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IU Northwest anthropology student has opportunity to research shipwrecks with the pros

Internship allows Kujawa to work on Indiana Historic Shipwreck Survey Project

Photo Courtesty of Mike Baerlipp, CCRG
David Kujawa assists a diver while working out on Lake Michigan.

Ask David Kujawa why he chose anthropology for a major at Indiana University Northwest, and he says quite matter-of-factly, “The chance to travel the world, adventure, and you get to solve puzzles.”

Already hot on the trail of the mysteries surrounding Lake Michigan shipwrecks, the ambitious 22-year-old from Griffith is well on his way to fulfilling those goals.

When Kujawa, a junior at IU Northwest, went to Michigan City’s Old Lighthouse Museum in search of an internship early this summer, he initially walked away disappointed. But two days later, when Kira Kaufmann, Ph.D, underwater archaeologist and principal investigator for Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group (CCRG), went to the museum to do some research, she heard about Kujawa and brought him on board as a paid intern.

 Kaufmann needed help with the Indiana Historic Shipwreck Survey Project, an undertaking sponsored by the Lake Michigan Coastal Program, which is part of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. With funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the CCRC is conducting archaeological investigations of shipwrecks in the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan. The group hopes to expand the body of knowledge surrounding known shipwrecks, including their locations, conditions and ways to protect them. Kaufmann said this project picks up where a similar one done 25 years ago left off.

Since joining the CCRC team in June, Kujawa has been tasked largely with scouring library and museum archives for records that can help point the team in an accurate direction and ultimately, bring the vessels closer to being nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

“David is very enthusiastic and has been really motivated,” Kaufmann said. “He took the initiative to try to contact some area organizations and historical societies that have or are repositories for shipwreck information. . . I just think that is fabulous. He has really taken initiative.”

Out on the water, Kujawa has been learning firsthand how to interpret side scan sonar, conduct remote sensing work, and use many of the other tools archeologists use in the field.

“Being in the field is awesome,” Kujawa said. “I look at it as reward for doing all the other hard work. . . . It’s valuable because you actually get a chance to put the theories and methods that you learn in the classroom into practice.”

Kujawa is learning about snafus that inevitably happen along the way, too, like being stranded out on the lake. Like any archaeological team on an expedition, the CCRC explorers have encountered their fair share of equipment failures, not to mention some bad weather and rough waters.

The J.D. Marshall, a “sand sucker” which sunk 100 years ago, is one famous maritime memorial the crew is investigating, along with other famous wrecks The Material Service Barge, The Muskegon (Peerless) and Car Ferry #2. Sadly, the fact that The Muskegon (Peerless) is on the National Register of Historic Places did not seem to protect it from having a pipeline laid through it and causing severe damage to the shipwreck, Kujawa said.

Kujawa estimated that Lake Michigan alone is the resting place for a couple of thousand shipwrecks. He said that, in the Great Lakes, estimates go from about 6,000 to 10,000.

Kujawa hopes to head under the water’s surface to investigate soon. It’s a good thing he’s taken scuba diving lessons, which is something shipwreck enthusiasts do in their spare time, of course. For Kujawa, it may also prove to be a handy career-related skill.

“It is so fascinating,” he said. “Who else can say they go out and scuba dive for their job?”

Kujawa can scarcely believe he’s getting paid to have so much fun.

“If I wasn’t doing this as a career,” he said, “I’d be doing it, anyway, as a hobby.”

According to Kujawa’s family, he’s been doing just that for as long as they can remember.

“I was always digging up the backyard when I was younger and making my grandmother and my mom mad,” he confessed.

Kujawa expects to present a paper related to his internship at a professional conference.

For more information about the Indiana Historic Shipwreck Survey Project, follow the team’s blog at


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Emily Banas
Office of Marketing and Communications

Erika Rose
Office of Marketing and Communications

Related Links

Indiana Historic Shipwreck Survey Project Blog

IU Northwest Department of Anthropology

Additional Article Photos

Photo courtesy of Dr. Kira Kaufmann, CCRG
David Kujawa is working with the CCRG to conduct archaeological investigations of shipwrecks.