Shifting Sands On Cumberland Island National Seashore Reveal Remains Of Mid-1800s Shipwreck

NPS archaeologists Michael Seibert and Eric Bezemek prepare the shipwreck for documentation. Digging away the sand from the nearly 80-foot-long wreck revealed its ribs and planking. NPS photos.

High seas and pounding surf have revealed a piece of the past at Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia, where a shipwreck thought to date to the mid-1800s has surfaced.

Whether the remains are those of a freighter hauling corn, tobacco or cotton, or maybe a blockade runner with Civil War ties, is not yet known, and might never be. Seashore officials say the remains depict a craft roughly 80 feet long. Unfortunately, there are few clues as to the ship's provenance.

"This is only a section of the boat and is not the full craft. Due to the broken nature of the wreck, archaeologists are unable to determine the function. However, based on the boat’s construction, it is believed that it was built in the mid-19th century," read a release from the Seashore. "The two most prominent features uncovered are the 30+ ribs and approximately 10 pieces of the outer shell planking. The wooden timbers are fastened together by pegs or treenails."

So far archaeologists have been unable to identify the wood used in the construction, but hope they'll be able to both identify the wood and date it from samples they took. That information could help them narrow down the date of the shipwreck.

Somewhat interestingly, while the Seashore was designated back in 1972, this is the first wreck discovered on its shores since then. Still, "historical records document several shipwrecks off Cumberland Island," the Seashore notes. "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."

After excavating part of shipwreck so they could take measurements and photographs, archaeologists buried the wreck again in the sand for its protection, the release noted, adding that "this is a common practice for protecting shipwrecks along the Atlantic barrier island coast. Wooden objects which have been submerged in a marine environment will quickly deteriorate once exposed to the air."

Seashore officials also have not specifically identified where the wreck is located. Archaeological resources are protected under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979. In part, this act provides special protection to archaeological resources by prohibiting the unauthorized removal or excavation of archaeological resources.