17 Jun Unraveling Biscayne’s Hidden Past
As operations came to an end on the Pillar Dollar, it has only lead to more questions than answers. For instance, previously I mentioned that the ship was constructed of hickory (known due to the dendrochronology and speciation analysis from a keel core sample) and it was believed that it was possibly built in the New England area. Considering Spanish artifacts have been found on site, the idea that a Spanish ship was constructed of American hickory was perplexing. However, research from East Carolina students revealed that hickory exists in Latin America as well, which then makes it more plausible that the Spanish constructed the ship in this region rather than colonial America. Yet, we are still stuck in the same situation with lack of content and context due to treasure hunters destroying and looting the site. Was it built in Mexico? Was it built in Cuba? Is it indeed Spanish? Perhaps we will never know. Not all is lost though, because we are still able to make assumptions based off the construction and patchwork (Dutchman) of the keel, as well as analysis of metallic artifacts such as drift pins, lead slag, and even a piece of silver that was found. It is a shame that the place was so heavily abused, since I cannot help but imagine how much we could have learned had it not been. Collectively, East Carolina University and the Biscayne National Park Cultural Resource Management team managed to reveal and study a considerable amount of the ship’s timber, including all of what remains of the keel. Furthermore, on the last day we discovered a feature which could provide a more accurate location of the ship’s origin and is still under further investigation. ECU also took with them artifacts that were recovered for documentation, conservation, and curation. With the Pillar Dollar site wrapped up, we have now moved on to another wreck in the park that holds an equal amount of mystery. What little information we have about the site is from an initial assessment and mapping of it in 1983. In the history of Biscayne National Park, this assessment is the only archeological work that has ever been conducted on it, so the results of our findings have tremendous potential in unlocking the ship’s history. Similar to the Pillar Dollar, the wreck has been heavily looted, but after an initial assessment conducted on Monday, there are numerous artifacts that are present on the surface, including glass, iron, copper, and wood. More will be released as we continue our work. Altogether, Biscayne National Park has over 150 known culturally sensitive sites, such as the current project and the Pillar Dollar, as well as terrestrial sites. That’s not to say that the park doesn’t have more, because only a limited amount of marine survey has been conducted to find more. Since looting has been prominent in the park for decades and is still an ongoing issue, management and protection of what does remain is crucial. That is the mission of cultural resource management in the National Park Service: to protect and preserve our heritage for generations to come.