Veronica Morris ’03 is a maritime archaeologist and co-founder of Interactive Heritage, a company that creates interactive 3D exhibits for at-risk and inaccessible archaeological sites (on land and underwater). These online exhibits allow visitors to virtually visit important cultural sites, and physically manipulate 3D models of ancient artifacts. Interactive Heritage is currently working with Kamehameha Schools on a multi-year project (https://ks3d.org) to document and preserve a number of Hawaiian sites. Morriss hopes that these exhibits will be used as educational tools for raising interest and awareness in Hawai‘i’s rich cultural heritage.
Maritime archeologist—what does that mean, exactly?
I primarily study shipwrecks, harbors, and maritime trade, and I am currently finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, where I study Islamic archaeology. I love working underwater on shipwrecks, but I also work on land. I’ve been blessed to have an exciting career working on sites all over the world. In 2015, I excavated a 3rd Dynasty Egyptian boat burial near the Djoser’s Step Pyramid. This was one of the oldest, and by far, coolest sites I’ve worked on. The 4,600-year-old boat was buried in sand beside a massive mudbrick tomb (mastaba). We do not yet know the owner of the burial, but the construction features of the boat are unique and have changed our understanding of ancient Egyptian boats.
Did HPA play a role in your choosing such an unusual career?
My experiences at HPA opened the door. I took my first archaeology class with Tom Goodspeed, and back before it was common, Deighton Emmons taught me how to use a handheld GPS unit. I used these skills to map the Hawaiian field systems above HPA for a science fair. This project created the opportunity for me to work with UH Manoa archaeologists in Kohala, and ultimately in Egypt where I fell in love with the Middle East. I’ve always been grateful for the guidance my HPA teachers gave me so many years ago.
What do you enjoy most about your current work?
I would have to say that excavating shipwrecks is what I enjoy most. One of my most memorable experiences was working in Bermuda on the English galleon, Warwick, which sank in 1619 during a hurricane. While Warwick sank in only a few meters of water, excavating her was very hard work! When you dig underwater, giant plumes of silt settle over the site, reducing visibility to just a couple centimeters, and you must work primarily by touch. After a month of working in total blindness, we finished excavation and shut off our water dredges, which are effectively giant underwater vacuums. I finally got my first glimpse of the entire ship—with much of her starboard hull preserved up to the gundeck, the view was simply incredible! Our team spent a month meticulously recording the massive hull timbers as well as minute details such as tool marks left by the shipwrights. To our surprise, we even discovered fragments of Roman pottery within the ship’s ballast. It turns out that these had probably been dredged up with pebbles from the Thames before the ship left England!
If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like to be doing in 10 years?
Ideally, in 10 years I hope to be doing the same things I do now while living in Waimea. Although I love travelling, Waimea will always be my home.
Editor’s note: This profile first appeared in the fall 2018 issue of Ma Ke Kula.