My name is Chuck Meide. I am the Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, or LAMP for short. And LAMP is the research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is a non-profit museum that is based at the St. Augustine Lighthouse. St. Augustine is the oldest port in the United States of America. And so it’s a wonderful place for a maritime archaeologist to work. We’ve had ships coming and going in St. Augustine waters from the very beginning, 450 years ago.
I direct the research program for the museum. So the day-to-day operations of my program are kind of first and foremost. And so it is not always out in the field. It is not always doing research. I have a staff that I manage. I have budgets that I have to manage. I have grants that need to be written and need to be managed. So there’s certainly a lot of work that goes in to the day-to-day management of a program whose mission is to do research.
So typically for me, in the summer months, I am conducting field research. I am usually out on a boat during weekdays, sometimes for extended cruises, but often, because my museum, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, is focused on the history of the oldest port, St. Augustine and the region around it, we typically have shipwrecks that are very close to shore. So we’ll go out for a day.
It’s a bit different than kind of a deep-sea oceanographic expedition where you could be gone for a very long time. So we tend to work close to shore. We tend to dive in relatively shallow waters. We tend to do SCUBA diving or use a Hookah for our diving, so we’re tethered to the boat. It’s relatively lightweight diving, though sometimes we are doing a bit of heavy-duty work, like bringing up substantial artifacts, raising cannon, that kind of thing.
At a museum, something that is very important to us is the visual experience. So the work we do, we try to translate that with the help of our education department and other departments here at the Lighthouse. We translate the research we do into programming and presentations and into exhibits that then benefits the visitors who are going to learn.
To work as a professional archaeologist, a maritime archaeologist, at the very least you would probably want a master’s degree. Certainly you could get jobs, lower-level positions, with a bachelor’s degree, but really it takes at least a master’s degree to get a decent level of pay and to be in a leadership position. And then of course, some positions, if you were in academia, you would need a doctorate.
With my background as a maritime archaeologist, there’s a variety of jobs that are out there. Really, there’s the private sector; there’s government archaeology jobs; there are museum jobs like mine, some of which are public jobs, like state museums and some of which are private museums like my own museum. The largest employer in archaeology are what are called cultural resource management firms.
It’s a great job if you can get it and I’ve found that if you’re a hard worker and disciplined and dedicated to it, you can make a career for yourself.
Probably the most exciting thing that I have discovered as a shipwreck archaeologist was a bronze cannon on a shipwreck that was lost in 1686. And it was La Salle’s ship. So it was a French ship.
And when we were diving on the possible target, in the dark, we couldn’t see anything at all, but I came across an object. And kind of doing archaeology by braille, felt the entire length of the object and realized that it was a cannon. Being a bronze cannon, it was highly decorated. Once we pulled it from the sea, we could see things like the king’s crest, the admiral’s crest. And that kind of sealed the deal. It really identified the shipwreck, so that was a very exciting project.
The season after I made that discovery, I returned as part of the crew. And that shipwreck was so important to the history of the State of Texas that the legislature of the state found the funds to build a coffer dam around the ship. So that ship was completely encircled and we kind of part the sea, just like Moses. So the ship was cut off from the rest of the sea. We could pump out the seawater and we went out and did archaeology as if it was on land.
It’s very personally rewarding to go out to sea with a hand-picked team and to face challenges and obstacles and to really have to work together as a team in order to accomplish our goals. Going out there and doing that and coming back with the data; learning about these shipwrecks, these time capsules of the past, is very rewarding.
Certainly, there’s nothing like being the first person in 300 years to touch a piece of history. To feel an object that was last seen centuries ago, that has not seen sunlight in all of these years. And to think about the personal stories that were onboard that vessel, the people that were onboard that vessel, it’s a great feeling. It’s a great connection. So I love going out there and doing the work and I love making the discoveries and learning about the past and getting that perspective from these people whose lives have come and gone and seeing what that can add to the lives around us, sharing that with other people certainly is also a great part of this job. So it’s a pretty rewarding job.
Well, we like to think what we do is relevant to the public. And I think that it is. Polls show that people believe that history museums are worth funding, that people like to go to these museums, whether they’re on vacation or if it’s in their own community. Science and history museums, of course. So it is something that helps the quality of life for our communities. It’s something to do with your kids. And it’s certainly teaches us lessons. Either teaches us science and math or teaches us history, teaches us about those who came before us.Return to profile