UTC’s Morgan Smith Part Of International Team Awarded $1.5M To Identify Underwater Indigenous Sites In Gulf Of Mexico

  • Monday, June 10, 2024
Dr. Morgan Smith has been a member of the UTC faculty since 2019
Dr. Morgan Smith has been a member of the UTC faculty since 2019
photo by Angela Foster/UTC
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga UC Foundation Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology Morgan Smith is one of five principal investigators on an international research team recently awarded a $1,497,512 cooperative agreement from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for the study titled “Reevaluating BOEM’s Guidelines for Identifying Submerged Pre-Contact Archaeological Sites in the Gulf of Mexico: An Extensive Geoarchaeological Approach.”
 
The team also includes archaeologists from Texas A&M University, Florida State University, the University of Bradford in England, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of the American Indian.
Tribal members and BOEM scientists will also participate as key partners in the study.
 
BOEM, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, works with other state agencies as well as academic institutions and coastal communities to restore and protect shorelines. This five-year study is intended to inform and update current archaeological guidelines regarding the identification of Indigenous sites on submerged landscapes in the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Dr. Smith said that the previous significant effort to map these sites dates back to 1977, meaning that the current research will benefit from decades of technological advancements.
 
He said his primary role in the project is sub-bottom profiling, utilizing soundwaves to map the seafloor. He explained the importance of using minimally or non-invasive methods to find the sites without disturbing the continental shelf.
 
“We need to study the continental shelf and understand what impacts we’re going to be making to it because it’s one of the last unexplored frontiers on the planet, so it provides a really cool opportunity for us,” Dr. Smith said.

He said that funding is reserved for UTC undergraduate students to assist in data processing and laboratory tests on campus. Eventually, several students from all of the involved universities will be able to sail on a few of the research cruises.
 
“It’s the coolest thing to be able to put these projects together and explore the least explored place on our planet, archaeologically speaking,” he said. 
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