Monday, April 17, 2006

 

Mystery in the sand

_________________________________________________________________

Cape Cod Times
By Eric Gershon
April 13, 2006



(Staff photo by Steve Heaslip)
Timbers buried at Craigville Beach
were found last December by town
workers digging drainage pits. David
Trubey, an assistant to the state
archeologist, removes debris from a
timbered structure yesterday.

CENTERVILLE - When he first saw them last winter, Victor Mastone, the state's chief underwater archaeologist, didn't think much of the rotting timbers found just beneath the sand at Craigville Beach.

''I was very dismissive,'' he said yesterday at the beach, where town workers found numerous fragments of a still unidentified heavy-timbered structure while digging drainage pits last December.

But closer scrutiny of the physical evidence, and testimony from local old-timers who remembered playing on a wooden wreck at Craigville as children, have convinced Mastone the timbers belong to a ship.

Now, the big question is, ''What ship?''

''Until we put a name to it,'' he said, ''we'll still be curious.''

So far, the massive timbers, which show signs of fire, have been stingy with clues. None contains any letters or numbers, much less a name or home port. No human artifacts found nearby seem related in any way, according to Mastone. ''We're getting bits and pieces,'' he said.

The current evidence is consistent with a three- or four-masted sailing ship measuring 200 to 300 feet long and built in the mid- to late-19th century, according to Mastone. He thinks the timbers found at Craigville - thicker than telephone poles and fastened with long, rusty spikes - probably washed ashore long ago, the detritus of a ship that wrecked elsewhere.

Mastone shaped his theory with help from photographs published in The Barnstable Patriot, a local weekly newspaper that has closely followed the story of the mysterious timbers, he said. A Hyannis woman, Priscilla Houston, supplied the paper with at least one picture that purports to show her parents on a piece of a wreck at Craigville sometime before 1911.

Mastone, director of the state board of underwater archaeological resources, said he'll keep studying the remains of the wreck, but only as time allows. The timbers are more a curiosity than a potential source of new knowledge about maritime history, he said, calling them archaeologically unimportant.

''I can't use (the remains) to describe the vessel in any more detail,'' he said.

Yesterday morning, Mastone and an assistant, David Trubey, dusted and measured a rotted portion of what Mastone identified as a piece of the ship's keelson, a backbone-line structure that would have run the ship's length. Buried less than two feet beneath the sand and closer to the beach parking lot than to Nantucket Sound, the fragment measured 13½ feet long, 5 feet wide, and 12 inches thick at its largest section.

Barring an extraordinary new discovery, Mastone said he would probably not visit Craigville again, and would not urge the town to preserve the remaining fragments.

John Jacobson, an engineer with the Barnstable Department of Public Works, said the timbers will be hauled to the town landfill.


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