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Date published: 1/21/2013
SAVANNAH, Ga.--The odd skeleton of wooden beams barely poked above the sands, exposed just enough by wind and tides for a beachcomber to report the curious find.
Fred Boyles, National Park Service superintendent on Georgia's Cumberland Island, says the buried beams could have easily been overlooked as ordinary flotsam washed ashore on the beach. But archaeologists called to the remote Atlantic coastal island spent days last week unearthing an astonishing find: an old wooden shipwreck held together with wooden pegs, its backstory lost in time.
"Someone had the foresight to say that doesn't just look like normal wood, and thank goodness they called us," Boyles said of the island resident, who stumbled on the wreck around Christmas. "Frankly, had I been driving on the beach, I would've ridden right by."
This 80-foot-long fragment of history, with some of its wooden siding still intact, is believed to date to the mid-1800s based on its construction, said Michael Steiber, a National Park Service archaeologist trying to crack the mystery of the ship's origin.
It might have been delivering supplies to Southern plantation owners who grew cotton, corn and rice on Cumberland Island for decades after the Revolutionary War, Steiber said. Or perhaps it was a Confederate blockade runner that sank during the Civil War.
There is no shortage of potential suspects on Cumberland Island, a place steeped in history. The park service manages the island as a federally protected wilderness.
"This has been a high-traffic area ever since the Spanish and the British started colonizing," Steiber said. "There are a lot of possibilities."
The archaeologists found no telltale artifacts amid the wreckage that might betray its secrets. Nor was there any trace of a name imprinted on the rotting wood frame, which measures roughly 80 feet-by-20 feet. It apparently came from the ship's midsection.