Revolutionary War-era shipwreck found off North Carolina coast

Marine scientists from Duke University and colleagues from North Carolina State University and the University of Oregon have located a previously undiscovered shipwreck during an expedition off the coast of North Carolina conducted earlier this month.

The researchers were performing a National Science Foundation-funded expedition onboard the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) research vessel “Atlantis” when they first spotted the wreckage on July 12. The team believes the ship may date back to the American Revolution.

Among the artifacts found in the wreckage were the broken remains of an iron chain, a pile of wooden ship timbers, red bricks that could have been from the ship cook’s hearth, an unglazed pottery jug, a metal compass, and other navigational instruments. The researchers spotted the wreck using an autonomous robotic underwater vehicle and a manned submersible.

Discovery made during research on deep-sea methane seeps

Expedition leader Cindy Van Dover, director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory, called the discovery 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.”

“I have led four previous expeditions to this site, each aided by submersible research technology to explore the sea floor– including a 2012 expedition where we used Sentry to saturate adjacent areas with sonar and photo images,” the researcher added. “It’s ironic to think we were exploring within 100 meters of the wreck site without an inkling it was there.”

Van Dover’s team believes that the shipwreck dates back to the late 18th or early 19th century, a time when the US was just beginning to expand sea trade with the rest of the world. She and her colleagues have notified the NOAA’s Marine Heritage Program of the discovery, and that group will now attempt to identify the ship and pinpoint the exact date of its origin.

“This discovery underscores that new technologies we’re developing to explore the deep-sea floor yield not only vital information about the oceans, but also about our history,” said David Eggleston, director of the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST) at NC State and one of the principal investigators of the research team, which had been analyzing deep-sea methane seeps along the East Coast when they stumbled across the shipwreck.


Pictured is the research vessel used to discover the shipwreck (Credit: Eurekalert/WHOI)

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