Discovery of the Emanuel Point Ship
The ballast mound is situated ca. 0.8 km south of the bluff that extends westward from Emanuel Point. Its longitudinal axis runs southeast to northwest, from the outer edge of the sandbar in 4 m of turbid water shoreward to a depth of 3 m at the center of the mound. Exposed ballast stones consist of small to medium-sized river cobbles and some quarried rock, all overgrown with large oysters. A preliminary visual inspection of the site revealed no obvious cultural material. Similar but smaller deposits of ballast stones had been encountered during the survey at known anchorages in the bay; they represent ballast that was discharged by ships preparing to take on cargo. However, this consolidated pile of stones was found in shallow water, on a sand bar that provides poor holding ground and a unprotected anchorage for ships of any size. It was obvious that the stones had become incorporated into the bottom over a long period, providing a substratum for succeeding generations of shellfish to find a home.
Fig. 4. Emanuel Point Ship location map.
Removal of several stones at the northeastern edge of the ballast pile uncovered an eroded wooden timber that appeared to be a ship’s ceiling plank. To control further testing of the site, a baseline was laid along the longitudinal axis of the mound, which measures 16 m in length and 8 m in breadth. Three test units were opened into the ballast stones to determine if additional wooden ship elements, or artifacts, were present. The first revealed bones, ceramics, and wooden ship structure. Timbers included a ceiling plank, footwale, and frames buried under a meter of overburden. The second test unit produced more bone, shoe leather, ceramics, and a footwale. A third unit exposed the ship’s keelson, where the main mast had been stepped, along with additional ceramics, bone, and leather. The presence of a well-preserved shipwreck had been confirmed; attention then centered on finding a source for the magnetic anomaly by conducting a systematic metal detector survey.
Protruding slightly above the sand, a concreted knob marked the tip of an anchor fluke at the shoreward extremity of the site. Removal of sediments revealed a large wrought-iron anchor, buried fluke down in the sand. The shank of the anchor was found to be twisted and broken off, just below the lugs that would have held its wooden stock in place. The broken portion of the shank with its hawser ring was not encountered; however, a squared timber, possibly representing a bow cant frame, was found lying next to the anchor crown. The metal detector survey, which extended 6m on either side of the ballast mound, confirmed the anchor as the major source of the 400-gamma anomaly. Although no additional large metal items were encountered, many smaller targets were detected in and around the periphery of the mound, suggesting that the spatial extent of the site’s contents was confined in a concentration associated with the stones. Removal of overburden at one of the smaller metal targets revealed a trail of concreted ship’s fasteners, as well as additional pieces of wood.
These initial glimpses of the Emanuel Point Ship’s hull structure, hardware, and associated artifacts offered a tentative time period and cultural affiliation for the shipwreck. Features of the central architecture (keelson, mast step, and footwales) closely resemble examples recorded on sixteenth‑century shipwreck sites at Highborn Cay, Bahamas (Oertling 1989a), Western Ledge, Bermuda (Watts 1993), and Red Bay, Labrador (Grenier 1988). The anchor is similar in shape and construction to others found at the sites of Spanish ships wrecked off Padre Island, Texas, in 1554 (Arnold 1976). Ceramic sherds provided additional diagnostic clues; at first, sediment stains masked their characteristics. Early assessments of the ceramics suggested a temporal range in the 1700s, a time-frame rather incongruous with the ship’s construction pattern. However, after application of hydrogen peroxide to remove stains, a darkened glazeware, incorrectly identified as a black lead-glaze type common to the 18th century, proved instead to be tin-enameled majolica, of a type more consistent with earlier usage. A preponderance of coarse unglazed earthenware sherds were also recognized as fragments of early colonial Spanish olive jars.