ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla.—A first-of-its-kind facility opening in northeast Florida will be a large laboratory to conserve and save artifacts from shipwrecks. It will be called the Maritime Archeology and Education Center and be located at the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
Currently, there is a much smaller lab on site - the size of a work shed.
"It gets a little cramped," Andrew Thomson said.
He is the assistant archeological conservator who works in the tiny laboratory. In that lab, he and colleague Starr Cox work on some of the country's oldest shipwreck artifacts.
"You can imagine with two people, it can be a little tight," Thomson said.
When the underwater archeologists associated with the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program find artifacts on shipwrecks off northeast Florida's coast, those items are brought to the little lab.
That's about to change soon.
Tuesday, a groundbreaking took place. A much bigger shipwreck lab will be built on the property of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. It will be 2500 square feet.
Marine Archeologist Chuck Meide said, "We're going to have an x-ray machine. We’ll do electrolysis and artifact cleaning and things we need to do and have space to do it the right way."
Grants as well as donations - such as those from the sale of the San Sebastian Winery lighthouse wine bottles - are helping fund the project.
Lighthouse Executive Director Kathy Fleming said, "There simply aren't facilities like this because it's so expensive. For every dollar we spend in the field, we'll spend ten dollars in the lab taking care of these objects."
Archeologists know there are hundreds of shipwrecks off the coast of northeast Florida, full of artifacts that need to be saved.
And those artifacts help tell the stories of America's history.
Now Thomson and his colleagues will have a better opportunity to save those pieces of America's story.