Mysterious shipwreck discovered off North Carolina coast

Artifacts on the wreck indicate it might date as far back as the late 1700s – the time of the American Revolution.

Luis Lamar/Woods Hood Oceanographic Institution via AP
The research vessel Atlantis is shown off the coast of the Carolinas in the Atlantic Ocean during the second week of July 2015 with the submersible Alvin hanging off its stern.

In deep waters, a hundred miles off the coast of North Carolina coast, scientists have discovered debris from an unknown shipwreck that could have sunk around the time of the American Revolution.

Marine scientists from Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Oregon stumbled across the shipwreck on July 12 during a research expedition aboard the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) research ship Atlantis.

"This is an exciting find, and a vivid reminder that even with major advances in our ability to access and explore the ocean, the deep sea holds its secrets close," expedition leader Cindy Van Dover, director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory, said in a statement.

Van Dover said that she had led four previous expeditions as early as 2012 to the same site – about a mile deep – and had no idea the wreckage was there. “It’s ironic to think we were exploring within 100 meters of the wreck site without an inkling it was there.”

An iron chain, a pile of wooden ship timbers, red bricks, glass bottles, an unglazed pottery jug, a metal compass, a navigational instrument, possibly a sextant are among the artifacts discovered in the shipwreck’s broken remains.

The marine scientists didn’t set out to find a shipwreck but were on an expedition focused on exploring the ecology of deep-sea methane seeps along the East Coast.

“Our accidental find illustrates the rewards – and the challenge and uncertainty – of working in the deep ocean,” Van Dover said. “We discovered a shipwreck but, ironically, the lost mooring was never found.”

James Delgado, director of the Marine Heritage Program, said in the statement that the wreck rests along the path of the Gulf Stream, which sailors have used for centuries as a maritime highway to North American ports, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and South America 

“The find is exciting, but not unexpected,” he said. “Violent storms sent down large numbers of vessels off the Carolina coasts, but few have been located because of the difficulties of depth and working in an offshore environment.”

Mr. Delgado and other archaeologists are analyzing images and videos that the researchers captured and hope this will enable them to tell whether the ship was a trade or a war vessel.

“That could tell us far more because in many ways those hundreds of voyages, thousands of voyages, really wrote the history of America in a very powerful way at the same time we were advancing and expanding west,” Delgado told The News and Observer.

The team also reported their find to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Heritage Program, which will try to date and identify the ship.

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