DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, Fla. — For weeks, residents and local officials in Daytona Beach Shores have speculated about a mysterious object unearthed after Tropical Storm Nicole eroded much of the beach.
On Tuesday, after a group of approximately 10 Florida archaeologists dug in the sand to uncover the structure, it seems a shipwreck from the 1800s is the most likely conclusion.
“This is definitely a ship,” said Chuck Meide, director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. “And that’s just because of the construction of it. You can see these timbers sticking up, those are massive, and the way they’re arranged, that’s how you build a ship.”
The structure is approximately 80 feet long and mostly made of wood.
Meide, who has been with LAMP for 15 years, and his team were assisted by archaeologists from the Florida Department of State Bureau of Archaeological Research and the Florida Public Archaeology Network.
Although the structure’s characteristics point to a shipwreck, more details about its history are difficult to pinpoint, Meide said.
“We are basically doing an assessment of it, to the best we can, to try to understand what it is,” he said. “We want to understand the nature and condition of the wreck itself. Is it in good shape? Is it deteriorated? How much has survived? We want to understand the cultural, historical parameters of it, how old it is, what country does it come from, what was its purpose. Those are basic questions when it comes to a shipwreck.”
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‘It’s fascinating how much history is here’
Meide said it would be hard to identify the ship by its original name. That would require more research into the museum’s shipwreck database to try to find a possible match.
“I did a quick look in our database, and there is not too much for Daytona, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t ships wrecking here,” Meide said.
Parts of the ship’s measurements might correlate to the size of the ship, he explained, as insurance records from the 1800s would require ships of a certain size to have a certain size frame, or ribs.
“We are looking for any clue,” he said. “We could see tool marks we might be able to identify, but the clock is ticking on a site like this. We’ll do the best we can, but there’s only so much we can get.”
The tide will eventually cover the structure with sand again, Meide said, but knowing it is there is what is important for archaeologists to continue the work in the future.
As Meide and archaeologists scooped the sand off the ship, curious local residents stopped by to watch and learn about the new hidden treasure in their beach.
“It’s fascinating how much history is here” said Debra Smith, who lives close to the site. “We’re seeing sand that hasn’t been exposed for at least 50 to 100 years because of back-to-back hurricanes (Ian and Nicole).”
Richard Reeder, another Daytona Beach Shores resident, said several other residents have been speculating about the object since it was revealed.
“Locals were trying to figure out what it was (after Nicole),” Reeder said. “Some old man said, ‘I know it’s a boat. I can tell it’s the hull of a boat.’ I thought it was probably an old boat dock.”
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‘It’s like a time capsule’
Christopher McCarron, an archaeologist with LAMP for about 10 years, said he has worked on several unknown object sites, digging them out from under the sand on the beach and sometimes even going underwater to find them.
McCarron said part of the joy of working these sites is learning about the object’s historical background.
“It’s like a time capsule, basically,” he said. “It’s the rush to get it done and the rush of getting it done, piecing together the sort of puzzle, because that’s what is, it’s a puzzle for us to figure out.”
Meide and his team will have to leave the site for now and work with what they gathered this week, as they have other projects to work on as well in St. Augustine.
“As kids, we dug on the beach, we were all doing the same kind of thing,” Meide said. “We were maybe making a shipwreck or a sandcastle, so to have a huge piece of history like this just appear out of nowhere is an amazing thing. It feels like a real privilege to be an archaeologist on a site like this.”