Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Scuba shop owner finds history in the sea

May 06, 2006

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. --In a coastal town, history is often hidden under water.

In his 16 years running Portsmouth Scuba, owner and diver Jay Gingrich has become an amateur historian and collector of undersea artifacts.

"You cant live around here and not just be absorbed by everything around us," said Gingrich, 52. "When you find things that are centuries old under water, it begs to be discovered and understood."

Gingrich said his latest find is a 400-year-old Spanish earthenware olive jar. Part of the original glaze still covers the small pitcher.

Equipped with a book on Spanish shipwrecks, Gingrich points to a similar piece dated 1558.

"Think about how much its seen," he said. "Youre the first person thats touched that in hundreds of years. You think about, who was the last person to touch it? What was it like then? What kind of day was it? Are you related to that person?"

Other finds include wooden cannonballs, pieces of ships, glass bottles from the 18th century, Russian coins from the 1920s, 300-year-old clay pipes and several earthenware containers.

Gingrich estimates he has more than 1,000 pieces at his home and in the store, including a 500-pound ship rudder that serves as a table and Native American arrowheads possibly a millennia old.

"Now, its so easy to jump in the car and drive down the road, but 400 or 500 years ago, the rivers were the highways," he said. Not unlike today, travelers often threw their trash overboard, he noted.

"Most people dont realize theres another world out there," he said. "And its just there at their feet."


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