Anthropology’s Ben Ford recently delivered a dinner address titled “Great Lakes Underwater Archaeology, What It Can Teach About History and Technology” to the American Society of Engineering Education Zone 1 conference in Niagara Falls, New York.
Ford discussed how Great Lakes shipbuilders adapted their commercial and war ship designs to the requirements of shallow harbors, canals, and limited sailing seasons.
These restrictions are evident in the approximately 6,000 shipwrecks across the bottoms of the Great Lakes.
The efforts shipbuilders to overcome the natural weakness of wood as ships stretched to 400 feet in the 19th century was also on display. Innovations such as arches built into the hull or latticeworks of iron bands to distribute the weight and buoyancy
differences between the ends and center of a ship are just some of the techniques evident in shipwrecks.
The interplay between ship size and the relevant infrastructure of canal locks and harbors not only helps to date shipwrecks, but shows how Great Lakes shipbuilders were pushing the relationship, often building vessels in anticipation of a harbor improvement.
The problem solving and innovation of Great Lakes shipbuilders eventually led to the development of uniquely Great Lakes vessels.
Founded in 1893, the American Society for Engineering Education is a nonprofit organization of individuals and institutions committed to furthering education in engineering
and engineering technology. The Zone 1 conference drew faculty, students, administrators, and industry partners from throughout the northeast quarter of North America.
Department of Anthropology