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ECU maritime archaeology team search for clues to Danish slave ships

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ECU students and professors have participated in a multinational effort to research a pair of shipwrecks in Costa Rica.

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By ECU News Services

Sunday, December 16, 2018

East Carolina University underwater archaeologists and graduate students from the Department of History’s Program in Maritime Studies recently returned from a research expedition to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

Since 2015, the ECU team, directed by associate professors of maritime studies Drs. Lynn Harris and Nathan Richards, along with staff archaeologists Jason Raupp and Jeremy Borrelli, systematically investigated and researched shipwrecks in Cahuita National Park, Limon Provence.

“According to folklore and historical research the ships are either pirate ships or slave traders that wrecked in Punta Cahuita Bay,” said Harris.

During the 18th century the area was a highly contested landscape where English, Spanish and other colonials competed for local resources and allegiances with Miskito Indians. Pirates careened their ships, captured slaves, purchased food products and took aboard fishermen as turtle harpoonists.

In 1710, due to a navigation error, two Danish slave ships, Christianus Quintus V and Fredericus Quartus IV, are believed to have wrecked, releasing 800 slaves — including men, women and children primarily from West African ports — who were recaptured or assimilated into local communities. Historic records and linguistic studies reveal that many were likely of Yoruba origins (present day Nigeria and Benin).

The ECU team studied two shipwrecks in the park with unknown identities and searched along the shore for other candidates. They mainly focused on examining coral encrusted cannons, an anchor and structural evidence hidden under the extensive coral reef.

Students mapped a shallow 200-by-200-meter area from the site to shore, yielding hundreds of artifacts, including pottery, pipes, glassware and bricks.

“The most compelling evidence to date is the bricks, which resemble the smaller Danish flensburger type, ranging from about 210 to 230 mm long, historic bottles that date to the period of the wrecks and manillas — or slave trade bracelets — that the community and park officials have acquired in donated collections,” said Harris.

According to Harris, bricks were used to build warehouses, forts and roads at colonial outposts in Africa and the West Indies. Building supplies and other commodities like ivory tusks were additional paying cargo to offset human cargo mortality on slave voyages and to ballast the ships. Manillas were popularly used by all nations as currency for the purchase of slaves in Africa from the 1500s to 1900s.

“At present, the lack of a waterlogged artifact conservation facility in Costa Rica limits object recovery,” Harris said. “Therefore, the goal was to locate diagnostic surface artifacts on the sea bed to answer specific research questions about the wrecks.”

Each artifact was mapped and identified within the grid system. Some items were temporarily brought above water for photography on the site and then immediately returned to the seabed.

An integral part of ECU’s project initiative is community memory, stewardship and education. Through the project, ECU has increased collegial collaborations and partnerships with the University of Costa Rica and local educational marine ambassadorial groups, such as the Centro de Buceo Embajadores y Embajadoras del Mar, that have participated in the projects alongside ECU divers.

ECU also hosts educational community training workshops for project participants sanctioned by the international agency Nautical Archaeology Society. This year, archaeologists, curators, historians from the National Danish and Viking Museums and a documentary film maker visited the project with an interest in the Danish slave trade narrative and in joining the collaborative initiative.

Three ECU alumni leading the Raleigh Police Department

When Major Karen Riggsbee, Class of 1988, was promoted to deputy chief of the Raleigh Police Department this summer, she became one of the top three leaders in an agency that employs more than 800 officers and 100 civilian staff. She joined fellow Deputy Chief Robert Council, Class of 1992, and Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Class of 1987. All three are graduates of the criminal justice program at ECU.

“It’s absolutely cool,” Council said. “We’ve known about our connection to ECU, but to end up in leadership positions in the department is special. It shows the university gave us a good, positive foundation and that we’ve taken the education there and put it to work.”

Riggsbee, Council and Deck-Brown did not know each other while attending ECU, but their paths crossed throughout their careers with the police department. And each took a different path to their current positions.

Council was confident in pursuing a criminal justice degree. He wanted to do something that involved helping others and didn’t require being inside all day. An internship steered him to the Raleigh Police Department, where he has worked since attending the police academy in 1993. He became deputy chief in 2017.

Riggsbee and Deck-Brown were less sure at the start their criminal justice journeys.

“I was like a lot of students in that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took a class in criminal justice and fell in love with it. One class led to another and it was truly the path I was meant to go down,” Riggsbee said. “The instructors and professors were not just academics but had been in the field and were really able to give us a sense of what it was like to work in criminal justice.”

After graduating, Riggsbee got her master’s degree at the University of South Carolina followed by a park ranger position with the Raleigh Police Department. She worked her way through the department and now oversees field and special operations as well as the detective division.

Deck-Brown came to ECU planning on becoming a nurse. That turned out to be a bad fit, so she pivoted to criminal justice, where “there was no doubt I had chosen the right major,” she said.

Deck-Brown was offered a position with the Raleigh Police Department shortly after graduating and has worked there for 31 years as a patrol officer, a crime prevention-community relations officer and a detective, among other duties. In 2013, she became the first African-American woman to head the department and the first chief chosen from within the department since 1994.

She is also on the advisory board for ECU’s criminal justice program and comes back to campus often.

“I know what was invested in me, and being able to come back and give back in a way that hopefully helps the program is rewarding,” she said. “When I look at Karen and Rob and myself, we each came to ECU by way of a different journey. How we chose ECU was different, but we were all enriched by ECU.”

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