October: Underwater Archaeology

mpm community of curiosityFor October, take a deep dive into our exhibits!

The study of underwater archaeology is how we interpret past human cultures through the process of systematic documentation and recovery of information from submerged artifacts and underwater sites. Cultural and historic properties like underwater archaeological sites are non-renewable resources which often possess unique information about the past. Join us as we take a look at what lies beneath the water!

At the Museum

Visitor Engagements

Join MPM educators to learn more about underwater archaeology and the tools used to recover artifacts buried in the depths of water. Our educators will be on the Museum floors for in-person, drop-in programming on Thursdays and Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. throughout the month of October. 


get curious
Question Answers

If you visit MPM this month, you may see signage on the Third Floor. This month, we introduce visitors to Dr. Borhegyi and his work in underwater archaeology. We challenge YOU to think about the process of recovering objects from under water. 

  1. How did the artifacts recovered by Dr. Borhegyi and his team come to be submerged?
    The Maya believed the hot springs, whirlpools, and geysers at Lake Amatitlán emerged from the underworld. They used the lake and lakeshore to leave offerings to their gods in exchange for continued blessings. Note that not all of the objects in the Borhegyi case on the Mezzanine were recovered from the lake; some were found at dry land sites along the lakeshores. 
  2. How did they endure hundreds of years of immersion?
    The artifacts are made of ceramic and stone; both materials are highly resistant to the destructive effects of long-term submersion in water. Note the blackened surface of some objects, which is a result of immersion in water fed by sulphurous springs.

At Home

Family Resources
Underwater Trivia

Think you know the Milwaukee Public Museum? Test your knowledge of MPM’s exhibits and research about the ocean at home with this fun trivia quiz!


MPL Booklist 

Want to learn more about underwater archaeology? Check out Milwaukee Public Library’s booklist for reading recommendations.


Community Resource

Ready to take a deeper dive into underwater exploration? Visit ImmersionLearning.org to discover how explorers develop detailed maps of sunken ships in the dark depths of the ocean, or learn about buoyancy and balance as you design your own remotely-operated vehicle (ROV).

Learn More

Collections & Research Connections
Borhegyi & Underwater Archaeology

Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi was one of the Milwaukee Public Museum’s more charismatic and intriguing figures, leading the Museum as director from 1959 until his death in 1969. 

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Borhegyi was a pioneer in many fields. He advanced the innovative “Milwaukee style” of immersive exhibits, and vigorously expanded the Museum’s ancient Central American collection. An anthropologist and avid scholar of Mesoamerican civilizations, Dr. Borhegyi was one of the first anthropologists in the world to use aqua lungs for underwater archaeology. He spent many years studying archaeological finds left by the ancient Maya in and around Lake Amatitlán, Guatemala, and was among the first to excavate and study the many artifacts found along its shores and submerged in its depths.

Hundreds of objects have been recovered from the lake since amateur divers began exploring it in 1955. The majority of them are ceramic censers (containers used to burn copal incense in Maya rituals) as well as several stone and bone objects. Today, the Museum is one of the primary repositories for material found in and around the lake, housing extensive archives containing information on Borhegyi's excavations and collecting endeavors in the region. 

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Special Event

science on tap logoScience on Tap 
"Exploring the Deep" with Corey Jaskolski

Date and Time
Thursday, October 21, 2020
7 p.m. lecture

Attend in-person OR virtually; limited on-site tickets available.
FREE to members; registration required.
Non-members $5 virtual, $10 onsite; $25 for groups of 10+

Details and Tickets