Md. SHA Recovers 18th Century Shipwreck From Nanticoke River - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

UPDATED: Md. SHA Recovers 18th Century Shipwreck From Nanticoke River

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Dr. Julie Schablisky tagging planks from an 18th Century shipwreck in Vienna. (Photo: Maryland State Highway Administration) Dr. Julie Schablisky tagging planks from an 18th Century shipwreck in Vienna. (Photo: Maryland State Highway Administration)

VIENNA, Md. – An 18th century shipwreck estimated to be one of Maryland’s oldest ever recovered has been discovered in the Nanticoke River, the State Highway Administration said Monday.

SHA workers were removing debris from underneath the U.S. 50 bridge over the Nanticoke River when they realized some of the wood resembled ship timbers. According to the SHA, the crew notified archaeologists, who found that an intact keel, frames and other ship timbers had been lifted from the river and placed on the construction barge.

After transfer to the Maryland Archaeology Conservation Laboratory in Calvert County for stabilization and temporary storage, archaeologists were able to draw several conclusions about the shipwrecked vessel.

According to the SHA, the growth rings in the wood’s timber showed the ship was made mostly from oak cut from trees along the central Chesapeake coast, between the Potomac River and Annapolis. Archaeologists have determined this was a merchant ship that measured up to 45-feet-long and was probably built at a small shipyard or plantation in Maryland.

The 18th century construction date would make it one of the oldest Maryland built shipwrecks discovered, accordign to the SHA.

“The inadvertent discovery of this shipwreck is an amazing opportunity to study early maritime history, said SHA Chief Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky. “It reminds us how Marylanders used to move goods and people across the region. It’s not every day we get to touch a shipwreck built more than 200 years ago.”  

The SHA is still deciding what to do with the shipwreck and how to share its discovery with the public, officials said. The administration documented the timbers with a 3D laser scanner in order to virtually reconstruct what it looked like before winding up at the bottom of the river.

Local historian Tom Bradshaw says this wreck will help us better understand what life was like on Delmarva at the turn of the 19th century.

"This is a very interesting find, especially because now they are saying this is from the late 18th to early 19th century," said Bradshaw.

It was an important time for the town of Vienna and the surrounding area.  Bradshaw says that Vienna was once a port of entry to the entire country.  So the wreck found underneath this bridge could hold clues to what life was like back then in the bustling town.

"It's not just some old boat left to die out in the marsh that washed down the river, I think this has some real significance," Bradshaw told WBOC.

And the find raises several questions.  How did it end up on the bottom of the Nanticoke River?  What stories can it tell us about the past?

Bradshaw's grandfather used to tell him stories about wrecks up and down the river.  He's just amazed the ship was even found at all.

"How is it that they found it now, all these years after they built this bridge?" asked Bradshaw.  "How is it that it wasn't discovered when the piers and the pilings and the dolphins and everything, why wasn't it discovered while it was built?"

Either way, if that barge hadn't hit the bridge, odds are this wreck would still be on the bottom of the river.

Pictures of the wreck can be found here.
 

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