Friday, January 11, 2008

 

Shipwreck artifact resurfaces

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Kodiac Daily Mirror
By Drew Herman
January 11, 2008


Three years after coming off the bottom of Monk’s Lagoon, a historic artifact has surfaced again in Alaska.

The metal cylinder that served as the hub of the steering wheel onboard the Russian American bark Kad’yak bears the ship’s name in bold Cyrillic letters. It’s discovery by a team of underwater archaeologists from East Carolina University allowed positive identification of the find, recognized as the oldest shipwreck in Alaska waters.

This weekend it makes its first public appearance since July 2004 as part of the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology booth during Ocean Family Day at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center (formerly the Anchorage Museum of History and Art).

The artifact has not been seen in Kodiak since the ECU unveiled their discovery. After resting submerged in cold seawater off Spruce Island for 144 years, it needed careful handling to make it safe for study and display. Marine archaeology experts at Texas A&M University performed the months-long work.

Since then, the hub has been housed in the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. But while it has been out of sight, it has never been out of mind for the Kodiak community.

“It’s a great story and a Kodiak story and we’d like to develop it,” said Baranov Museum director Katie Oliver.

The Baranov, Alutiiq Museum, the Kodiak Maritime Museum and the village of Ouzinkie all have a part in discussions about the eventual fate of Kad’yak artifacts, Oliver said, calling it a good example of cooperation between the area museums and public stakeholders.

The general feeling is that Kad’yak artifacts should have a prominent place in a local exhibit. But that is unlikely to happen soon. Kodiak museums have been busy with other projects, including a long-needed renovation of the Erskine House that houses the Baranov collections. The Kodiak Maritime Museum still has no building.

Also, underwater archaeology and recovery of artifacts is expensive and labor intensive, said state archaeologist Dave McMahan, who will be at the Family Day booth in Anchorage. Even at a relatively accessible site like the Kad’yak, which lies in 80 feet of water a few miles from a busy Kodiak harbor, a specially trained diver can spend only a few minutes at a time working on the wreck, usually in frigid water with visibility of just a few feet.

So far, there are no plans for another archaeological expedition to the site, McMahan said. As with all historic sites on state property, it is illegal to disturb or collect anything from the wreck, which is state property.

McMahan said he has kept in contact with Kodiak’s museum community, and also discussed the Kad’yak with the Rasmuson Foundation, a private Alaska philanthropic organization,

“They’re potentially interested in funding some sort of museum exhibit,” he said. “I would love for something to break loose with it.”

The Kad’yak sank in 1860 carrying a cargo of ice from Woody Island. Its exact location was discovered in 2003, largely through the effort of marine biologist Brad Stevens, who has since moved out of state. The 2004 survey identified a cannon and ballast pile, in addition to the wheel hub and other artifacts.

The Kad’yak site is on the National Registry of Historic Places.


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