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Archaeology: Underwater

shipwreck
Shipwreck at Agassiz Cove, c. 1885.

Rhode Island has more shipwrecks per square mile than any other state. Over 2,000 wrecks, including colonial trading ships, ships of war, and luxury passenger vessels from the 19th century, can be found in state waters.

Rhode Island's underwater archaeology program is administered by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. The Commission maintains files on the location and condition of shipwrecks, and issues permits for their study.

We also supervise, assist, and coordinate with the work of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, a non-profit organization that instructs divers in the basics of underwater archaeology, and then surveys Rhode Island's shipwrecks with the help of these trained volunteers.

Over 400 divers have taken RIMAP's courses to date. These RIMAP-trained divers have surveyed sites in Narragansett Bay ranging from Revolutionary War shipwrecks to a World War II marine railway. In the past few years, RIMAP surveyed the waters around Dutch Island, searched for the Revolutionary War frigate HMS Juno, examined two 19th-century shipwrecks (a barge in Barrington and a passenger vessel in Bristol), and continued work on a Revolutionary War transport vessel.

RIMAP also publishes an annual newsletter. All RIMAP work is conducted under the direction of professional archaeologists, under permit from the RIHPH&HC.

If you know the location of a shipwreck, please let the Commission or RIMAP know. This information will be added to our inventory and will help us in planning for the wise use of the state's historic shipwrecks. For more information, email Charlotte Taylor or call her at (401) 222-4140.