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Shipwreck Tagging Archaeological Management Program (STAMP)

The Shipwreck Tagging Archaeological Management Program (STAMP) is a public engagement program focused on documenting and monitoring shipwreck sites and following the movement of shipwreck timbers along Maryland's coasts. STAMP is part of a multistate program in which anyone can participate. As the originators of the program, the information below has been adapted from the Florida STAMP website for consistency.

Why Monitor Shipwrecks?

Disarticulated timber
Disarticulated timber. Photo: Nick Price

Monitoring archaeological sites is vitally important to understand how sites change over time. Coastal and near-shore submerged and semi-submerged sites are affected by erosion, wave action, storms, tides, and currents, as well as human factors like vandalism and looting, construction, dredging, and development. This can lead to them becoming detached from the hull, drifting out to sea, and then washing ashore after traveling far distances.

By attaching permanent tags with QR codes to these timbers, anyone who finds one can scan the code and learn more about the timber they have encountered and where it has travelled. By tracking these movements, we can learn about site formation, destruction, and general changes, in addition to how and where pieces of shipwrecks may move. The study of these processes can aid in the management of significant heritage resources.

How Can You Help?

Tagging timber
Photo: Austin Burkhard

Through STAMP, we are encouraging the public to work as citizen scientists! Efforts by STAMP volunteers will allow archaeologists to collect data to plot how coastal shipwreck sites physically change and how detached timbers may move over time. By monitoring these dynamic sites, we hope to learn how to manage these fragile and finite resources more effectively. Volunteers can join workshops and events to learn how to tag vessels and submit information about them to the databases. If tagged timbers are encountered, the tags include instructions on how to report their location and how to learn more about them. At present, partners involved in STAMP include the States of Maryland, Florida, and Virginia; the National Park Service; and the archaeology firm, SEARCH so volunteers can participate in a number of places.

Shipwreck tags are provided at workshops and events. Check for upcoming events here.

What Have We Learned So Far?

STAMP was modeled on a shipwreck tagging program that began in the summer of 2013 as a project of the Fish and Wildlife Service at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. While many people think that detached shipwreck timbers found on shorelines and beaches must be near a ship's original wreck site, this is not necessarily the case. For example, a three-meter-long timber was first tagged in September 2014, and a year later is had moved roughly 40 meters. In 2015, however, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was hit with several harsh winter storms, and by January 2016 the timber had traveled at least 106 miles to Corolla, North Carolina—though it’s likely it traveled even further than that since it is impossible for the timber to have floated in a straight line. Today, the timber has been reported by the public 15 miles south of Corolla in Duck, North Carolina, so it is still on the move! These data help archaeologists to consider how far shipwreck timbers could move in 50, 100, or even 200 years!

How It Works

Each tag has two QR codes. The QR code on the top leads to the database at the Florida Public Archaeology Network, where the movements of the timber bearing that tag number are recorded. The QR code on the bottom leads to a detail page, where PDF files about each timber or site will be listed.