For more than 200 years, sailboats and fishing boats have unknowingly passed over the site of a presumed historic shipwreck off the southern coast of the island of Antigua.
In 2013, when the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks and Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services conducted a survey of the English and Falmouth Harbors, large timbers were discovered.Having no underwater archaeologists available to conduct further research, the discovery remained undisturbed until 2021, when a team of underwater archaeologists from the University of the French West Indies in Martinique conducted a sonar survey of the site.
This fall, Lynn Harris, an ECU professor of history who specializes in African and Caribbean maritime history and archaeology, was invited to partner on the research project.
Led by Harris, graduate students and faculty and staff from the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Department of History and program in maritime studies spent 15 days in October investigating the submerged vessel, currently referred to as the Tank Bay shipwreck.ECU’s team includes Harris; Jennifer McKinnon, co-investigator and professor of history who specializes in historical and maritime archaeology and cultural heritage management.
Jeremy Borelli, maritime research associate in charge of equipment and logistics; Ryan Bradley, diving and water safety officer; and 10 graduate students in the maritime studies graduate program who participated through their field school in maritime history and underwater archaeology course.
As part of their professional practical training, ECU maritime studies students participate in two 15-day underwater archaeology field schools annually.
Students learn practical skills in collecting, processing and analyzing datasets from submerged and terrestrial maritime heritage sites to answer specific research and heritage management questions.
“The ECU MA program in maritime studies is one of a handful in the world that trains students in underwater archaeology and provides unique opportunities for them to participate in exciting projects such as this one,” Harris said.
“This project is at a formative stage where the team is attempting to confirm the identity of the Tank Bay shipwreck with high potential to be an 18th-century French trade warship.”
“Having the opportunity to get hands-on experience within an area with such diverse and significant cultural heritage has been a chance of a lifetime,” said Levi Holton, one of the maritime studies graduate students who participated in the field school experience.