sense of energy and purpose in the young people.”

When asked whether this year’s expedition had any interesting finds, Smith smiled and replied, “While I can’t give specific details, I can say that we’ve found some very exciting new discoveries this year. Franck has said before that we have only found 1% of the artifacts out there and I believe it. I’m excited by the ramifications of what these new discoveries will reveal about ancient Egyptian culture.”

Smith has seen a lot of changes in the field of underwater archeology during the past fifteen years. One of the biggest changes he’s observed is in the survey technology used. “The technology that we’re using now has revolutionized what we’re capable of. The tools we were using just a few years ago seem archaic in comparison. It’s interesting to note that the tools that are revolutionizing underwater archeological work are the very same ones that Aqua Survey uses on a daily basis. It’s a very exciting time to be involved in underwater survey work of any kind.”

Although Egypt, its history and its people hold a certain appeal to Smith, he’s happy to be home and looks forward to getting back in the field with Aqua Survey.

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Iconic New York Landmark Keeps Up with the Times

Nov 03, 2011

Due to the renovation of the Panama Canal, the Bayonne Bridge is about to receive a similarly impressive upgrade.

Read on to find out more about the construction of this fascinating bridge and its currently proposed upgrade.

Plus: What services is Aqua Survey providing to support harbor expansion?

Last week Peter Zantal, a general manager at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that the raising of the Bayonne Bridge by 60 feet would be completed by 2016. Post-renovation, vessels will have 215 feet of clearance under the bridge, allowing the newer, larger Post-Panamax size vessels through. 

A modern engineering feat of its day, the Bayonne Bridge has made it possible for commuters to drive easily from Staten Island, New York and Bayonne, New Jersey across the Kill van Kull since 1931. It’s been a pivotal part of expansion and transportation in the area and its intricate work and astute design has enabled it to last for nearly 80 years.

Created through collaboration between master bridge-builder Othmar Ammann and famed architect Cass Gilbert, the bridge has the distinction of being the fourth-longest steel arch bridge in the world. It was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1985 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The Swiss-born Ammann designed seven of the twelve bridges which connect New York City to its surrounding areas. Ammann became known for creating bridges that were not only cost-effective and durable but also beautiful, which made him quite sought after during the Depression era.

Ammann chose the design of the bridge, a steel arch, over other bridge types as it was cheaper and would accommodate an addition in the future of rapid transit tracks. Soaring 266 feet over the Kill van Kull the bridge is 8,640 feet long. 

After three years of construction, the Bayonne Bridge was completed on November 15, 1931 and cost nearly $13 million. At the time of its completion, it was the longest steel arch bridge in the world. 

A Continued Tradition of Innovation

In a similar innovative spirit to Ammann’s work, the Port Authority has devised a plan for the renovations which will allow the bridge to remain open to motor vehicle traffic during the entire project. The Bayonne Bridge supports thousands of vehicles per day, in fact as of 2003, it was found that more than 20,000 vehicles per day cross between Staten Island and Bayonne. In order to allow this traffic to continue unobstructed a new platform will be constructed above the current one while traffic continues below. When the new platform is complete, the old one will be demolished, thus giving the bridge its new clearance height.

The Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest on the east coast. In 2010, over 32 million metric tons of goods worth more than $175 billion came through the harbor.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Renovating New York Harbor is nothing new and has in fact been underway for many years in order to accommodate bigger and bigger vessels.  Aqua Survey has been there in one way or another for decades to support this ongoing expansion, particularly to our clients in the dredging industry who we routinely provide services to ranging from hydrographic surveys and sediment sampling to laboratory analyses and much more.

You may have noticed the USS Chester in the graphic above. It’s the same ship which was pictured traveling through the Panama Canal in August’s email about the reengineering of the Panama Canal.  Aqua Survey President Ken Hayes’s father served on the Chester during World War II.  He was only 17 when he enlisted in the Navy. 

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