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Tropical Storm Eta unearths 19th century shipwreck on northeast Florida coast

NBC News logo NBC News 11/23/2020 David K. Li
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High winds and heavy rains of Tropical Storm Eta unearthed a 19th-century shipwreck, long-buried beneath the sands of the northeast Florida coast, officials said.

Local resident Mark O’Donoghue, strolling recently along Crescent Beach — about 50 miles southeast of Jacksonville — came upon a collection of exposed timbers popping up from beneath a dune, he and researchers from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, or LAMP, said.

O’Donoghue, 51, said maritime history is a core element of education in his native Ireland, so identifying the ship’s wreckage came as second nature.

“It was a gut reaction I had from all the exposure I had in Ireland, where shipwrecks were just a thing,” O’Donoghue, from Dublin, told NBC News on Monday. “I was able to put together all the information. I looked at all the spikes, the metal bows sticking up from the wood, all the timbers that were going in the same direction.”

Marine archaeologists believe O’Donoghue's discovery is the remains of a 19th-century American merchant ship, likely carrying supplies such as flour and hardware up and down the East Coast.

“Everything we’ve seen on it so far fits that hypothesis: wooden planking, wood timbers, iron fasteners," LAMP director Chuck Meide said in a statement. "They look quite similar to other ships from the 1800s that we have seen.”

Pinpointing the exact history of this ship - such as its name or when the craft met its end - might be an impossible task.

"It might have been at the end of its life, and they ran it up on the beach and called it a day," LAMP archaeologist Nick Budsberg told Jacksonville NBC affiliate WTLV. "Or it is possible it wrecked further out to sea and a portion of the ship made it to the beach."

Pieces of the ship's wood showed burn marks, suggesting the vessel's demise might have been more controlled and not a catastrophic, Davy Jones' Locker incident out on the high seas.

"My gut is telling me the burning happened after the shipwrecked," Meide said. "Someone very well could have burned it for salvage purposes because then you shift through the ashes and pull out metal spikes and sell for scrap."

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