Niagara Gazette

Features

June 16, 2013

Searching for a piece of Falls history

Niagara Gazette — ON LAKE MICHIGAN NEAR POVERTY ISLAND, Mich. — Divers began opening an underwater pit Saturday at a remote site in northern Lake Michigan that they say could be the resting place of the Griffin, a ship commanded by the 17th century French explorer La Salle.

U.S. and French archaeologists examined sediment removed from a hole dug near a timber slab that expedition leader Steve Libert discovered wedged in the lakebed in 2001. They found a 15-inch slab of blackened wood that might have been a human-fashioned "cultural artifact," although more analysis will be required to determine whether it was part of a vessel, project manager Ken Vrana said.

Libert, who has spent about three decades searching for the Griffin (also known by its French equivalent Le Griffon), said he hoped that by Sunday, the excavation would reach what sonar readings indicate is a distinct shape beneath several feet of sediment. The object is over 40 feet long and about 18 feet wide — dimensions similar to those the Griffin is believed to have had, Vrana said.

But he said it was too early to declare the site a shipwreck, let alone the object of their quest.

"Soon we will find out whether our assumption is correct or not," Vrana said aboard the Proud Maid, a 45-foot commercial fishing boat that ferried journalists and crew members to the search area near Poverty Island in Michigan waters north of the entrance to Green Bay. "We've got to get those test pits dug and hit (the) structure, because anything else is pure speculation."

After meeting with team members Saturday night, he told reporters that "within a couple of days we should know" whether a ship graveyard lies beneath the surface.

Although Libert and his associates have dived at the site numerous times and conducted several surveys with remote sensing equipment, they hadn't conducted archaeological excavations until receiving a permit from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources this month after years of legal squabbles. The agency claims ownership over all Great Lakes shipwrecks in the state's waters, although it acknowledges France would have rights to the Griffin because it was sailing under the authority of King Louis XIV.

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