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The University of Alabama

Undergraduate Magazine: Exploring the Watery Depths

Spurred on by a Discovery Channel special, Eugene Randle came to UA to pursue a second career in archaeology – and a lifelong passion for the mysteries of human history that life beyond the water’s edge.

By Adam Buettner
Fall 2013

Eric Randle on the banks of the Black Warrior River.

In a way, Blackbeard can take credit for Eugene Randle’s current state of affairs.

An anthropology major and McNair Scholar, Randle, 47, recently completed his senior research project, “Sunken Treasure in the Deep South,” in which he studied many of the sophisticated instruments used in marine archaeology excavations.

Randle focused his study on using those instruments on tornado wreckage in Alabama’s Black Warrior River. The instruments studied were the same as those used by the archaeologists who excavated Blackbeard’s ship off the coast of North Carolina. The connection? It was this particular pirate ship excavation that inspired Randle to enroll at The University of Alabama and mold his lifelong fascinations with archaeology and the ocean into a career.

“I really wasn’t even aware there was such a field until a few years ago,” Randle said. “It’s more of an evolving passion.”

Born and raised in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Randle had ample time and resources to pursue his aquatic obsessions. One of the more influential catalysts was his father, who captained a sea-going dredge charged with cleaning the harbors throughout the tropical archipelago.

Side-scanning sonar device reveals a wreck in the Black Warrior River.

Side-scanning sonar device reveals a wreck in the Black Warrior River.

“You never knew what would turn up in that sand – fossilized shark teeth, interesting shells, artifacts from the shipping in the area, pieces of brightly colored coral, anything that could be found on the bottom of the ocean would be pumped into the barge if you just watched long enough,” he said.

He also was fascinated by the boats in the harbors of his youth, from dinghies to freighters.

“Water, boats and fishing have always been my passion,” he said. “I’ve had a boat ever since I was big enough to drag one up onto the bank and a fishing rod ever since I was strong enough to hold one.”

This childhood curiosity would also inspire Randle’s archaeological pursuits. He owns a large collection of artifacts he unearthed while working in the construction industry for 20 years.

“I first became interested in archaeology when I was 7,” he said. “I found a projectile point – a pointed stone tool – on the bank of the Coosa River while fishing with my grandfather. I’ve been keenly interested in antiquities and archaeology ever since.”

His passion for underwater archaeology rekindled after he watched a Discovery Channel special in which archaeologists explored Blackbeard’s sunken ship.

“I was with a friend, and I asked him, ‘How do you get that job?’” he recalls. “To which he replied, ‘I don’t know – figure it out.’”

Randle, left, uses equipment to compare the accuracy of two types of scanners in a hunt for artifacts from the April 27, 2011, tornado in the Black Warrior River.

Randle, left, uses equipment to compare the accuracy of two types of scanners in a hunt for artifacts from the April 27, 2011, tornado in the Black Warrior River.

Randle became immersed in childhood memories and archaeological fantasies. The Discovery Channel special invaded his every thought. Incessant though they were, the incursions were a welcomed nuisance. So Randle decided to act on the blatant nautical calling. Exploring his options, he applied for and received a research- oriented McNair scholarship and enrolled at UA in 2009 to pursue a degree in anthropology with a focus in archaeology.

In 2011, Randle received the opportunity to create his own version of the Blackbeard excavation. Overseeing his research project was Dr. Cameron Lacquement, UA instructor of anthropology.

“Randle’s study is groundbreaking in the sense that not many other archaeologists have examined such a recent underwater site affected by a severe weather event,” Lacquement said. “The site is essentially a blueprint for how marine-based material culture sinks during a tornado. Such information could be useful in creating new methods for preventing boats, docks and other marina debris from sinking during high-wind storms.”

Following graduation, Randle said he would like to earn a master’s degree in geology, which would complement his archaeology interests, and then, perhaps, a doctorate in archaeology. But, his passion remains in the mysteries of human history that lie beneath the sea.

“I always tell people I’m going to find Atlantis someday,” Randle said.


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