ST. MARYS, Ga. - Cumberland Island National Seashore on Tuesday announced the discovery of a previously undocumented shipwreck located within the boundaries of the seashore.
The wreck, first discovered by Cumberland Island National Seashore maintenance staff, was uncovered during a period of unusually high tides and surf. This is the first documented shipwreck found along the shoreline since the park became a part of the National Park system in 1972.
The park's Resource Management staff made an initial assessment and National Park Service Archaeologists based at the Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee, Fla., conducted excavations last week.
Archaeologists uncovered a piece wooden vessel about 80 feet long. Officials said it's only a section of the boat and is not the full craft. Due to the broken nature of the wreck, archaeologists were unable to determine the function, officials said. However, based on the boat's construction, it is believed that it was built in the mid-19th century, they said.
The two most prominent features uncovered are the 30-plus ribs and about 10 pieces of the outer shell planking. The wooden timbers are fastened together by pegs or tree nails. Archaeologists were unable to identify the wood type used in the construction thus far, but took samples and hope they will be able to date the wood and also identify the wood type. That information will be helpful in determining the age of the vessel, officials said.
Historical records document several shipwrecks off Cumberland Island. However, due to the lack of artifacts and identifying information associated with this piece of shipwreck, archaeologists are unable to determine the shipwreck's name, origin or type of ship. Further historical research will be needed before identifying characteristics are attached to this wreck and it is possible that this wreck will always remain nameless.
After excavating the piece of shipwreck, including measuring, photographing and mapping, the wreck was covered for its protection. This is a common practice for protecting shipwrecks along the Atlantic barrier island coast. Wooden objects that have been submerged in a marine environment will quickly deteriorate once exposed to the air.
"Our mission at Cumberland Island is to protect resources, which come in many different forms," said Fred Boyles, superintendent of Cumberland Island National Seashore. "Cultural resources, such historic buildings, artifacts, documents and even a shipwreck need to be protected for the stories that they reveal of our past."
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