Sea Pines shipwreck still mystery 3 years after it was discovered

dburley@islandpacket.comApril 11, 2014 

The rotting ribs of an old wooden vessel protrude from the sand and oyster shells on the bank of Calibogue Sound on April 10, 2014, not far from the 18th tee of Harbour Town Golf Links. In 2011, a Sea Pines resident discovered the Civil War-era shipwreck.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

Golfers will be the main attraction on the 18th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links next week.

But if the tide is right and the patrons at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing look closely, they might catch a glimpse of a relic tucked on the edge of the marsh beyond the tee box.

An old wooden boat discovered by a Sea Pines resident in 2011 still sits where it was found, covered in sand on a shell beach that parallels the hole.

Ashley Deming, a maritime archeologist with the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, has led a summer course at the boat since 2012.

She said there is still not much known about it. It's not even clear what era it is from, or if it is a military or merchant ship. Other state archaeologists have guessed that, based on the boat's description, it dates to the mid-19th century.

So far, Deming's students have unearthed a quarter section of the bow, but changing tides and other projects have kept her from digging out the entire ship, she said.

"There's a chance we haven't even made it halfway," she said. "Or this could be just a piece of a larger shipwreck from farther offshore in the sound. ... We don't know."

Part of the delay has been self-imposed, she said.

Buried in the sand, the ship is essentially fossilized and an ideal project for budding archaeologists. There's no rush to dig it out because "this is a great learning opportunity for students."

Slow and steady is the way of archaeological digs, she said.

Deming tells students to dig layer by layer, so any evidence found -- such as an artifact near the bottom of the boat -- can be put into context.

"If it's in the bottom of the boat, it probably came with the wreck," she said. "If we find it near the top, we might have to assume it washed in."

Other investigations, including sunken Civil War-era Stone Fleet ships found off the coast of Charleston, will keep her class away from the wreck this summer, she said.

"We want to take our time and make sure we don't miss anything, but we should be back in 2015."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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