"Inconceivable!": Innovation and Improvisation on a WWII-Era Aircraft Crash Site in the Swamps of Papua New Guinea

Author(s): Laurel Freas; Kelley Esh

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "A Multidimensional Mission: Crossing Conflicts, Synthesizing Sites, and Adapting Approaches to Find Missing Personnel" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Archaeological recovery of an aircraft crash site differs significantly from traditional archaeology in that the former often takes place in locations unsuitable for human habitation, in geographic and environmental settings beyond the scope of standard excavation strategies, tools, and methods. These circumstances require considerable flexibility, innovation, and resourcefulness on the part of the archaeologist, to adjust methods and develop tools, often "on the fly," in order to meet the demands of the site. Our recent excavation of a WWII-era aircraft in Papua New Guinea’s sago swamps showcases this adaptability and creativity in approaching a site in a neither wholly terrestrial nor wholly underwater context. Among the archaeological problems confronting the archaeologists were 1) maintaining horizontal and vertical provenience in an excavation area lacking typical sedimentary deposits and with no discernable stratigraphy; 2) conducting systematic excavation to depths of approximately 1.5 m in conditions of extremely limited underwater visibility; 3) ensuring fullest possible recovery of incident-related materials while essentially excavating "blind;" and 4) ensuring team safety while operating in an area contaminated with aircraft fuel, unstable and hazardous aircraft wreckage, and dangerous wildlife. This poster will demonstrate the novel techniques and purpose-built, improvised tools employed to successfully excavate this unusual site.

Cite this Record

"Inconceivable!": Innovation and Improvisation on a WWII-Era Aircraft Crash Site in the Swamps of Papua New Guinea. Laurel Freas, Kelley Esh. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 452476)

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 24895