Monday, June 26, 2006


Source of Lewes artifacts narrowed down to two ships


Cape Gazette
By Henry J. Evans Jr.
June 23, 2006

Researchers are closing in on the name of a merchant ship that wrecked within sight of Lewes Beach in the mid-1700s, and this summer divers will continue searching for relics and unraveling the vessel’s past.

The shipwreck is the source of thousands of artifact fragments that washed onto the beach in late 2004. A dredge working on a beach replenishment project struck the wreck as it pumped sand onto the beach.

Dan Griffith, director of the Lewes Maritime Archaeological Project, said a London-based researcher thinks the wreck could be one of two British merchant vessels – the Commerce or the Severen.

He said the date of the shipwreck has been “fine-tuned” to between 1770 and 1775. “That’s about as close as you can get in archaeology,” Griffith said on Tuesday, June 20.

He said they plan to send divers down in August to continue examination of the shipwreck and to recover more artifacts.

Griffith said a researcher in Britain skilled in using insurance company records of shipwrecks, which includes detailed lists of cargo, is working to match cargo with known lost ships to identify the vessel.

A variety of shipwreck artifacts have been reconstructed and analyzed by archaeologists, including china, mineral water bottles, various colored-glass storage containers, military-themed metal miniatures and tobacco pipes.

Griffith said final paperwork to provide the project with a $300,000 U.S. Department of Transportation grant is being processed. He said the money would be used to pay for the dive operation.

He said the project is applying for permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to conduct the dive operation. Griffith said the Department of Transportation grant was approved last month.

“We plan to focus our attention away from the dredged site and off the bow, about amidships, where the mess area and the crew holds would be. We want to see if there’s a different range of cargo in those areas,” Griffith said.

He said depending on weather they plan to have divers work at the wreck site for 30 days. Divers last spring spent 11 days surveying the shipwreck and recovering artifacts, which included two millstones. Griffith said the millstones had never been used, prompting researchers to look through Philadelphia newspapers around the time of the shipwreck looking for businesses advertising ‘new millstones arriving soon.’

Griffith said a $200,000 grant the project received from the state is being used to support research and laboratory operations.

He said many archaeological-dive research companies would probably bid on this summer’s dive job, but with only about eight of them, and possibly two universities, are likely to be final candidates.

Griffith said last year’s dive contractor, Dolan Research based in Newtown Square, Pa., would probably be among the bidding companies.

“They do have experience at the site,” he said.

Griffith said with boating season underway the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs is again notifying the public that access to the shipwreck area near the Roosevelt Inlet is restricted.

Anyone who conducts unauthorized excavating, collecting, destruction or altering of archaeological resources or artifacts in the area is subject to civil penalties of up to $20,000, 30 days imprisonment and confiscation of equipment including boats and cars.

Griffith said the restricted area is monitored by law enforcement agencies including Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Division of Fish and Wildlife officers and the Lewes Police Department.

For additional information on the restricted area, call the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs at 736-7400.


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