A doctor in Gaylord will perform a CAT scan this weekend on a 20-foot, waterlogged piece of wood. The procedure is being contracted by a group of underwater explorers hoping to uncover a famed 17th Century Great Lakes shipwreck.
Explorers are paying Otsego Memorial Hospital an undisclosed dollar amount for the procedure, which they hope will reveal enough tree rings in the timber to date it.
“If it’s older than 300-plus, there’s only one ship it can be from and that’s the Griffin,” says Steve Libert of Great Lakes Exploration. “That’s what we’re hoping to prove.”
Results will be sent to Cornell University for analysis.
Hopes Of Discovery
All these years, the wreck of the Griffin has eluded underwater explorers. The ship belonged to fur trader and explorer Robert de La Salle.
There was big excitement this past June when it looked like part of the wreck would finally be revealed in a test dig off the coast of the U-P’s Garden Peninsula in Lake Michigan.
Sonar images appeared to show the outline of a buried ship and explorers believed this beam would be attached to a hull. But a dive to bedrock revealed no ship.
Skepticism From The State
That tempered enthusiasm from Michigan State Archeologist Dean Anderson.
“There really weren’t any artifacts that could demonstrate that there was a wreck at that location. So at this point, given the work that was done and the information that was recovered during that excavation, for me, the archeological evidence does not point to this being part of a wreck.”
Anderson says another explanation is that it could be a wooden stake from an old fishing net.
But Diver Steve Libert calls the timber a bowsprit and he continues to believe he’s close to uncovering the wreck he’s been searching for over several decades.
At The Hospital
“We’re going to take the bowsprit and it’s going to be taken to the hospital and inserted, two-and-a-half feet at each end into the CAT scan,” he says.
It’ll be quite the operation. Waterlogged, the wood weighs hundreds of pounds. It wouldn’t fit in most hospitals. But the machine in Gaylord is unique just happens to be angled to face an exterior door.
Libert calls it “fate.”
“Had it been any other way, there’s way we could get a 20 foot piece down corridors and turned into tight rooms. It wouldn’t have happened,” he says.
Again, Libert believes the scan will reveal a very old piece of wood. He also has a couple labs, one in Michigan and another in Wisconsin, testing the type of wood the beam is made of. He’s hoping to show it was likely built near Niagara. He’s also planning another dive this fall because he knows ultimately he’d have to find more of the ship.
He says he knows where to look.
But Archeologist Dean Anderson thinks it’s entirely possible the scan Saturday will reveal that the timber is 19th or 20th Century.
“If the date actually proves to be a 17th Century date, that would be a very interesting set of circumstances and at least would create the possibility that the piece of wood could be something else.”
But he’s still not saying it would be the Griffin.
Laura Herberg contributed to this report.