The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 27, 2013

Divers remove wood beam from possible Griffin site

(Continued)

Even so, three French archaeologists who inspected the timber said it appeared to be a bowsprit — a spur or pole that extends from a vessel's stem — that was hundreds of years old. Libert said he believes the rest of the Griffin (also known by its French name, Le Griffon) is nearby and plans to resume his search but needs to raise more money first. He says he's spent more than $1 million on his lengthy quest and the cost of last week's privately financed mission was "six figures."

In the meantime, the timber is being stored in a safe place, Libert said. He wouldn't reveal the location but said it's submerged in cold water and a chemical solution recommended by Rob Reedy, an underwater archaeologist and specialist in preserving shipwreck artifacts.

Vrana said the team is preparing a proposal to the state Department of Natural Resources for experts to study the beam in hopes of determining its age and where the tree from which it was hewn originated. La Salle ordered the Griffin constructed near Niagara Falls before sailing it west and north across portions of Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan.

Libert disputes the DNR's contention that the state owns shipwrecks embedded in Great Lakes bottomlands within its jurisdiction. But the two sides agreed the timber would be on loan to the expedition team for 30 days.

"We did this as an interim measure, to give us time to talk to them about what kind of testing and conservation comes next," said Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan Historical Center, the DNR office that issued the excavation permit. She said she still wasn't convinced the timber was part of the Griffin or any other shipwreck.

Libert said he wants to redo a sonar scan that previously indicated the presence of an object field buried near the timber. As it turned out, the readings apparently picked up a thick layer of mussel shells and sediment layers. But if re-calibrated to penetrate the mussels, the sub-bottom profile might detect a buried deck or hull, he said.

"That area is definitely a shipwreck site," he said. "There probably will be another expedition going out before summer's end to do more probing."

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