Treasures so near, yet so far

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In May, as a handful of local archaeologists watched from the gunwales of four research ships, warfare scientists for the Navy and federal oceanographers lowered several high-tech robots into Narragansett Bay's waters between Portsmouth and Jamestown.

Some of the robots resembled torpedoes. Others looked like mechanical crabs. The newest of their kind, the remote-controlled, sonar-imaging machines had been designed to find mines buried on the sea floor or attached to ship hulls. But for two weeks, the Navy had offered them for another purpose as well: to test their capabilities in locating archaeological artifacts hidden, in some cases, under two centuries of silt.

For marine archaeologists Charlotte Taylor, D. K. "Kathy" Abbass and Rod Mather, those two spring weeks would be a cruel tease.

From computer screens, for example, they examined the most vivid sonar images ever seen of remnants of the British frigate Orpheus, intentionally run aground and burned during the Revolutionary War so it would not fall into the hands of the colonists' French naval allies.

Yet, as the scientists watched, they knew the Orpheus was out of their reach, too.

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