Investigating the wreck of the Neva

Created by Evguenia Anichtchenko and Dave McMahan

On January 8, 1813, the three-masted sloop Neva was nearing the city of Novo-Arkhangelsk (Sitka), the capital of Russian America. The voyage was hard on the ship and its people: after departing the Russian port of Okhotsk at the end of August, the crew battled storms, lack of water, and sickness. Thirteen people died at sea and the rest were worn out by the long voyage and happy to reach their destination at last. But just when the journey was finally drawing to its end, disaster struck: the ship ran into submerged rocks and sunk in a matter of hours. Twenty-eight survivors reached the shore of a nearby bay, where they camped in the heart of the cold and damp south-east Alaskan winter, until a rescue party arrived three weeks later. The story of the Neva shipwreck became one of the best known maritime disasters in Alaska, partly because of the historical significance of the ship. Well-known for its participation in the first Russian round-the-world voyage of 1803-1805, the Neva also played a crucial role in battle of Sitka, and was reputedly cursed by a Tlingit shaman, who foretold its sinking near Sitka. For two centuries the story of the Neva generated legends and rumors of sunken treasures. In 2012, a collaborative project between the Sitka Historical Society, the National Science Foundation, and a team of international scholars launched an investigation of the shipwreck site.  The research brought together Tlingit oral tradition, maritime records from Russia and England, and archaeological evidence from the wreck site. Follow the links below to learn about the history of the ship, archaeological discoveries, and different cultural perspectives involved in investigating colonial sites in indigenous ancestral lands and waterways. 

Sitka: tides of history

The ship

1st Russian round-the-world voyage and battle of Sitka

Return to Alaska and final voyage

Discovery

Archaeology above and below the waves

Project legacy

Curriculum