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Researchers' expedition accidentally discovers centuries old shipwreck

A group of researchers recently uncovered a shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina that could originate from the time of the American Revolution.

The shipwreck was inadvertently discovered on July 12 by a research team consisting of scientists from North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of Oregon. The group's intended purpose of the trip was to search for a mooring deployed back in 2012 as part of a research expedition.

"This is an exciting find and a vivid reminder that even with major advances in our ability to access and explore the ocean, the deep sea holds its secrets close," Cindy Van Dover, the expedition leader and director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory said in a statement.

The research team discovered a navigational tool, that appears to be an octant or a sextant and a pottery jog among the wreckage. (Photo/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The team discovered the wreck by using two submersible vessels, an autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry and a human-operated vehicle named Alvin. Both were deployed from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) research ship, Atlantis.

Sonar scans pointed Alvin and the Sentry in the direction of a dark line and a "diffuse, dark area" which the team thought may be the mooring, but in fact was the remains of the ship. Ironically, Van Dover said they never recovered the mooring.

"Our accidental find illustrates the rewards -- and the challenge and uncertainty -- of working in the deep ocean," Van Dover said.

Artifacts discovered, including glass bottles, a pottery jug and a metal compass, signify that the ship may have roamed the seas during the late 18th or early 19th century. Wooden ship timbers and bricks that may have been used for the ship cook's hearth were also identified.

The location of the wreck lies along the path of the Gulf Stream, according to James Delgado, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Heritage Program.

"The find is exciting but not unexpected," he said in the news release. "Violent storms sent down large numbers of vessels off the Carolina coasts, but few have been located because of the difficulties of depth and working in an offshore environment."

The artifacts were relatively well preserved, a likely product of the near-freezing water temperatures, according to Bruce Terrell, chief archaeologist at the Marine Heritage Program.

The location of the wreck was 180 miles offshore, near an area of the ocean known as the Blake Plateau, Terrell told AccuWeather.

Researching the typology of the ceramic artifacts can help trace the ship's lineage, he said.

Historians and archaeologists can typically date and identify a ship by discerning what time period certain objects, like the bottles, were made. Records kept over time can indicate changes in bottle shape as well as bottle-making technology.

Experts have already begun looking into one of the images of the jugs that were found. Going forward, several more non-intrusive trips, meaning artifacts will not be excavated but just examined, will be needed, but the timetable for further discovery could take up to a year, he said.

Since the depth of the water is too far for a team of divers, submersibles like Alvin will be utilized to take footage for documentation. Some of the vehicles are equipped with manipulator arms that can use a paint brush to gently brush off any of the sediment that builds up on the artifacts, as is this case with this wreck.

"It's definitely something we'd like to know more about," Terrell said.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kevin Byrne at Kevin.Byrne@accuweather.com, follow him on Twitter at @Accu_Kevin. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.