‘Holy Grail’ of Shipwrecks Comes Ashore 200 Years Later, Inscribed with Ancient Numbers
Hundreds of years after meeting its doom beneath the waves, a shipwreck finally makes its way back to the shore, to the surprise of beachgoers.
A sodden shipwreck that is thought to date to between the 1700s to 1800s has been discovered along the sands of Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Johns County, Florida this week. Action News Jax reports that after washing ashore overnight, the waterlogged, partial skeleton of the old ship was discovered in the early morning by Julie Turner and her 8-year-old son, Patrick.
The find has attracted locals and archaeologists alike as it appears to be in well-preserved condition and sporting ancient numerals on its beams.
As the mother and son approached the 48-foot (14.6-meter) section of the wooden hull Wednesday morning, they knew they had found something special.
"We walked and checked it out and immediately knew it was a historical piece of artifact," Turner said.
The large piece of debris was found washed ashore on a beach in Florida. (Source: St Johns County Sherrif’s Office)
But the clock is ticking for the shipwreck. The surging ocean apparently pushed the wrecked hull high up onto the shore. If the historical find isn’t protected soon, though, the high tide could pull it back out to the depths, hiding it for many more centuries.
The waters off the coast of Florida hide centuries-worth of treasures and amazing archaeological finds.
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The Holy Grail of Ships
The ship has not been identified, and it’s unknown what could have brought it to this fate, but Mark Anthony, a treasure hunter and salvager who runs Spanish Main Antiques in St. Augustine, who came down to see the ship’s remains, said it’s extremely rare for such a thing to wash up on a beach.
"To actually see this survive and come ashore. This is very, very rare. This is the holy grail of ship wrecks," Anthony told AJC.com.
The hull was found to be in very good condition. (Image: AJC.com)
Numbers Scratched in the Wood
According to the Florida Times-Union, researchers from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) quickly began studying the remarkably well-preserved hull.
LAMP’s director of maritime research, Chuck Meide told the Florida Times-Union, “This is amazing. It’s a section from a big sailing ship, I’ll tell you that.”
The wreck did not necessarily sink off Ponte Vedra Beach, however. Some sunken wooden vessels can, while underwater, shift hundreds of miles before being pushed onto the shore.
Remarkably, Roman numerals can be seen carved into the wooden ‘ribs’. Wooden pegs (called trunnels) that held it together like nails, protrude from the waterlogged wood. The discoveries on such a wreck are said to be very unique.
Wooden pegs secure the beams and the planks of the hull. (Image: ActionNewsJax.com)
The wooden pegs can be seen on the left, and the Roman numerals were carved into the sides of the hull ribs, seen center. (Screengrab: AJC.com)
Maritime historian Brendan Burke smiled at the find. He told reporters, “It’s really amazing to see somebody’s writing that been buried in the ocean for well more than a century.”
“This is what we were born for,” he added.
It Belongs in a Museum
With photos of the hull, archaeologists can create a 3D model of what it looked like and how the wreck was situated as it came ashore.
The shipwreck is thought to date to the 18th century. People fear it will not last long on the beach. (Image: Action News Jax)
Researchers are waiting on the state to determine the final destination of the shipwreck, and in the meantime, they suggest that treasure hunters and history-buffs alike should admire the artifact (as long as it remains on the beach) from afar and not touch it; while it rests on the beach it is vulnerable.
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Tonya Creamer of St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum tells AJC.com: "This is state land, state beach area, so we just share our knowledge and our information, what we’re documenting right now, with officials and it’s up to them what to do next.”
The Final Fate
Over the decades, researchers have investigated dozens of shipwrecks in St. Johns and nearby counties in Florida. So well preserved a wreck, however, is not the usual.
As the day wore on, the tide threatened to reclaim the ship.
“[Salvager] Marc Anthony was dismayed as he watched the ocean threaten the ship again. He’d been there most of the day and said that already waves had broken off part of the main section of the wreck.
‘That’s what I’m worried about, right there,’ he said as a wave rushed up the sand, covering his shoes and bouncing off the old hull.
He vowed to stay with the wreck as the water rose. ‘If people care so much about history, let’s do what we can to preserve it.”
The surprising shipwreck on a Florida beach. (FirstCoastNews.com)
Julie Turner and her son, having stumbled across a piece of history, recognize their lucky encounter. Turner says, “Being able to see something like this is probably a once in a lifetime thing.”
Top Image: The well-preserved remains of a shipwreck on a Florida beach. (Image: St Johns County Sherriff’s Office)
By Liz Leafloor