The floors of the world’s oceans are littered with the corpses of past attempts to cross the deep, dark oceans which make up 70% of the surface of our planet. The rotting skeletons of thousands, if not millions of ships lie broken at the bottom of thousands of feet of black, cold water – a terrifying image on a macro level. Despite their macabre nature, shipwrecks are home to many of the world’s lost treasures and mysterious wonders. While we will likely never discover most of them, some wrecked vessels and fragments are regularly unearthed (unoceaned?) due to erosion, human activity, or changes in currents or tides, offering a rare and revealing window on human history. Beachgoers in north Florida got to peer through that window this week when what has been described as the “Holy Grail of shipwrecks” washed ashore in Ponte Vedra Beach. What might this wreck reveal about Florida’s past?
The 47-foot section of hull was found by Julia Turner and her son. “We were going to look for conch shells and shark teeth, and we find a shipwreck,” Turner said. “Pretty special.” Tool marks and Roman numerals have been found etched into the wood which is decently preserved given its age. The wreck is believed to date to between the 1700s and 1800s. Little else is known, and archeologists are scrambling to study the wreck before the ocean reclaims it. Researchers have been barred from removing the fragments from the beach, as the wreck has been deemed to legally belong to the state of Florida.
The shipwreck is being examined and studied by the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP). St. Augustine, Florida is just south of the beach on which the shipwreck was found, and is recognized as the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States. Archaeological relics and structures dating back to the 16th century Spanish are commonly found throughout the area. LAMP’s director of maritime research Chuck Meide called the shipwreck “amazing,” adding that the only thing known at the time is that the wreck is likely a section from a large sailing ship. No treasure chests or mysterious ancient devices yet.