A group of 10 students, teachers, and scientists were out in Sage Lot Pond at South Cape Beach Tuesday and Wednesday, studying the ribs of an old ship—or least what remained of them—what is likely a piece of history that can offer clues into what life was like in the 18th or early 19th century.
The operation was the first credited university maritime archaeology field school site on Cape Cod, said Calvin Mires, a professor at Bridgewater State University who was leading the class.
“This is the first step in trying to solve this mystery,” Mr. Mires said while overlooking the marsh, with Nantucket Sound at his back and a strong wind blowing.
In front of him, at the edge of the marsh, students in waders and wet suits handled tape-measures and clipboards as they recorded details of the wooden remains. The 20-foot-long ship bottom has been overgrown with eelgrass and sand. Not much is left.
But there is enough to draw some clues. The researchers can narrow down the age of the boat by detailing things like the fasteners, from their size, shape, and what type of nail is used. In this case, large wooden fasteners were used.
Mr. Mires was hesitant to say, at least for now, that the ship was a transportation vessel similar to the Mack truck of today, but it is quite possible. He would like to finish recording the ship’s remains and research some historical archives before making any concrete conclusions. And he said that hearing from the public on the history of the site is important as well.
The Sage Lot Pond investigation is an exciting opportunity for the professor, who is hoping to lead more advanced studies of other shipwrecks in the Waquoit Bay system, some known and some not so known.
“We are hoping to show why marine history matters,” Mr. Mires said of the one-week class, which functions like Marine Archaeology 101. “Massachusetts has a vibrant maritime heritage and these [sites] are the connections that tell a forgotten history.
“This is not about the ships themselves,” he said. “They are a tool, a way to understand the everyday people who made a living on the water. These are tangible connections to our past.”
Mr. Mires, who has been in the field going on 20 years, said the archaeology sites covered by big media have their place and time, but he likes sites similar to Sage Lot Pond that tell stories of how regular people lived.
For the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, whose land the pond is on, bringing in the class represents telling the whole story of the area, not just its marine biology. Much of the public’s knowledge of what goes on at the reserve has mostly been about the science.
James P. Rassman, stewardship coordinator at the reserve, has long had an interest in bringing in an archaeologist. He knows of a few shipwrecks in the bay about which the reserve knows little. Some of the shipwrecks, he said, could have been forgotten oyster skiffs or rum runners, but bringing in Mr. Mires and Bridgewater University represents an opportunity to better tell the history of the bay. Mr. Mires is planning to have divers look at some of the shipwrecks in the bay for future classes.
For now, Mr. Rassmen is awaiting the results of the class, and is looking to bring a little more public awareness of the shipwreck. He thinks an informational plaque might make a good Eagle Scout project and could help engage the public as well.
“The human story is part of the story of Waquoit Bay,” the stewardship coordinator said. “We are trying to tell the complete story.”