Sparrow Hawk, Portland Wrecks Subject Of Underwater Archaeology Talk

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Topics: History

Marine archaeologist Dr. Calvin Mires. COURTESY PHOTO

ORLEANS – Is it possible to learn some new information about an event that happened nearly 400 years ago?  When it comes to the vessel Sparrow Hawk, shipwrecked in 1626 on Nauset beach off the Old Inlet in Orleans, there is definitely more to learn. 

Dr. Calvin Mires, a maritime archaeologist and research associate at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, will be on hand on Thursday night, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Centers for Culture and History in Orleans Meetinghouse to give a Sparrow Hawk update and also to update two of his other maritime archaeology research projects currently underway.

Thursday night's presentation is titled "Hidden Amongst the Waves: Our Shared Maritime Past and the Role of Maritime Archaeology." This wide-ranging presentation "will highlight the role maritime archaeology has in discovery, interpretation and stewardship of our shared maritime past," according to Mires.

Maritime archaeology involves investigating everything you would on land, said Mires, but with the requirement to take your own air supply and limitations on how deep you can go, "you don't have the same amount of time" as on land. "You have to be as efficient as possible." Recent advances in photography have meant that by taking thousands of photos of a shipwreck a 3D model can be stitched together.  "Over time it is much more accurate," he said.

Mires has over 20 years of experience in maritime archaeology and underwater cultural heritage.  He has led and worked on more than 40 maritime archaeology projects around the world in all types of maritime environments and historical periods.

The most recent work involving the Sparrow Hawk, which was wrecked on the shore of Nauset Beach in 1626 and uncovered in 1863, involved analyzing the wood used to construct the ship.  Dendrochronology dates tree rings to the exact year they were formed.  Mires will report on the work done by a Danish dendrochronology expert to match samples taken from the ship's timbers to a database that helps determine the age and, ideally, where the wood came from.

The Portland, a passenger steamship that sank in 1898 with all 200 people aboard is another project that will be featured in Mires' presentation on Thursday night.  Sunk along Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, two and a half hours east of Gloucester, the ship now rests in 500 feet of water.  He will show 3D models of the ship and discuss newly documented artifacts, inside portions of the shipwreck and "powerful interviews with the descendants of the victims," according to Mires.

Finally, he will discuss a recent project to conduct a recovery mission for the crew of a World War II bomber in the South Pacific.  The effort involved partnering with the Department of Defense POW/MIA program and Project Recovery in their effort to find and repatriate Americans missing in action since the war.

For more information about the program, which will be held at the CHO Meetinghouse at 3 River Rd., go to  The program is free, however donations are appreciated.  Masks will be required; COVID-safe distancing is available.


"Hidden Amongst the Waves: Our Shared Maritime Past and the Role of Maritime Archaeology"
At the Centers for Culture and History in Orleans, 3 River Rd., Orleans
Sept. 30, 7 p.m.