Postmortem Archaeology: Reinterpreting Salvaged Sites using the CSS Neuse as a Case Study

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Hauck, Chelsea

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East Carolina University


Traditionally, salvaged wreck sites are disregarded by academia because contextual data are lost without detailed measured site maps. When these sites are ignored, the information that can be gained from individual artifacts and the collection as a whole is lost. Archaeologists have attempted to recreate salvaged sites to rediscover that contextual information. This thesis will examine a new set of methods called "postmortem" archaeology which will be applied to the American Civil War wreck of the CSS Neuse, which is the largest single collection of artifacts from a Confederate vessel. There are four issues affecting contextual data that have arisen since the salvage of the CSS Neuse wreck site: 1) how the ship was scuttled, 2) contamination by additional artifacts during excavation, 3) looting of artifacts during excavation, and 4) the timeline of the removal of the cannons. These four issues will serve as examples of broader problems that affect salvaged sites and possible methodologies that can be used to recreate the site. The "postmortem" methodology used to study the CSS Neuse can then be broadened and applied to other salvaged sites.