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Archaeologists to excavate ship that dates to War of 1812

Thursday - 6/14/2012, 1:32pm  ET

Meghin Moore, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Thirty-three years ago, a ship was discovered buried underwater in the Patuxent River in Maryland. Now, archaeologists are working hard to unlock the clues of the vessel believed to be the USS Scorpion, the flagship of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla during the War of 1812.

"The wreck is 75 feet long and about 20-feet wide," says archaeologist Julie Shablitsky of the Maryland State Highway Administration.

The ship, originally built in 1814 to attack British ships in the bay, is intact and located in the Patuxent River near Upper Marlboro, according to a Navy report. The ship was thought to have intentionally sunk in August of 1814 by its captain to avoid capture.

Archaeologists plan to start the full excavation next summer, using techniques designed for bridge and highway pilings to move the water and sediment.

"We're probably going to run into things like food rations, clothing, maybe even weapons of some type," Shablitsky tells WTOP.

The dig is estimated to cost about $5 million, which includes preparation, excavation, preservation and cataloging of found artifacts. The Navy as well as several state agencies have provided the funding for this project.

Shablitsky says the artifacts found "will give us a better idea of what their life on board would have been like."

While the full excavation starts next summer, the original excavations on the site began in 1980, uncovering munitions boxes, carpentry tools and surgeons' kits that led researchers to believe that the shipwreck was the USS Scorpion.

Researchers returned in 2010 and started a multi-year investigation that would allow the site to be completely excavated.

The upcoming dig will give visitors a rare look at how archaeologists work and will coincide with the commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

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WTOP's Hank Silverberg contributed to this report. Follow Hank and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)