Tiffany Pecoraro James

Great Lakes Ship Traps and Salvage: A Regional Analysis of an Archaeological Phenomenon

(Under the direction of Dr. Bradley Rodgers) Department of History, April 2007

This thesis examines the historic utility of Great Lakes maritime salvage and ship traps using the archaeological investigations of North Point Reef Ship Trap as a point of departure. North Point Reef Ship Trap is an archaeological site assemblage situated off the coast of Alpena, Michigan within the waters of Thunder Bay, in Lake Huron. The ship trap contains 55 shipwreck and isolate locations, representing a period of historic activity between 1850 and 1930. In order to analyze the highly complex distribution of archaeological remains, temporal and behavioral indicators were correlated with evidence from the historic record. Using this approach, the underlying social, political, economic, and environmental factors contributing to the phenomenon's formation were identified.

To demonstrate the historic function of regional salvage and ship trap locations, the Great lakes shipping industry's practices were investigated within a region wide commercial context. It was found that a cycle of intensive commerce existed historically, creating an environment conducive for disaster. Great Lakes ship captains routinely navigated through hazardous near shore areas in order to ensure maximum profit returns for company owners. Subsequently, a high maritime casualty rate resulted. To mitigate losses from increased shipwreck rates, a commercial salvage industry was established. As salvage practices became more reliable, shipwreck locations were seen as valuable commodities that could be recovered, refurbished, and returned to commercial service. By extension, regional ship traps were also perceived by many as commercial assets that contained precious commodities that could be retrieved for profit.