What happens to the artifacts we recover?
Our primary purpose is to educate the public, especially the teenaged youth of our state, about our very rich maritime heritage, in our state history, here in North Carolina. In a world where many teenaged youths are just looking for their next drug high, we believe that if we can show them something better, a path to a better life and a purpose to work for, then we have completed our mission. We have seen lives changed as a result of the hard, dangerous work that we do, and we are thankful for that!
People who see the interpretive exhibits we sponsor or build are usually not divers and we want them to enjoy and appreciate the history on display as much as we did on the wreck itself. The artifacts are wonderful but are not complete without the accompanying video and photos, sitemap and research material that make up the proper interpretive exhibit. We strive to tell the entire story in keeping with proper archaeological standards.
In general, the artifacts we recover fall into two groups, endangered and diagnostic. Diagnostic artifacts are pieces with important markings or features that will lead us to further information about the wreck itself. A “maker’s mark” on the bottom of a simple coffee mug will date the entire wreck. It can also give us the location, date, and factory that manufactured the mug, which in turn, directs us to even more information and research materials. This is an important part of the research done on each shipwreck project and vital to gathering all the details we need to tell the story of the wreck as completely as possible.
Endangered artifacts are pieces of history that could easily be looted by a diver or by other means. It is small and easily grabbed and taken away only to end up on someone’s mantle where improper or nonexistent conservation work will lead to its destruction in only months. Then the piece is lost forever. Some artifacts work loose from the wreck itself due to wave action or even being bumped loose by a large fish. The piece will fall to the bottom, rolling around in the surf until it is completely washed away from the wreck and disconnected from its very provenience. We will recover such an artifact and place it on display with its other collection mates, for the public to marvel and appreciate.
State-owned Waters vs. Open-water Shipwrecks
Our shipwreck projects that are located in State-owned waters (three miles or less from shore) are permitted to us by the NC State Office of Archaeology and all artifacts recovered from this site are the property of the state. Every single artifact is assigned a permanent number, conserved, stabilized, and recorded in a project database. This information is included with our End-Of-Project report that is sent to the NC Underwater Archaeology Branch to be archived and added to their library. The artifacts are then either temporarily stored at the Branch Facility or more likely, taken by SIDCO Conservation Facility personnel to one of the NC Maritime Museums or other accredited institutions. With the help of exhibits technicians, the artifacts are assembled into interpretive exhibits, along with the research materials we have compiled.
Shipwreck projects that lie in offshore waters follow basically the same series of events except there is no state ownership. The project artifacts are delivered to an accredited museum for display in an interpretive exhibit with the accompanying research from the project. Then the option of ownership is usually passed on to the museum on a case-by-case basis. Every single artifact we recover ends up in a museum somewhere in the state, for the display and viewing by the people of North Carolina, to whom the history belongs.