Friday, September 24, 2004


Ranger finds gem in old wreck



For those who've been excited about finding pocket change or an old spoon on the beach, imagine pouring sand out of an old, washed-up bottle and discovering a diamond plopped into your palm.

National Park Service (NPS) Cultural Resource Management Specialist Doug Stover did just that after Hurricane Isabel, but he hasn't retired to the Bahamas just yet.

Stover said Park Service rangers now routinely scour the national park beaches after major storms looking for artifacts. There are hundreds of shipwrecks offshore of the Outer Banks, and whatever's submerged in national waters falls under the aegis of the State Underwater Archaeology Office. When the waters get stirred, and the wrecks break up, any washed-up debris is managed by the Park Service.

Stover was walking the beaches on the north end of Ocracoke Island after Hurricane Isabel when he located a huge section of wreck. "It had wooden tree pegs, no metal nails, and looked to be 18th century," he said. A little later he said a wave brought in another piece right in front of him. That one had the nicest solid brass square fittings he had ever seen, and copper plate sheeting, indicative of a warship. "It was two huge finds in one day," he noted, saying they were sections from two different ships.

The park service did a sonogram of the first ship and noticed a small bottle wedged inside. Stover couldn't believe it when the diamond rolled out of it. But duty-bound, he didn't pocket the little beauty. Federal law requires all finds on national park grounds to be turned in, Stover added.

"The bottle was mold-blown and had a hand-finished lip dating back to 1850 to 1900," he said. The gemstone inside the bottle turned out to be a 1.06 carat Herkimer diamond, actually a quartz crystal that looks like a diamond. Park service archeologists said someone may have cut the stone to look like a diamond, but it was more likely that the faceted shape of the quartz was a natural occurrence.

More Finds

Stover has a list of hundreds of items discovered on the beaches, and here are just a few ... a "late archaic stemmed projectile point" (scientific phrase for Indian arrowhead), large mammal bones, iron axe head, oriental porcelain, fossilized whale bones and several coins from the 1800s.

In addition, he said that after Hurricane Alex he found exposed shipwreck timbers , and what appear to be 1 piastre Egyptian coins of uncertain age, but probably from the post-World War II era. He surmised they might have come from one of the German U-Boats sunk off our coast during the war.

Churned waters from the recent hurricanes brought in another ship of apparent 1700's vintage, in Salvo. That was only a couple weeks ago, and Stover said the sands have already 90 percent buried it.Another report claims that several bottles of corked rum with the date, 1750, washed up a couple years ago.

Stover said when park service employees find timbers they document them with photos and drawings, and map the remaining ship fabric in detail. They take wood samples for species identification, radiocarbon dating and tree-ring analysis.

What do you do with it?Stover said he sends anything of consequence to the National Park Service's Regional Archeological Research Center in Tallahassee, FL. He said park service archeologists clean and treat sea-stained woods, and catalog the discoveries. "We have an inventory of everything on loan, and we can call back anything we send down," he added. Many of the artifacts are on display at the various visitor centers in the county.

He added that it's unlawful to collect, excavate, remove and disturb any artifacts on National Park Service property, under the Archeological Resource Protection Act.

Anybody who finds artifacts on the national beaches should contact Stover on 473-2111.

This hull planking is studded with small brass
tacks, square brass fasteners and copper sheeting,
and may be from an early 19th Century military
ship. It washed ashore after Hurricane Isabel right
in front of the National Park Service's Doug Stover,
when he was scouring the beach in search of such
treasures. Stover points out the copper in photo
above. Ed Beckley photo

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