Thursday, September 16, 2004


1860 shipwreck identified by ECU researchers in Alaska


The East Carolinian online

Jameson Cook, Staff Writer
September 16, 2004

Rediscovered site teaches of history and lore

Last July, a team of five from ECU recovered sunken artifacts and a few pieces of history from a long lost shipwreck site just off Alaska's Spruce Island.

Tim Runyan, Director of the Maritime Studies Program at ECU, and associate Frank Cantelas led the expedition as co-principal investigators. Steve Sellers, Director of Diving and Water Safety here at ECU, supervised the numerous dives that were required to search for and salvage artifacts from the wreck. The remainder of the crew was made up of members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who also partially funded the expedition, many local volunteers who sought to help in resurrecting this piece of their history, and the two ECU graduate students that brought the idea for this project to fruition, Jason Rogers and Evguenia Anichtchenko. Anichtchenko and husband Rogers, both graduate students in East Carolina's Maritime Studies program, learned of the ship and the story of its lost burial site through Anichtchenko's studies and interest in Russian maritime history.

The Kad'yak, a 132-foot, three-masted brig belonged to the Russian-American Company and had been used as a massive trade ship for years. In the winter of 1860 the Kad'yak was departing Alaska with 356 tons of ice on board, bound for San Francisco, when it struck a rock and slowly filled with water. Archaeologists have retraced the path of the wreck and believe the captain and crew easily evaded peril by boarding the Kad'yak's lifeboats. The ship itself, buoyed by the masses of ice within, floated for three days before finally sinking to the bottom of Icon Bay, in the Gulf of Alaska.

NOAA biologist Brad Stephens, studying crabs in Alaska, heard local stories of the lost ship and in researching its history was able to pinpoint its location in the summer of 2003.

Upon learning of his recent discovery, Anichtchenko approached Runyan and Cantelas with the prospect for an archaeological expedition. With generous grants from NOAA and the National Science Foundation, the trip was scheduled for July 2004.

Multiple dives into the 80-foot deep bay led to the identification of significant shipwreck artifacts including a large, barbell-like hunk of brass inscribed "Kad'yak," Russian for Kodiak. This artifact, believed to be the hub of the ship's wheel, single-handedly confirmed the identity of the ship, making the Kad'yak the oldest discovered Alaskan shipwreck. The expedition also marks the first time underwater archaeology has been done in Alaska.
"The project was a milestone," Cantelas said. Of specific significance that the find will have, Cantelas said, "It will help us interpret the maritime aspects of the Russian-American Company."

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