Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 7, 2014

Search for shipwreck yields trove of uncertainty

TRAVERSE CITY (AP) — Excited shipwreck hunters and scientists assembled in a Lake Michigan fishing village last June, hoping to solve a mystery dating back more than three centuries: the fate of a ship sailed by the 17th century French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, during a voyage of discovery extending from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Team members recovered a nearly 20-foot-long wooden slab with signs of human workmanship jammed into the lake bed, but were disappointed to find no buried wreckage. The timber has been examined by U.S. and French experts and underwent a CT scan and carbon dating to determine its age and whether it once was part of a vessel.

Nearly a year later, reports obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with key players reveal sharp divisions over whether the elusive ship has been found.

Mission leader Steve Libert and others with his organization, Great Lakes Exploration Group LLC, contend the timber is a bowsprit from a ship — likely the Griffin, last seen in 1679 with a six-member crew and a cargo of furs near Green Bay in present-day Wisconsin. A report by three French underwater archaeologists says the beam has characteristics consistent with a bowsprit, or pole that extends from a vessel’s stem, and apparently was submerged for a century or more. But it stops short of confirming a link to La Salle’s ship.

Meanwhile, two U.S. scientists who joined the expedition, project manager Ken Vrana and archaeologist Misty Jackson, say the timber is probably a “pound net stake,” an underwater fishing apparatus used in the Great Lakes in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That is also the opinion of Dean Anderson, Michigan’s state archaeologist, and Carol Griggs, a Cornell University specialist in using tree rings to determine the age of wooden objects.

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