"We believe the vessel may have sank unexpectedly and, over time, was silted in," said Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 2 Secretary Greg Evans.
"That is why it was preserved so well. It was encapsulated in soil and mud, so there was no air contact for it to decay. It's truly an incredible find," Evans said, according to the New York Post.
In an interview with Newsweek, Ian Pawn a Florida Department of Transportation official said, “The vessel was buried under nearly 8-10 ft of sediment and later St. Augustine development, such as the eastward extension of the seawall, fill, and portions of the early 20th-century trolley station. A large palm wood piling was even driven through the vessel (likely for tying off ships), indicating that the vessel was not known even in [the] later 19th century/early 20th century.”
As testimony to its relatively pristine condition, a leather boot, coins (one dating to 1869), coconut halves assumed to serve as cups, along the remains of an oil-fired lantern were found around it.
As a result of the discovery, construction was temporarily paused and the Florida Department of Transportation Works along with SEARCH (a global archaeology company with hundreds of digs under its belt) applied their efforts to removing the elderly vessel.
Dr. James Delgado of SEARCH led the excavation and recovery, and he believes that the vessel "was a small single-masted, shallow-draft sailing craft of the 19th century."
"With a dedicated team, including support from the local community and the on-site construction team, we were able to extract the vessel in order to allow the important work on the community's infrastructure to continue," Delgado said of the operation.
Given its age and resulting fragility SEARCH archaeologists raced against the clock to get the vessel out before the wood dried and decay set in.
"The boat was disassembled, plank by plank, and removed, with great care to keep each portion wet," Pawn said.
"The pieces will be observed in wet storage to stabilize as we determine future preservation efforts. We will be working closely with archaeologists and the City of St. Augustine to find a permanent home for this unique find."
FDOT's Evans thanked SEARCH for their careful efforts to preserve the vessel. He said, "With every project we undertake, the Florida Department of Transportation is sensitive to the unique needs of the communities we serve, including the potential presence of historical sites and artifacts within construction sites."
"We look forward to learning more about its significance to the region."
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SEARCH also issued a statement expressing gratitude of its own on Facebook.
“We’d like to especially thank SEARCH, Inc. co-principal Investigator Dr. Sam Turner who had been monitoring construction efforts for months until his keen eye identified the wreck,” the post stated.
The shipwreck's location near the water and the former shoreline suggests that it played a significant role in the region's maritime history.
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