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ECU maritime studies discovers Alaskan shipwreck

KODIAK ISLAND, ALASKA   (July 23, 2004)   —   East Carolina University researchers this month identified a vessel that sank off the coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska, in 1860.

Discovered in 2003, the Kad'yak is the oldest shipwreck to be identified in Alaska and the first to be investigated by professional underwater archeologists. The ship was not identified as the Kad'yak until this month when the maritime studies team began mapping out the site.

"It is extraordinary for underwater archaeologists to identify a 144-year-old shipwreck this quickly," said Tim Runyan, director of Maritime Studies at ECU.

The ship was owned by the Russian-American Co., would ship ice from the then-Russian-owned Alaska to the U.S. Nautical archaeologists from ECU's Maritime Studies program identified the ship July 16 when they recovered a brass object inscribed with the ship's name. The object is thought to be the hub of the ship's wheel. Frank Cantelas, principal investigator, said the ship could provide valuable data for historians about the culture of Alaska in the mid-19th century.

"This is a very important shipwreck and cultural resource for Alaska," Cantelas said. "The wreck of the Kad'yak will provide new information on the period of Russian control of Alaska prior to its purchase by the United States in 1867." The 132-foot bark was built in Germany in 1851 and was headed for San Francisco carrying 350 tons of ice when it struck an uncharted rock and soon filled with water. The captain ordered the crew off and all escaped, but the Kad'yak drifted for about six miles before settling to the bottom at Monk's Lagoon on Spruce Island. Low water temperatures and an anaerobic environment have aided the ship's preservation. Mapping out the site is the primary focus of the dives this month, but researchers have already identified artifacts of note, including two cannons, deck braces, a ballast pile and a cluster of three anchors. All recovered artifacts will remain with the Alaska State Department of Archaeology.

The project, which is funded by a $50,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Ocean Exploration and a $54,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and will continue through July 26. The site will be mapped and a few more artifacts recovered for diagnostic purposes. Divers are working 80 feet below the surface of Monk's Lagoon off Kodiak Island.

The ECU nautical archaeologist team includes Steve Sellers, Jason Rogers and Evguenia Anichtchenko. Other researchers are from the NOAA's national Marine Fisheries Service laboratory in Kodiak, the NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program in Newport News, Va., and the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology. The Alaska State historic Preservation Office has declared the Kad'yak eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.


Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481