Maritime Heritage


German Submarine U-352

What is Maritime Heritage?

Maritime Heritage refers to the tangible and intangible residues of humankind’s connection to aquatic environments – encompassing sites and artifacts of archaeological, historical, or cultural value and often connected to maritime folklore and seafaring traditions. By uncovering and studying these pieces of history, scholars such as maritime archaeologists and historians provide snapshots of the past for the modern world to understand and reflect upon. Maritime heritage themes also have relevance to present-day coastal communities because of the economic enhancement they may provide via cultural tourism.

The Maritime Heritage in North Carolina


Bow of USS Monitor

For centuries, watercraft have traversed the coastal and inland waterways along America’s coast. Coined the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” North Carolina’s Outer Banks provide a home to one of the densest collections of underwater archaeological sites in the country. Thousands of shipwrecks and innumerable other maritime archaeological resources lie along the coastline and upon the ocean floor from Ocracoke to Nags Head detailing a rich and important part of American history. By researching these sites, scholars have begun the process of trying to understand the interplay of between environmental change and human history in the region. The creation of UNC-CSI has provided a base for maritime research in the northeast part of North Carolina.

UNC-CSI’s Maritime Heritage Program

Formed in 2003 with the creation of the institute, the Maritime Heritage Program (MH) has been working to uncover important historical and cultural resources along the Outer Banks. Thus far, the program has been successful in contributing to the maritime history of the region, state, and nation. The MH Program conducts research in three categories:

a) Short-term investigations focused on particular archaeological sites and historical subjects. These may be undertaken on sites that contain not only archeological significance, but also historical, technical, educational, recreational, or aesthetic significance to coastal communities.

b) Intermediate length projects that hold particular significance to historical events or periods in history, such as the examination of long-term watercraft discard trends, and how this tells us about the economic, technological, and social change that have affected maritime communities [insert link to Abandoned Ships Project website, or ]. The studies help to enrich our understanding of the past, and grasp the potential problems faced by coastal communities.

c) Long-term studies involving theory-based research aimed at answering broad questions about the processes that affect archeological sites (such as the impacts of environmental processes). For instance, examining the management of maritime archaeological sites in dynamic near-shore environments through consideration of geological, biological, and human impacts may have consequences for their long-term use and enjoyment. Such knowledge has implications not only for the rest of the North Carolina coast, but also guidance for management practices around the world.

Many of the research projects undertaken by the MH program are interdisciplinary with other areas of study such as coastal processes, public policy, coastal engineering, and estuarine ecology. By forming partnerships with a diverse array of professional and public institutions, the collaborative efforts of these groups have created innovated research, teaching and outreach initiatives, as well as physical artifact recovery.

An introductory video featuring a lecture series showcasing Maritime Heritage in North Carolina is posted below.  Choose MORE INFORMATION to see the lecture series in its entirety.

Latest News
  • Interdisciplinary Research and Interns on the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck

    By Meghan Savona, First Flight High School Intern A maritime archaeology research project is currently underway in the Pamlico Sound off Rodanthe, NC. The shipwreck known as “Pappy’s Lane Wreck” is being studied because of its potential historical, archaeological, interpretive, and educational significance. While the identity of the Pappy’s Lane Wreck is currently unknown, it’s …Read More

  • Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck Project

    PROJECT OVERVIEW With support from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), graduate students from East Carolina University’s Program in Maritime Studies (ECU) in partnership with the UNC Coastal Studies Institute (UNC CSI), will investigate a shipwreck near the village of Rodanthe as part of a fall field school.  Known locally as “Pappy’s Lane Wreck”, the …Read More

  • Introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology Course April 15-16, 2017

    Are you interested in learning more about the world of underwater archaeology? Want to do more with your diving? Join us for a hands-on course in nautical archaeology taught by professional maritime archaeologists.  The UNC Coastal Studies Institute, in partnership with East Carolina University and Roanoke Island Outfitters, is offering a “Introduction to Foreshore and …Read More

  • ECU, UNC CSI and Partners Win Award for Costa Rica Field Project

    At the January 2017 Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) conference, Dr. Lynn Harris (Maritime Studies/East Carolina University), Dr. Nathan Richards (Maritime Studies/ECU & UNC-Coastal Studies Institute), and Dr. Maria Suarez Toro (Centro De Buceo Embajadores y Embajadoras del Mar) were awarded second place in the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee’s “Diversity Field School Awards” for …Read More

  • Maritime Heritage Report Released – Boats of Currituck: An Analysis of Six Watercraft from the Whalehead Preservation Trust Collection

    In the fall of 2013 and the summer of 2014, graduate students from East Carolina University’s Program in Maritime Students, in collaboration with the UNC-Coastal Studies Institute, carried out a project recording six watercraft from a collection of historical small watercraft collected and maintained by the Whalehead Preservation Trust in Currituck County, North Carolina. This …Read More