Skip to comments.Prehistoric forest discovered off Key West -- on sea bed (under 40 feet of water)
Posted on 11/15/2002 4:34:31 PM PST by jimtorr
KEY WEST -- Research divers and marine archaeologists expect to find shells, rocks and remnants of shipwrecks when they excavate areas of the ocean bottom.
But pine cones, tree branches and charred limbs -- thought to be about 8,400 years old -- were an unexpected and intriguing treasure awaiting archaeologist Corey Malcom, who spent much of the summer underwater in search of the remains of the Henrietta Marie, a British slave ship that sank 35 miles off Key West in 1700.
In August, Malcom, who is director of archaeology at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, was joined underwater by George Robb, founder of RPM Nautical Foundation and financial supporter of the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society.
Robb was diving in about 40 feet of water as the search for the remaining cannons and other parts of the Henrietta Marie continued. The divers had previously surveyed various sites with electronic equipment able to locate objects that lie covered in sand on the ocean floor.
DYLAN KIBLER/MEL FISHER MARITIME MUSEUM
Divers found prehistoric pine cones along with pieces of yellow pine trees thought to be about 8,400 years old and eventually submerged under the ocean with the end of the last Ice Age.
DYLAN KIBLER/MEL FISHER MARITIME MUSEUM
Divers cleared a 2-by-3-meter area on the ocean floor and carefully began sifting through a thick mud that replaces sand underneath the water. About 10 inches down, they found a few small, glass beads that led them to believe they were close to more Henrietta Marie ruins, as hundreds of similar glass beads have been found at the main wreck site.
As the divers continued to work, they laid aside black and gray rocks, thinking they could be ballast rocks from the ship, and still hoped for large pieces of the shipwreck.
"Then George Robb found a piece of pine that still smelled like pine," Malcom said, explaining that the workers initially thought the charred wood had been used as firewood on board the ship. "But as we continued to explore, it didn't feel like a shipwreck anymore."
The divers had wandered into a section of prehistoric Florida that had once been dry land during the last Ice Age, Malcom said.
When the Ice Age ended, the ocean levels rose sharply for thousands of years, covering much of the land in seawater and burying pine forests under about five feet of sand and sediment and more than 40 feet of water.
Radiocarbon analysis showed the pine cones and burnt wood to be about 8,400 years old, but the burnt characteristic remained a mystery until it was learned that the black and gray rocks also had been burnt and were identified by sanctuary scientist Harold Hudson as fire-altered limestone.
Hudson's theory was confirmed by geologist Eugene Shinn, leading the researchers to believe that a forest fire had, at some point, swept through the prehistoric forest.
While no signs of humanity were revealed in the initial findings, Malcom is not ruling out the possibility of finding some.
In the meantime, he is hoping to continue to work in cooperation with geologists and paleo-ecologists, who are more familiar with the underwater findings.
Representatives from the sanctuary also are interested in learning more about the land mass that once stretched more than 30 miles away from the shores that are now Florida.
"It's pretty incredible that the sea level rose that much, and definitely leads to some interesting questions that we hope people will pursue," said Dave Score, who works for the sanctuary and often deals with submerged cultural resources.
"Obviously, our focus is on shipwrecks, but I also think our mission was to discover, and we've certainly done that," Malcom said, carefully wrapping a pine cone in a saltwater-soaked paper towel until it could be properly conserved.
Interesting, I have some 7,000 year old wood dregded up from under eight feet of silt under Santa Rosa Sound in northwest Florida.
That's cute. What I was really hoping for was for someone to explain how the forest fire started and then flooded, the events were apparently closely related in time. Some kind of catastrophy like a volcano or a metrotite. (a lot more interesting, huh?)
So.... what caused the flood immediately after the fire?
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