Artifacts recoveries on shipwreck just in time to mark anniversary of sinking

By McClatchy - Oregon Live

There are hundreds of shipwrecks along North Carolina's treacherous coast, and some, like those of the ironclad USS Monitor or the Blackbeard flagship Queen Anne's Revenge, are nothing short of famous.

But that of the hapless Civil War blockade runner Modern Greece, which sits just beyond the surf near Fort Fisher, is in many ways the most important of all.

The wreck, which was excavated 50 years ago, led to the creation of the state underwater archaeology unit that studies the other wrecks.

It led to a state law to protect historic wreck sites from pilfering. It yielded such a large trove of artifacts that many have been used in experiments that advanced the tricky science of how to preserve historical treasures found underwater.

As the first of about 30 blockade runners sunk along the coast near Wilmington while trying to bring arms and vital commodities to the Confederate states, it has an iconic status in North Carolina and maritime history.

And this week _ just in time for events marking the 150th anniversary of its sinking _ thousands of artifacts from the Modern Greece were recovered from underwater.

For the second time.

A team of East Carolina University graduate students and University of North Carolina, Wilmington interns sponsored by the Friends of Fort Fisher waded into the muck of half-century-old storage tanks at the Department of Cultural Resources' Underwater Archaeology Branch facility on the grounds of the historic fort.

Their job: pull out the artifacts, clean and catalog them and put them in indoor tanks where they could finally begin to receive modern preservation treatment.

"It was just the right time to do this," said Mark Wilde-Ramsing, deputy state archaeologist and head of Underwater Archaeology Branch. "There are a lot of reasons, but the bottom line is it would be a bit irresponsible to just leave it there. We don't even know what we have there."

In June, the state plans a seminar on the Modern Greece and blockade runners. It also will throw open the labs at Fort Fisher so the public can see the artifacts and what it takes to preserve them.

New signs on the beach and roadside pointing out the wreck site are planned, and a researcher working with the state is seeking a federal grant to perform a full survey of the 30 blockade-runner wrecks off Wilmington, as well as facilities on land to put it all in proper context.

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North Carolina ironclad USS Monitor Blackbeard flagship Queen Anne's Revenge Modern Greece