Coastal waters uncovered a potential piece of Civil War-era history discovered last week by a visiting diplomat on a Hilton Head Island beach.
Sea Pines resident Sally Peterson was walking on the beach in Sea Pines with her brother, Peter Thomson, and his family, who were visiting for the holidays. Thomson is a Fiji diplomat and the South Pacific island nation's permanent representative to the United Nations.
During their walk, Thomson discovered what appears to be the ribs of an old wooden boat protruding from thick mud, like bones in a partially uncovered grave, on a shell beach opposite the 18th tee at Harbour Town Golf Links.
An eight- to 10-foot portion is exposed, including the holes for the wooden pegs that held the boat together and what Peterson believes are ballast stones in the hull's remains.
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The rest of the boat is buried in mud. "It must have been preserved because of that," Peterson speculated.
"It became obvious from looking at it that it was an old boat," she added. "It looked like something that was being unearthed by the water. It was obviously something special."
Pictures of the wreck were shown to a local boat builder, who said the boat dates to the late 1800s to early 1900s, Peterson said. The boat builder declined to be identified.
Peterson said Indian pottery shards have been found along the beach, but she never expected to stumble across something as substantial as the remains of a boat.
"We're very interested to find out what it was about -- how big it is, how old it is and what it was used for," she said. "Finding out that information will be exciting. This was something special to come across in that situation. This was a wonderful find."
Peterson said an attempt to contact the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina in Columbia was unsuccessful because officials were on vacation. The research institute serves as the state's cultural resource management agency.
State archaeologist Jonathan Leader said he has not seen the boat or been contacted about it. Based on its description, it could date to the Civil War, he said.
"Finding something like this along the beach is not unusual. It's actually fairly common. South Carolina was very active in coastal shipping, fishing and maritime travel," Leader said. "There weren't a lot of roads in the state up to and prior to the Civil War. Any major movement of goods and services tended to be up river and along the coast."
The wreck is protected under the S.C. Underwater Antiquities Act and must be left alone, he said.
"We appreciate (Peterson's) interest and encourage people to report these things," he said. "We need to make sure an important part of maritime history for South Carolina is protected."