Intrepid Archaeologist Dives Into History

Anne Corscadden Knox seeks underwater answers in the USA

Belfast's Anne Corscadden Knox is heading a diving expedition in the Florida Keys, hoping to uncover the mystery of why an American Civil War ship sank in the area.

Corscadden Knox, 32, leads a group of students from around the United States to investigate the watery grave of the Menemon Sanford which sank on December 10, 1862. 

The side-wheel paddle steamer was carrying Union soldiers from the 156th New York Volunteers bound for New Orleans when it hit a coral reef near Key Largo. All of the crew and soldiers were evacuated to US naval vessels but the soldiers’ gear and supplies were lost. 

There were suspicions that the ship’s pilot Captain AW Richardson was a southern sympathizer and that the sinking was an act of sabotage. Richardson was placed under arrest for criminal negligence. 

University of Ulster graduate Corscadden Knox looks forward to the challenge: 

'We hope that our investigations can shed some light on the sinking. Sometimes you can put it all together and come up with some good theory, but it’s like anything in archaeology, you’ll never be 100% certain.
'We ended our five-day diving operation on August 8 and are now involved in the next stage of the investigation. That entails the correlation and close examination of all the undersea mapping that we conducted as well as all the existing historical documentation about the Menemon Sanford.

The diving expedition is just one of several projects Corscadden Knox has undertaken as a research associate and programme coordinator with the PAST Foundation - a non-profit organization created to promote partnerships between anthropologists and educators through a series of innovative projects.

'We did not disturb the remnants of the wreck or seek to retrieve any artefacts,' she says. 'That was not our role. Our mission was purely educational.'

A qualified commercial diver, she has also taken part in an underwater expedition to investigate what is believed to be the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, flagship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard. 

'Whether it is that ship or not, it was a remarkable 18th century shipwreck with quite substantial archaeological debris.'

In September Corscadden leads the PAST Foundation archaeology team taking part in a multi-disciplinary expedition on a deep sea wreck investigation in the Gulf of Mexico. In October she begins research into shipwrecks of the Californian Gold Rush. 

Married to Dr Graeme Knox, also a former student at the University of Ulster, Corscadden graduated from Coleraine in 2002 with an MSc in Maritime Archaeology and Coastal Zone Management. The couple moved to America four years ago after she became one of the few women to gain a commercial diving licence.