The Search For A Legendary Ship

A volunteer marine archaeology organization in Rhode Island could be on the verge of identifying Capt. James Cook’s Endeavour.

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A full-size, seaworthy replica of HMS Endeavour is based at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sidney. Credit: Australian National Maritime Museum.
A full-size, seaworthy replica of HMS Endeavour is based at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sidney. Credit: Australian National Maritime Museum.

Fall 2016: By Alexandra Witze.

The bottom of Newport Harbor, Rhode Island, is a dim and murky place. Sunlight filtering through the seawater illuminates only five, maybe ten feet of the landscape ahead. But occasionally, a diver swimming above the seafloor can come across something intriguing in the murky gloom—a ballast pile, or even a cannon, from a Revolutionary War-era shipwreck. “Those are the best days,” says Kerry Lynch, an archaeologist with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who has spent many hours diving off Newport. “Those are pretty exciting.”

Her days may be about to get a lot more exciting. Lynch is part of a volunteer group, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, or RIMAP, that has been exploring the Ocean State’s rich underwater heritage for more than two decades. In May they announced that they might be close to identifying one of history’s most legendary ships—the vessel Endeavour, from which eighteenth-century British explorer James Cook mapped parts of Australia.

RIMAP’s archaeologists have been investigating a fleet of thirteen Revolutionary War ships off Newport, which were deliberately scuttled there by British troops in 1778. Based on documents describing the ships’ history, RIMAP’s executive director, D.K. “Kathy” Abbass, believes one of the thirteen is the Endeavour, which had been re-purposed and re-named after its epic voyage with Cook.

Summary. Read More in our Fall 2016 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 3. Browse Content of this Issue: Fall 2016.

Browse Articles Summaries from our last issue, Summer 2016 .

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Click To Explore Our Bonus Online Images For The Story Below:

RIMAP divers prepare the underwater frame to take photos of the piece of a ship's structure off the sandy beach in Newport's  Brenton Cove in March 1997. The divers (from left) are Bob Benway, Mark Munro, and Joe Zarzynski.  Credit: RIMAP © 1997
RIMAP divers prepare the underwater frame to take photos of the piece of a ship’s structure off the sandy beach in Newport’s Brenton Cove in March 1997. The divers (from left) are Bob Benway, Mark Munro, and Joe Zarzynski. Credit: RIMAP © 1997
RIMAP members (from left) Sprague Theobald, William Burns, Greg Silpe, and senior field supervisor Kerry Lynch discuss their research. Credit: RIMAP, copyright 2007 RIMAP
RIMAP members (from left) Sprague Theobald, William Burns, Greg Silpe, and senior field supervisor Kerry Lynch discuss their research. Credit: RIMAP, copyright 2007 RIMAP
 RIMAP’ executive director Kathy Abbass (center, wearing hat) documents the remains of a vessel exposed by an eroding sand dune. Credit: RIMPA, copyright 2010 RIMAP
RIMAP’ executive director Kathy Abbass (center, wearing hat) documents the remains of a vessel exposed by an eroding sand dune. Credit: RIMPA, copyright 2010 RIMAP

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