Rare pistol uncovered in 18th century shipwreck

Ancient pistol

By Marcia Lane - St Augustine

Good thing it was after hours in the Flagler Hospital Imaging Center recently when technicians ran a couple of dozen items found in an 18th century shipwreck through the center's CAT scan.

"We were yelling," said Chuck Meide, archaeological director for the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program. "It was one of those moments. A moment of discovery."

The discovery was a gentleman's pocket pistol concealed in a concretion, a concrete-like mass that forms around metal artifacts as they rust in the water.

"Our eyes were instantly drawn to (the pistol)," Meide said. The pistol was one of several items that ended "stuck" together. Other artifacts included a large iron spike, lots of small lead shot known as bird shot ("really, really tiny"), an iron hook, two ring-like objects and a disk of metal.

That disk of metal may be a coin and that would help date the wreck.

"People always seem to think shipwrecks and treasure, but it's very rare that's the case," Meide said. The ring-like objects aren't like finger rings. One is about an inch-and-a-half in diameter. The other has little curlicues on it and could be a bracelet or a drawer pull.

Finding the objects is one thing. Conserving them is another and one that takes considerable time. The pistol, for example, could take more than a year-and-a-half of work.

A number of other items were found in concretions taken from a shipwreck discovered by LAMP on the last day of the field season in 2009 and more fully explored this year. The scan revealed a pocket knife, navigational dividers for charting courses on maps ("They're pretty rare."), a possible pair of scissors and groups of nails and hooks.

"My gut reaction is that this appears the kind of cargo ... of items coming to supply St. Augustine. The preliminary interpretation is these are the kinds of things that would be needed in the 18th century. These kinds of things wouldn't have been manufactured here (then)," Meide said.


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