Photograph by Donnie Reid
About the Project
Led by NGS/Waitt grantee John Pollack, a small group of volunteer archaeologists and divers associated with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) is working with the Yukon government to locate and document century-old stern-wheeler wrecks dating back to the Klondike Gold Rush.
In 2008 the Yukon River Survey team discovered an iconic paddle wheeler, lost in 1901, in 40 feet (12 meters) of water on Lake Laberge. This small steamboat, the A.J. Goddard, is the sole remaining example of small stern-wheelers that were carried in pieces over mountain passes from Skagway, Alaska, to ferry men, supplies, and scows in the headwaters of the Yukon River. Prefabricated in San Francisco and Seattle, the A.J. Goddard was assembled on the shores of Lake Bennett during the winter of 1897-98. It foundered in a fall storm in 1901, sinking at the north end of Lake Laberge and killing three men.
It took more than two decades of searching by local diver Doug Davidge to find the ship, but in 2008 he and an INA team pinpointed a promising target. Davidge and Pollack returned in June 2009—just 48 hours after the ice disappeared from the site—to make the first dives ever on this wreck. They found an intact 49.9-foot (15.2-meter) vessel lying upright in 37° F (2.8° C) water.
The team, which includes expert archaeologists, a bush-wise local, and a professional underwater photographer, is performing a photo-inventory and will survey the ship and recommend conservation measures to the Yukon Government.
A.J. Goddard Finds
There was no gold on this small vessel, but there was a wealth of information as to how the rivermen of the era lived and worked. The wreck and its debris field contain a diverse collection of tools, cooking utensils, and personal effects of the crew. These artifacts appear to be the contents of a self-sufficient, working stern-wheeler on which the crew fed themselves en route and periodically had to repair their ship on a remote wilderness river. Woodworking and blacksmithing tools are abundant and include a small forge, anvil, workbench, and hand tools. Cooking gear is the second dominant category of artifact. A small cookstove is on board, and a collection of enamelware, cook pots, and bottles lie scattered around the ship. Several long bones of a large mammal were found adjacent to the ship, suggesting fresh meat was on the menu. Personal artifacts associated with the crew include boots and the remains of a coat.
There were clues about the ship's demise 108 years earlier. The main deck has ten hatches arranged in five pairs, and firewood is visible below deck within the forward holds. None of the hatch covers remain, suggesting they were not reliably secured and they washed away as the vessel foundered. Two axes lie on the deck at the bow where they were dropped after the crew cut away a barge in tow. One firebox door is open and stuffed with unburned wood, suggesting the men tried in vain to restart the boiler fire as the ship went down.
The wreck and its debris field are protected by territorial and federal law and all INA work conducted on Yukon wreck sites must be done under archaeological permit. Further work is planned for 2010.
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Fascinating Conversations From Our Weekly Radio Show—Nat Geo Weekend
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