The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 10, 2013

Getting to the bottom of the Pickles Reef mystery

(Continued)

But that story was debunked in 2008 after a New York laboratory’s analysis of the cement positively identified it as Portland cement, produced no earlier than 1890 and only until 1925.

“This information leads us down a different trail of bread crumbs,” Altmeier said. “We can eliminate the Civil War era ships.”

One of the new theories is that the vessel was carrying cement for construction of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. The maritime society located a 1908 picture of construction of a Henry Flagler railroad bridge that clearly shows neat rows of barrels that appear similar to the shape of the cement features at the bottom of Pickles Reef. Workers also appear to be pouring concrete next to the barrels. But so far, it’s just a theory.

With so few government resources, and 68 priority shipwreck sites to identify just in the Upper Keys, Altmeier says the sanctuary welcomes the help of enthusiastic private groups like the Maritime Archaeological and Historical Society, providing them with permits and previously gathered information.

The society began to investigate the site at Pickles Reef in 2010, at the request of Florida State Underwater Archaeologist Roger Smith. The group has returned each year since, gathering more clues both underwater and on land, working with local historians and combing through archives.

Originally, Anthony said, the group wasn’t convinced it was the site of a shipwreck. “It looks like a big debris field and we thought it could be machinery and maybe offloaded salvage,” he said.

The group, with no trained underwater archaeologists, asked the sanctuary for help in interpreting their photographs, drawings and maps created by their survey work.

Last September, underwater archaeologist Matthew Lawrence of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary looked over their work and dove to the site. He concluded that there were lower hull remains of an iron or steel sailing vessel.

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