Update: Wednesday, June 19, 2013. With the initial excavation permit (the first underwater permit in Michigan’s history!) due to expire on Friday, and the French archaeologists scheduled to leave the USA shortly thereafter, time is running out at the Griffon site.
Initially, the sonar scans done last year suggested a large object, around 40-45 feet long, consistent with the Griffon’s descriptions, was buried only about 2 feet below the surface. So this week’s excavations have involved dredging around the alleged bowsprit sticking out of the mud, hopefully uncovering the deck of the Griffon. Unfortunately, what they found first was a near impenetrable layer of quagga mussels, and what the Sonar was picking up earlier seems to be much, much, much, further down. At least another 8-10 feet, if not further. The extra depth forced the Griffon Excavation Team to bring in new excavation equipment that could handle this new depth.
Then, Tuesday night, as they were working near the “Bowsprit”, it suddenly began to wobble. Divers realized that if it had once been connected, it wasn’t any longer, just deeply stuck in the mud. Archaeologists decided to lower it to the lake bed, before it became a safety hazard. So now we have a nearly twenty-foot long…something.
This is both good and bad news. The bad news, obviously, is we’re still no officially closer to the Griffon if they’re excavating the right spot. The good news, however, is multi-fold.
- With the “bowsprit” down, they can now start excavating wider and with…well, one hates to say “with less care” but they certainly can explore a wider area faster than when they were concerned about the “bowsprit” and its stability.
- The “Bowsprit” is now eligible to return to the surface and be fully examined. This will include some really extensive conservation, but would allow it to be examined in controlled conditions.
- The “Bowsprit” has been examined underwater by French archaeologists, who are convinced that it came from ship, and it a bowsprit, though the top, exposed ten feet are eroded from three centuries of sand and water (ya think?). And therefore, SOMETHING interesting is in the area. If she sank in a storm, the Griffon could have broken up, leaving this “bowsprit” where it is, and other items in the area. Even broken up, she would still be archaeologically very valuable
Now, the sand they’re sucking up is being sucked to the fishing vessel “Viking” which is the home base for this expedition. The sand is filtered and checked, before being put back in the Lake. This far, one or possibly two artifacts have come to light: a “cultural artifact”, with no further description, and a 15-inch long slab of blackened wood that shows signs of hand shaping. These artifacts, could, of course, be one and the same.
Ideally, what they’re looking for is a French artifact from the 17th century, which could definitively prove that this place is the site of the Griffon, warranting a larger excavation this year, or a return next. The perfect artifact would be one of Griffon’s guns, as these would be emblazoned with the arms of Louis XIV, proving beyond doubt that the Griffon settled near here.
Three days down, two to go, and of course, what happened today is not yet known—that’ll hit the papers tomorrow.
What happens to the bowsprit now? Who knows? There are two real options: leaving it near the site, and bringing it to the surface.
The exact site of “the Griffon” is a closely guarded secret (in fact, the discoverer, Steve Libert sat on that piece of information for nearly a decade as the rights to this expedition were dragged through court after court after embassy, after court as his trump card. ), but the general location is known. To prevent theft or vandalism, the “bowsprit” may be buried nearby, and they’ll hopefully return next year.
Or, they could bring the Bowsprit to the surface and return with it to shore. The problem here is that wood is full of natural oils. What does oil do in water? Float to the surface. Carbon-dating tests and archaeological surveys already suggest that that “bowsprit” is centuries old whatever it is and wherever it comes from, and over the hundreds of years, most of the oil in the original wood will have seeped out, up and away.
If it’s brought to the surface and allowed to dry out, the wood will essentially crumble to dust. Another 17th century shipwreck, the Swedish Vasa, had to be kept damp until it can be sprayed with polyethylene glycol, which filled and the spaces the oil used to and stabilized the water-logged wood. The Vasa had to be sprayed for seventeen years and dried for nine to allow for full penetration and stabilization, while the Mary Rose was sprayed for sixteen, and is currently drying (the earliest it will be considered “conserved” and ready for visitors will be 2015.). Being one piece of wood, of course, the process for the “bowsprit” here will be faster, but it’s a long journey from the Lake to the nearest place that would be equipped to do that sort of work, and it would have to be kept wet and stable the whole time.
The other good news, is the mud surrounding the “wreck” appears to be thick and possibly anaerobic, meaning no oxygen penetrates and therefore, anything that could eat the wreck can’t do anything. She could possibly be whole down there…I’d say that’s asking too much, but the name Richard III rolls around in my head and reminds me that, yes, every so often, you can strike the Archaeological equivalent of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
But as I was thinking about the bowsprit, it got me to think about some possibilities about the wreck:
Some of the best from today’s articles: