Explore North Carolina's Underwater Archaeology History at Kure Beach

An 1862 painting of the Modern Greece

Editor's Note – In the summer of 2012, Ansley Wegner, a historian with our Research Branch, wrote a series of blog posts highlighting various historical destinations around the state. This is the first post in that series. You can see all Wegner's posts on this page. 

Underwater archaeology in North Carolina has received a lot of press lately thanks to the Queen Anne’s Revenge project.  But the state’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) actually got its start because of a ship that went down 150 years ago this month—the Confederate blockade runner Modern Greece.

A rare tour of the UAB's lab, which is located in Kure Beach, will take place June 27. The free open house will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a special noontime program at the Oceanside Gazebo at nearby Fort Fisher State Historic Site. It will be a cool chance to see some of the thousands of artifacts recovered from the Modern Greece.

Nathan Henry, Assistant State Archaeologist, displays an Enfield rifle from a treatment tank that holds many more

The Sinking and Raising of Modern Greece

On the morning of June 27, 1862, the doomed blockade runner was spotted near the eastern entrance to the Cape Fear River.  Heavy fire from federal ships forced the ship aground. To keep the cargo of clothing, cutlery, ammunition and thousands of rifles out of Union hands, soldiers at Fort Fisher opened fire on the stranded vessel.

Read More About Modern Greece

Navy divers prepare to explore the wreck in 1962The Modern Greece was thought destroyed until 1962, when a storm uncovered the wreckage. Divers found much of the vessel and its cargo intact. Historians and archaeologists from our agencya and the United States Navy joined forces to recover the artifacts.

When private companies started trying to salvage artifacts, the state stepped in. A landmark court case led to a statute saying that North Carolina has sovereign right to:

all shipwrecks, vessels, cargoes, tackle, and underwater archaeological artifacts which have remained unclaimed for more than 10 years.

Artifacts from the Modern Greece allow people to better understand blockade running and its importance to the Confederacy.  The ship has two anniversaries this year – 150 years since it sank and 50 years since it was discovered.

A highway historical marker commemorating the shipwreck and its importance to underwater archaeology will be erected later this year.

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