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ECU Notes: Field school identifies Pamlico Sound mystery wreck

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Students worked in shallow water to document and map the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck.


By ECU News Services

Sunday, February 11, 2018

With little to go on but fragments of oral history and the scant clues they could glean from a decaying steel hull, a team of East Carolina University maritime studies students has helped piece together the identity and story of a shipwreck in the Pamlico Sound near Rodanthe.

The project was made possible by the N.C. Department of Transportation, said Nathan Richards, associate professor of maritime studies at ECU and head of the Maritime Heritage Program at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute. Because the site could be disturbed by the Bonner Bridge replacement project, the DOT needed to determine the historical significance of the wreck.

The bridge construction created an opportunity to carry out an educational program that would teach students how to record a shipwreck using a variety of techniques and technologies as well as introduce them to the regulatory and legislative aspects of such a project, Richards said.

The team set to work in September on a monthlong archaeological project to document and map the 150-plus-foot wreck, known as the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck, located on the sound side of the Outer Banks. Richards led a team of nine students as they created a detailed map of the site and conducted historical research to identify the potential history of the wreck.

A number of local stories swirled about the wreck. One held that it was a Great Lakes steamer, another a dormitory barge from the Works Progress Administration era. The most persistent was a story about a gravel barge that grounded in the 1960s. That fit with the timeframe for the wreck, which begins to appear on nautical charts and in aerial photographs from the late 1960s.

“The problem with the gravel barge story,” Richards said, “is it doesn’t look like your classic idea of a barge.”

“One moment that stood out from the entire experience was when (Richards) found diagnostic features on the wreck that aided in the identification of the vessel,” said graduate student Paul Gates. “Located at the stern … the skegs allowed the vessel to operate as an amphibious assault craft that could be beached to deliver infantry or serve as a heavy fire support platform.”

The landing craft were used primarily in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Two types of ships used a similar hull. The Landing Craft Infantry, Large, Mark 3 (LCI) was used to land men on beaches using ramps from the bow. After early results showed that more support from other ships was needed for the landing craft, the heavily armed Landing Craft Support, Large, Mark 3 (LCS) was built.

The team continued to work, attempting to narrow down which of more than 923 LCIs and 130 LCSs that were built during the war might have ended up in the Pamlico Sound. They crossed off hull numbers that had been destroyed in combat or sold into foreign navies. Many of the remaining ships eventually were sold as surplus, and one in particular is likely to be the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck.

LCS-123 was sold to the Hunt Oil Company in Hampton, Va., and was modified for use as a tank barge to haul heating oil and diesel for distribution, a clue that fit with a petroleum odor the students had noticed.

After identifying LCS-123 as a probable candidate for the origin of the wreck, the team was even able to track down photographs and a diary of members of the crew.

Richards presented the team’s findings during a public lecture at CSI’s facility in Wanchese along with Matt Wilkerson, archaeologist with the N.C. DOT. The work, Wilkerson said, determined that the site is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and now that the site has been thoroughly examined and documented, the construction of the bridge can continue.

For more information visit www.coastalstudiesinstitute.org/research/maritime-heritage/current-projects/pappys-lane-shipwreck-project.

ECU undergrads discover research opportunities

ECU’s Office of Undergraduate Research held its first Undergraduate Research Meet & Greet of 2018 on Feb. 1 at Wright Plaza, introducing research opportunities to Pirate students.

Hosted by the Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement, in partnership with the ECU Student Government Association, the event delivered doughnuts, 150 ECU research T-shirts and fliers detailing how to get started in undergraduate research to students.

The event was held to raise awareness about what undergraduate research is, and what opportunities are available to undergraduate students at ECU. Students also were introduced to representatives from REDE, including Jay Golden, vice chancellor of Research, Economic Development and Engagement, and Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Undergraduate Research Mary Farwell.

“Undergraduate research has been shown to increase students’ interest and skills in all disciplines and support students’ personal and professional growth,” Farwell said. “Many students who currently do faculty-mentored research are concentrated in STEM disciplines or are honors students. We want to greatly increase — even double — the number of students doing undergraduate research, in all fields of study.”

One goal the Office of Undergraduate Research hoped to achieve at the event was to inform undergraduate students about the types of research projects their departments are conducting. ECU offers 102 undergraduate bachelor degree programs, with research being conducted in every field of study.

As part of ECU’s goal of becoming the next great national university, increasing research participation has been made a top priority. Nearly 20 percent of ECU students participate in research at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels.

For more information on undergraduate research opportunities at ECU, visit the Office of Undergraduate Research at ecu.edu/cs-acad/research/ur/ or email ugresearch@ecu.edu.

Upcoming Event

Thursday: Anthropology After Dark, 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Flanagan, Room 265. ECU’s Department of Anthropology will celebrate World Anthropology Day for the fourth year with a lecture on the role of anthropology in the military by cultural anthropologist Robert Greene Sands. The evening also will feature laboratory and artifact exhibits, Andean music and the display of an Egyptian tomb beginning at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the Flanagan Building. The event is free and open to the public. Free parking will be available at the lot near the corner of 10th Street and College Hill Drive. A shuttle from the parking lot to the Flanagan Building will run every 15 minutes beginning at 6:15 p.m.