When natural disasters strike, there is only so much a person can do to be prepared. You can stock up on supplies and move to someplace safe, but a hurricane can still leave tremendous damage behind.
However, sometimes even the darkest clouds have silver linings. When hurricanes pummel the coast, they can damage the shoreline, but they can also do something positive.
When hurricanes churn up the water, they often cause lost artifacts to wash up on the shore. Check out what just some of these major storms—including 2017’s Hurricane Irma—revealed to eager historians…
Randy Lathrop, a photographer in Florida, had been riding his bike along the damaged coastline just days after 2017’s Hurricane Irma struck when he made a tremendous discovery. Right there on the shore, he spotted a canoe—but he was fairly certain this wasn’t any ordinary vessel.
“As soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was,” Randy said. This mysterious canoe washed up from the Indian River, north of Cocoa, Florida, which was a region with a long and storied Native American history.
Suspecting that this canoe might be an important find, Randy contacted the Florida Division of Historical Resources. According to Sarah Revell, a spokesperson for the department, the 15-foot-long canoe was probably several hundreds of years old. Historians won’t know its age conclusively until the canoe has gone through extensive carbon dating.
This wasn’t the first time that hurricanes have washed major archaeological finds ashore, either. In 2012, Hurricane Isaac was responsible for unearthing another curious boat in Alabama. The ship, the Rachel, was a 150-foot-long, 20th-century schooner that sailed until the 1930s.
According to historical records, the crew lost control of the Rachel during a particularly rough storm. This led to chaos on the schooner, with the crew looting the boat and setting it on fire before abandoning ship. What really happened afterward, the world may never know.
When Hurricane Camille struck in 1969, the remains of an old ship called the Monticello were discovered. The Monticello used to be responsible for completing runs between Florida and Cuba until it ran aground and was ultimately lost. (Historians have since debunked the theory that Monticello was employed as a Confederate battleship during the Civil War.)
When Superstorm Sandy struck the coast of North Carolina in 2012, something amazing was revealed. Washed ashore were what little remained of the William H. Sumner, a three-masted schooner that had run aground in 1919 and had not been seen until the storm brought it to the surface.
That was not the only bit of wreckage that Superstorm Sandy brought back to life, either. In Brick, New Jersey, the storm churned up the remains of the Ayrshire, a Scottish brig that crashed onto a New Jersey sandbar in 1850.
After Superstorm Sandy hit Fire Island, New York, another shipwreck appeared on the beaches of Davis park. “There’s so little of it left we may not be not be able to determine which ship it actually is, but we may be able to learn more about its age,” said Paul Valentine, a representative from the Parks Department.
Sandy was a busy storm. When a wooden coal barge disappeared off the coast of New Jersey in 1936, no one ever expected to see it again. They had no idea that, when they were completing shoreline repairs after Sandy, they would discover these ship’s remains, too!
Another find that made its way back to shore after Sandy was the ship called Bessie White. Bessie was lost in the fog off of Fire Island, New York, in 1920 and what became of her, no one ever knew—that is, until this hurricane washed her ashore.
While powerful hurricanes cause deadly destruction, they have also helped archaeologists and researchers solve some of the greatest mysteries of the sea. That makes for some consolation to otherwise destructive natural disasters.
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