Workers installing a steel wall designed to protect communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy unearthed the forgotten remnants of a wrecked maritime vessel buried deep beneath the sands of coastal New Jersey.
Since discovering the shipwreck artifacts, which could be more than 165 years old, construction on the $23.8 million project has come to a temporary halt pending further exploration of the find.
"There are about a dozen vessels that wrecked in that area," New Jersey Historical Divers Association President Dan Lieb said. "It could be any one of them."
Workers were installing 45-foot-long steel sheets in the sand near Brick Township, New Jersey, when their excavation uncovered the pieces of the vessel about 20 feet beneath the sand, Township Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Joe Pawlowicz said.
In July, construction began on the 4-mile stretch of steel wall, which is intended to protect Mantoloking, New Jersey, and Brick from further devastation after suffering severe impacts following Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, according to the Associated Press.
The Department of Environmental Protection, other state agencies and contractors will be responsible for determining the historical significance of the site before construction can resume, he added.
"They've been out there, but they haven't been able to begin the exploration," Pawlowicz said.
According to Lieb, who visited the discovery site last Thursday, there are several indications that the vessel may be well preserved and even close to 75 percent intact, which could be a great archaeological discovery.
"The timbers are not worm eaten, [which means it isn't very old], are relatively dry and fairly well preserved," Lieb said, adding that these are good indicators that a sunken vessel 130- to 140-feet-long could be extremely well preserved.
Lieb has been on several archeological explorations of shipwrecks in the past.
The New Jersey Historic Divers Association, which specializes in preserving and educating the public on the region's shipwrecks and maritime history, opened a museum in 2006.
It is unknown whether an entire sunken ship or just the pieces of a vessel await exploration by officials tasked with uncovering the shipwreck. It is possible personal items and valuables could be found as well, Lieb said.
The Brick Township area in which the steel wall extends is about 2.5 miles and was intended to be completed by the middle of November, Pawlowicz said. Work will not proceed until the area is investigated further to determine if there is are other historically significant artifacts.
"It will probably go to a museum," Pawlowicz said, adding he anticipates the work to be completed quickly once construction is permitted to resume.
"Maybe it was partly salvaged at the time; that's always a possibility," Lieb said.
Judging from what he saw of the recovered pieces, Lieb said it could be possible salvage records already exist for the vessel, due to a missing chain in the vessel's hawsepipe.
According to a news article featured in the Asbury Park Press, some historians who were called to the scene of the discovery theorize that the ship is the Scottish brig, Ayrshire, which sank near the coastline of Seaside Heights in 1850.
New Jersey Maritime Museum Researcher Dave Swope said while there is some speculation the discovery is Ayshire, it could be a number of vessels.
"I have two sources that put the Ayrshire site too far south, between Seaside Heights and Barnegat Inlet," Swope said. "Normandy Beach [in] Brick is farther north."
By using the museum's shipwreck database, Swope said he has a few ideas of what the lost ship could be.
"I have come up with four possible ships that were stranded and broke up before any recovery attempts could be launched," Swope added. "None are fishing vessels. All were cargo-carrying, coastal schooners."
Of the four Swope has come up with, the first is the Cadet, which was lost on Feb. 18, 1842, about 3 miles south of Manasquan Inlet. Two other possible vessels include the R G Magill, and the Bazil, which crashed south of Squan Beach Life-Saving Station.
The fourth possibility include the remnants of the Patricia Henry which was lost on March 16, 1843, near Manasquan Beach.
"It will be interesting to see what happens next," Lieb said.