Tag Archives: shipwrecks

The survivor camp of the Russian frigate Neva

Cache of early 18th century Russian Axe Heads. Source: Dave McMahon via NSF.

Cache of early 19th century Russian Axe Heads, on Kruzof Island, Alaska. Source: Dave McMahan via NSF.

In late 1812 or early 1813, the London-built, Russian-owned frigate Neva foundered on rocks somewhere near Sitka Sound, in Tlingit territory on Baranof or Kruzof Islands,  SE Alaska, (map).  The Neva was a prominent ship of Russian colonial Alaska having, for example, taken part in the 1804 Battle of Sitka as well as making multiple round trips during the maritime fur trade hauling sea otter pelts to Chinese and Russian ports. The actual wreck site has never been found.  However, in 2012 archaeologists led by Dave McMahon and the Sitka Historical Society found a small historical-era site which they thought might be where the 28 survivors of the wreck sheltered for a month before being rescued in January 1813.  An intriguing and suggestive find in 2012 was an apparent cache of Russian made axeheads (above), suggesting further work was called for.  In 2015, a fuller excavation took place finding a remarkable assemblage “focused on survival”, not at all typical of early historic settlement sites.  So, while there is no smoking gun yet, such as crockery with the Neva’s monogram, there are plenty of indicators that this site is where the survivors sheltered in the not-entirely benign Alaskan winter while awaiting a rescue that might never come.

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Imaging of Yukon Shipwrecks

3-D Sonar Scan of A.J. Goddard historic sternwheeler from Yukon. Source: Montreal Gazette.

A year or two ago, the well-preserved wreck of the Klondike-era paddlewheeler A.J. Goddard was found in Lake Lebarge on the Yukon River.  The find (which is now protected) got a lot of attention because of the ghostly images (click on the very high resolution pop-up ones here) as much as the historical significance.  The wreck was recently in the news again because divers had found some vinyl phonograph records which had the potential to be played. Listening to the music of the dead crewmen of a ship evocative of the Cremation of Sam McGee would create close, perhaps emotional, connection with these poor unfortunates.

Being made of stern stuff (heh) what I am more interested in is the intriguing  sonar image (above) that accompanied the mainstream press coverage.  The phonograph is cool, but archaeologically the more significant development are the new technologies being used on wrecks in general and some Yukon wrecks in particular.

I found more images and a very short article at Wired magazine and they are worth a look, as is much of the background info from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), which includes a photo galleryEdit: you can view a nice video of BluView and OceanGate’s sonar model of the wreck here.

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The Wreck of the Kad’yak

Cannon from the Kadyak on the seafloor near Kodiak Island. Source: Archaeology Magazine.

Off Alaska’s Kodiak Island lie the remains of the Russian-American Company ship Kad’yak, which sank in 1860.  The wreck of this Barque was rediscovered in 2003, as this first-hand account documents.  (It is full of the usual intrigue between divers and dirters and is rich with interesting links about the discovery).  Almost immediately, an underwater archaeological research project was formed, participants included people from the Kodiak Maritime Museum, the Baranov Museum, the Alutiiq Museum, the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service in Kodiak, and East Carolina University.  This was the first underwater archaeology project in Alaska, and it is ably documented by the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology.

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Shipwrecks of Vancouver Island

The three-masted ship Carelmapu with decks awash, dragging her anchors into Schooner Cove, near Tofino, in 1915

The ‘Virtual Museum of Canada”  has been responsible for some nice online exhibits, although a lot of these are now fairly dated.  One with what we could call a “retro web design”, but some good content, is the Shipwrecks of Vancouver Island site, apparently put together mainly on the watch of the Maritime Museum of BC with help from the Underwater Archaeological Society of BC.  There are some nice videos of underwater archaeology, and other informative materials.

Site navigation, though, is much easier if you just go to the site map here — the absurdly finicky navigation does weird things like, say, means using the back button always takes you to a splash introduction screen — is a crime against the web.  Especially since museum people are involved: why such disdain for solid future-proof web design values?  This page, for example, has a nifty slider to scroll through an interactive map: but if you don’t pay attention (e.g., if you use your back button) you will always end up on a “loading XML – introduction to the database” overlay screen page which gets tired after about the third time.  The VMC should consider a legacy fund to make sure that the sites which they poured money into for a while can all be kept up to date for both content and also compliance or at least ease of use.  It would not surprise me in the slightest if the VMC had spent over $100,000 on this site — the one site of their I know something about they spent $140,000 and it is no flashier than this thing.  Almost all that money went into design and mounting of content, very little went to the content creators themselves.  If that  applied here, I think we have a right to expect more – is this site design worth $100,000?  It seems to me that, even in 2004, a competent web designer working alone, with content given by others, could have put this together in about a month.

Canadian Navy diver goes overboard in 1959 to examine the 1853 wreck of the Lord Western, near Flores Island.