Shipwrecks OK to visit, but don’t take artifacts

By susan Cocking - The Miami Herald

 

Some unidentified shipwrecks in Biscayne National Park have been plundered by divers who take artifacts illegally.

Divers who want to see the 6 sites can get information from the park service.

Scattered on the sandy bottom about 11 feet deep near Biscayne National Park’s Elliott Key are numerous ceramic shards guarded by schools of gray snapper and grunts.

The dusky white and bile green remnants of dinner plates and tea cups don’t look like much and they aren’t worth any money, even to television’s Pawn Stars. 

But those artifacts and some ancient burned timbers surrounding them have considerable cultural value as living snapshots of a long-ago, unsolved maritime mystery.

Chuck Lawson, archeologist and cultural resources manager at the park for the past two years, would love to identify the ship that carried all that china and find out where it was going and why it sank.

But it doesn’t help that divers have been plundering the wreckage illegally for years.

And that site, nicknamed “English China,” is one of more than 70 shipwrecks and artifact piles scattered throughout park waters that have been dug up, dredged and pillaged before their origins could be determined.

“Most of them will stay that way forever because people stole things off them in the 1960s and ’70s so you can’t tell who they were, where they were going, or what was on them,” Lawson said.

He’s a bit more optimistic about the English China site because of the large number of ceramic shards found there.

The crockery remnants have been positively identified as pieces made by England’s Staffordshire pottery sometime between 1765 and 1770.



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