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
  • Video – Identifying the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck

    Join Dr. Nathan Richards and graduate students from the ECU Program in Maritime Studies as they uncover the identity of the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck!  

  • How Technology is Bringing the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck Back to the Surface

    by India Mackinson,  Intern, UNC Institute for the Environment, Outer Banks Field Site With each passing day, new technologies revolutionize yet another field or industry, and the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck project is no exception. While the research team did great work on mapping the wreck through snorkeling and meticulous recording, they got some help from another …Read More

  • Refining the Identity of the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck

    By India Mackinson, UNC CSI Intern The mystery of the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck in the Pamlico Sound near Rodanthe is one step closer to being solved. After mapping the site and dredging targeted areas during a month-long field school, Dr. Nathan Richards, head of the UNC Coastal Studies Institute Maritime Heritage Program, and nine East …Read More

  • Uncovering Clues to the Identity of the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck

    By India Mackinson, Intern, UNC Institute for the Environment, Outer Banks Field Site. The Pappy’s Lane shipwreck was an enigma from the start. Going into the project, all Dr. Nathan Richards knew of the wreck was from limited oral history, leaving the name, the type of vessel, and the date of the wreck itself a …Read More

  • Maritime Archaeological Drafting: The Science and Art of Shipwreck Recording

    By India Mackinson – UNC Institute for the Environment, Outer Banks Field Site With technology more accessible than ever before, it’s easy to forget the essentiality of pencil and paper, especially for maritime archaeology. Dr. Nathan Richards and nine East Carolina University graduate students have studied the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck in Rodanthe for two weeks, …Read More