Last Thursday a great article appeared in the local paper, the St. Augustine Record.
The wooden keel of a 19th century merchant ship that wrecked on a St. Johns County beach nearly 200 years ago was recovered Wednesday, according to marine archaeologists.
Chuck Meide, director of the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program, said the heavily weathered keel was first recorded on Anastasia State Park in 2004, but Florida Park Service personnel reported recently that a piece of the keel had been sawn off by an unknown person.
LAMP stepped in to ensure there was no further damage to the relic.
We had actually recovered the keel timber the day before, and were accompanied by both Park personnel and a photographer from the Record. Afterwards, the reporter spent some time with us in the LAMP office getting information for his story.
The keel timber in question had broken free from a known shipwreck that is buried on Conch Island in Anastasia Park which was first recorded by LAMP archaeologists in 2004. It periodically is exposed by weather action. Preserving the wreck “in situ” or in place is actually the best option for this wreck, as it is for many archaeological sites, since its timbers are for the most part protected from deterioration and looters by the dunes covering it. Park rangers are aware of the site and they keep an eye on it, especially when it is exposed. So they were quick to notice after a January nor’easter that not only was the wreck exposed, but that a piece of its keel had broken free.
This piece was now vulnerable to damage from wind, tide, sun, and vandals. In the time it took to gain permission from state archaeologists to recovery and preserve this timber, it was actually sawn in half by unknown person(s). Fortunately they didn’t steal a piece of it, simply cutting it into two pieces and leaving them on the beach (the motive in this crime remains unknown, though it is likely that the culprits weren’t aware of its historical value).
There are clues hidden on this timber that can give us some idea about what kind of ship it was and its role in St. Augustine’s maritime history, as the article points out:
The ship was probably not over 75 feet long. Iron fasteners in the wood and cuts on the wood indicate that the keel had a “scarf joint” a notched place allowing the forward and aft keels to be fastened firmly together into one continuous piece.
Other than that, Meide said, there’s very little information.
“It was fairly typical for a trading ship going up and down the coast. There was a lot of coastal trade in the 1800s,” he said, adding that the ship was built between 1825 to 1850. “That was the peak of wooden ship-building and also was the peak of shipwrecks.”
In the months to come we will be analyzing this timber to better understand its construction and hopefully gain some insight into the ship it came from. We will also be subjecting it to a conservation process to preserve its structure so it can eventually go on display at the Lighthouse or at the Park.
If you haven’t read it yet, check out the article by clicking here. If anyone has any questions about the article or the keel and shipwreck, feel free to post them below and we’ll provide answers.