Dredging up the past: A closer look at artifacts found in Savannah River

BySam Bauman|March 26, 2021 at 11:38 AM EDT - Updated March 26 at 11:38 AM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - As we await the true story behind multiple artifacts, including cannon, found in the Savannah River last month, we’re now learning more about their significance and a possible connection to the British war ship.

“A lot of the early history of Savannah is tied to the water. Maritime history,” said Dr. Kurt Knoerl.

When some of that history was unearthed last month, like many others, Assistant Professor of History at Georgia Southern - Armstrong campus, Dr. Knoerl was excited for what we might learn.

“When we find sites like this, they offer potential to teach us about how Savannah developed and what kind of conflicts they may have had.”

Of course, one of the major conflicts to take place in Savannah was the Revolutionary War. Which lines up with the believed age of the cannon they found.

“The odds were pretty good that they might be 18th century,” said Dr. Knoerl, agreeing with the Army Corps Engineers.

Leading the British Government to suggest these artifacts come from one of their ships.

“It does make sense that it could be the Rose,” said Dr. Knoerl.

The HMS Rose, which came to Savannah in 1779, was intentionally sank in the Savannah River to stop the French Navy. Which worked and even perhaps saved some of Savannah’s history.

“I mean anytime you have cannon aide going on there’s going to be destruction and burning. So, part of the city’s preservation probably comes from that,” Dr. Knoerl says.

So, if these artifacts are truly from the HMS Rose, where’s the rest of the ship?

“After the war was over, they wanted to clear that wreck out, it was an obstruction to traffic, so they would have dismantled as much as they could to get it out of the way. But, some of that is going to sink into the muck and mud at the bottom of the river. Which is why some materials are preserved, because they’re sealed off by the mud.”

But it will likely be a while before we know for sure the story behind these artifacts as the cleaning process takes time.

“If we just start scraping it off fine details that might be preserved by a process like electrolysis will be destroyed. So, you want to proceed very, very carefully so you keep as much of that data,” said Dr. Knoerl.

Data that may one day paint a clear picture of our past. A picture that Dr. Knoerl suggest we ourselves may be right in the middle of.

“History is still out there; we’re surrounded by it. We tend not to see it because we drive by and not think about it. But if we learn how to read that landscape, I’m sure we’ll find many more things.”

Dr. Knoerl also reminds us that if you do come across something you believe may be of historic relevance to not touch or move it before calling the state archaeologist first.

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Photo: WTOC

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