Photo: John Pollack diving near an iconic paddle wheeler

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.

Work Ongoing

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.

  • Paul-Salopek-Ethiopia-Walk3-990x659.jpg

    Out of Eden Walk

    Where will Paul Salopek walk on his seven-year adventure? Find out as he updates us from the field.

  • hub_tease2.jpg

    Feed the World

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

Listen: Explorer Interviews

Listen to Nat Geo Explorer Interviews

Fascinating Conversations From Our Weekly Radio Show—Nat Geo Weekend

  • 00:11:00 Bob Ballard

    Boyd heads out of the studio to join National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Bob Ballard aboard his vessel the E/V Nautilus. Currently in Turkey, Ballard tells Boyd about the many shipwrecks he is finding in the Mediterranean. You can follow Ballard and his team, live as they explore the ocean at www.nautiluslive.org.

  • 00:06:00 Valerie Clark

    National Geographic grantee Valerie Clark licks frogs for a living. As Clark tells Boyd, she’s not looking for Prince Charming. Instead, she is studying how the diet of frogs in Madagascar relates to the toxicity of their skin.

    • 00:11:00 Lee Berger Audio

      National Geographic grantee and paleoanthropologist Lee Berger has been searching for the fossils of human ancestors, but it was his 9-year-old son who stumbled upon the find of a lifetime: a partial skeleton that may very well change our understanding of the genus Homo.

    • 00:07:59 Brad Norman

      Some go swimming with dolphins or stingrays, Brad Norman, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and marine conservationist, talks about swimming with the largest fish in the world: the whale shark. Norman speaks with Boyd about his research concerning whale shark habitats, tracking and conservation.

    • 00:11:00 Losang Rabgey

      National Geographic Emerging Explorer Losang Rabgey has found her life's work in strengthening rural communities on the Tibetan plateau, which includes building schools to educate local students. Rabgey joins Boyd with updates on the successful work of Machik, the non-profit she founded and now directs.

    • National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert capture astounding images of African wildlife in their beautiful films. The Jouberts live in the African bush alongside the lions and other animals they profile. They explain to Boyd that, because big cats are in such danger, their work is now focused on conservation projects such as the Cause an Uproar program.

    • 00:11:00 Nathan Wolfe

      National Geographic Emerging Explorer and virus hunter Nathan Wolfe says there is a disease pandemic lurking just around the corner. But, we can prepare ourselves.  Wolfe says there are even ways to harness and use the power of viruses. Wolfe joins Boyd to talk about his new book, The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, which is changing the way we think about viruses.

      • National Geographic Emerging Explorer Joshua Ponte was a successful young English entrepreneur when, over breakfast one morning, his eye fell on a newspaper ad that said "Gorilla Reintroduction Program, Gabon." His life has never been the same since. Pursuing his passion for conservation, Ponte moved to a central African forest where 13 orphaned gorillas were being studied. Boyd talks with Ponte about the joys and dangers of raising young gorillas.

      • 00:11:00 Wade Davis

        How did the death and destruction of World War One lead young British climbers to attempt an epic conquest of Mount Everest? National Geographic Explorer in Residence Wade Davis answers that question in his new book “Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.” Davis joins Boyd in the studio to chat about the book.

      • 00:11:00 Sylvia Earle

        National Geographic Explorer in Residence Sylvia Earle has been deeper undersea than any other woman. Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, author, lecturer, field scientist, and an inspiration to women around the world. She recently received the Royal Geographic Society’s 2011 Patron’s Medal. Boyd talks to Earle about some of her early dives in the Jim Suit.

      • (blurb here)
      • 00:08:00 Bruce Bachand

        Many people picture archaeology as the swashbuckling adventure portrayed in the Indiana Jones trilogy. But in reality, it can be much more tedious than discovering the Holy Grail and fighting Nazis. National Geographic grantee Bruce Bachand has been meticulously sewing a 3,000 bead necklace back together in Mexico after discovering a pre-Olmec burial site that housed a tribal chief and his wife, undisturbed for several centuries.

      • 00:09:00 Catherine Jaffee

        Turkey is famed for its honey, which is music to Boyd's ears—he has a notorious sweet tooth. He visited National Geographic grantee Cat Jaffee, a beekeeper who left her job in Washington, D.C. to make honey in rural Turkey. She says that bees harvest pollen from their surroundings: the best honey comes from bees with natural surroundings, large meadows, rather than urban environments. Most people, Jaffee says, eat honey that is basically a synthetic mix of sugars from all over the world.

      • Most of human history existed before the advent of GPS technologies that can pinpoint where we are at any time. National Geographic Fellow and ethnonavigation expert, Elizabeth Lindsey has taken it upon herself to understand what it was like for Polynesian explorers to colonize tiny, remote islands across the south Pacific Ocean. To better appreciate the skills it takes to study the clouds and winds in search of land, Lindsey plans to join a team of Polynesian women who are island-hopping using traditional methods: no GPS, no cellphones and no compass.

      • 00:11:00 Lucy Cooke

        Lucy Cooke