GAYLORD — Technicians at a northern Michigan hospital used a CT scan machine Saturday to take X-rays of a wooden beam that could be part of the Griffin, a ship commanded by the French explorer La Salle that has been missing for more than three centuries.
The procedure was the latest twist in a decades-old quest by diver and history buff Steve Libert to locate the vessel, which disappeared in 1679 after setting sail from an island near Lake Michigan’s Green Bay with a crew of six and a cargo of furs. A dive team retrieved the timber in June after discovering to their disappointment that it wasn’t attached to buried wreckage.
They hope the CT scan, which produced images of tree rings inside the beam, will help determine whether it was cut down around the time the Griffin was built. A Cornell University expert in dendrochronology — a scientific technique that uses ring patterns to date trees — has agreed to analyze the images, which were recorded on compact discs.
“It’s very important,” Libert said. “Now this comes down to science.”
He said the timber could be the Griffin’s bowsprit — a spur or pole that extends from a vessel’s stem. Michigan’s state archaeologist, Dean Anderson, has said he isn’t convinced the beam is part of a ship and contends it could be a stake from a “pound net,” a type of fishing gear used in past centuries.
A small crowd watched, many snapping photos, as crewmen with Libert’s Great Lakes Exploration Group unloaded the nearly 20-foot-long timber from a trailer at Otsego Memorial Hospital in Gaylord, about 225 miles northwest of Detroit. The hospital is near the timber’s storage spot— a location Libert is keeping secret to prevent theft or vandalism.
The oak beam has been submerged in water and preservative chemicals. One end is split, and three peg-like pieces of wood protrude from the side. Libert said they are “tree nails” and provide further evidence the beam was fashioned by humans.