CANNON BEACH, Ore. -- A Portland man on vacation with his family in Cannon Beach found something he wasn’t expecting on Wednesday.
It looks like a piece of driftwood on the beach, but look closer and there are intentionally placed notches and nails hammered into it.
“I genuinely believe these are handmade cuts,” said Jeffrey Smith, who stumbled upon the wood.
A person who lives nearby says it washed ashore months ago. Smith immediately called some experts, hoping to get answers.
“It definitely wasn't something I expected. I planned on being home in bed last night but instead I rented a hotel room,” Smith said.
On Thursday, Chris Dewey with the Maritime Archaeological Society showed up to document it.
After a little poking around, Dewey said he thinks it could be part of an old shipwreck.
“Between the Columbia River bar and the Oregon Coast, I think there's an estimate of around 3,000 wrecks and we've only documented a few hundred,” Dewey said.
Dewey said pieces of old ships wash ashore every year. Sometimes people pick up those pieces not realizing the potential historical significance. Instead, the wood is thrown into bonfires.
He thinks the piece of wood may be a piece of a keel, which is a structure usually on the bottom of a ship. He said it could also be part of an old ship's crossbeam. Dewey estimates it could potentially be up to 100 years old.
At this point, there's still a lot we don't know. Where did it come from? Exactly how old is it? Which ship was it originally a part of?
“We still have a lot of research to do and you never know what might turn up,” said Dewey, who might revisit the piece of wood this weekend.
Dewey said there’s evidence that shipworms have been eating the wood. He said shipworms aren’t too common in the area, which means the piece of wood could be from a long way away.
Cannon Beach is also where back in 2008, people found cannons from an 1846 shipwreck. As for the wood Smith came across, it’s unclear what its significance is until more testing can be done.
Smith said he hopes the wood gets preserved if state officials determine there’s enough historical significance.
The find has been reported to the state archaeologist. But it's an expensive process to preserve this kind of discovery. Dewey said it may cost between $5,000-$10,000 to preserve it and the paperwork would take months. In the time it takes to make a decision as to whether or not there will be further research, the tide could have already taken the pieces of wood back to sea.
If that happens, Dewey said at least he'll still have the pictures and drawings he made when he inspected the piece of wood.
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