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Science aids inventory of Florida Keys shipwrecks

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Twilight of the Gods
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« on: June 14, 2009, 04:31:03 am »

Science aids inventory of Florida Keys shipwrecks
Archaeologists and biologists cooperate to explore, date and map the hundreds of shipwrecks off the South Florida coast.

Associated Press

About 18 feet underwater off Key Largo lies a mystery ship, one of hundreds in just these waters.

Its cargo, name and destination are unknown. All that remains of the wreck are planks of timber, iron rods and some pieces of coal.

State underwater archaeologist Roger Smith and his team will spend about two weeks mapping the site that has become a bountiful coral reef. In time they will also try to piece together what ship this was, its voyage and whether it should be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.

The work is part of an ongoing effort to take an inventory of Florida's shipwrecks and artifacts, which number around 300 off Key Largo alone.

Named the ''Marker 39'' wreck for its location just two miles off Key Largo, the remains hold many clues that could help unlock its secrets. A buoy has marked the spot since 1863, which could help date the shipwreck because it could be when the ship ran aground that people realized the area was dangerous.

Iron fasteners held the wood together and from what is left, it looks like it was about 150 feet long. So far, archaeologists are hypothesizing it was a barge because of its long, flat deck. Smith predicts it dates back to the 19th century, when there was a bustling business of carrying cargo, including coal, lumber and manufactured goods, up and down Florida's coast. It may have been a steam ship because of the iron rods and steam pipes that were found on it.
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Twilight of the Gods
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« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2009, 04:31:44 am »


''The Keys is a trap for ships, always has been, always will be,'' Smith said. ``There is all of this maritime history in the Keys. All these shipwrecks represent episodes in that history.''

The wreck was found in the 1990s by two volunteers diving along the channel between the shore and the large coral reef that runs parallel to the Keys.

Experts say there are about 400 ship groundings a year, some due to captain inexperience, some to weather and changes in water depth.

Smith says that when he dives a wreck, he is always looking for man-made objects to tell the story. He believes salvors of the 19th century may have beaten him to any on this wreck. Some salvors were fishermen and they would wait for a ship in trouble, then go get the goods to keep a share.

''The law was, if you were the first salvor to negotiate with the captain, you got to be the salvor,'' he said.

In a Florida Master Site File, all the state's historic sites are listed for inventory. This wreck will get a number there.

The group has created a photo mosaic of the site. They will also map the wreck and shoot video for people who will never dive it.
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Twilight of the Gods
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« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2009, 04:32:27 am »


They will then take the pieces of coal they have brought ashore to the Florida Geological Survey and search in the archives of admiralty courts to see if they can find out what ship this is.

''Sometimes you never do find the name of a ship,'' Smith said.

This particular ship is not very well-preserved. It's exposed to the elements and not totally buried.

''Part of all this is detective work and making conclusions based on hard evidence,'' he said. ``You have to let the shipwreck tell its own story. Sometimes it's tempting to hypothesize what a site might be.''

There are several references to ships going down in the area, said Brenda Altmeier, program support specialist at NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

She says she ''can't help but think of the people aboard . . . just the fear and panic,'' she said.

This project is a partnership between the Division of Historical Resources and the sanctuary.

''It's merging two sciences. it's biology merging with archaeology,'' she said.

So far it's known this wasn't a sailing ship, senior archaeologist Franklin Price said. It had no ballast or evidence of rigging to hold up a mast or sails.

Smith said there are many filters archaeologists have to get past when analyzing a wreck, including time, the sea and animals.

But the wreck has also become a breeding ground for new life. It is a bustling reef with hard and soft coral and home to many different kinds of fish including a great barracuda, a scorpion fish and even a spotted eagle ray.

Smith has also devised a seminar to educate dive trainers about respecting Florida shipwrecks.

''We find, as archaeologists, that there isn't any future, it's just the past repeating itself,'' he said.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2009, 04:35:50 am by Twilight of the Gods » Report Spam   Logged
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