DETROIT (AP) – Tests performed at the bottom of northern Lake Michigan have provided enough evidence for researchers to recommend an excavation of the site of a shipwreck to determine if it’s the Griffin, a French vessel that was loaded with furs when it sank in 1679, the project’s lead investigator said Monday.
Sonar scans of the lake bottom and profiling below it showed a mass consistent with other images of a buried ship hull, said Ken Vrana, director of the Laingsburg-based Center for Maritime and Underwater Resource Management.
“The consensus among the professionals … who have reviewed the data so far is that this site does warrant a test excavation,” said Vrana, whose private, nonprofit started as a research and outreach unit of Michigan State University.
“We’re very optimistic that we have located an old vessel – an old, sunken vessel. But the real clincher – is this the Griffin? – we don’t know yet,” he said. The Griffin was built and commanded by the explorer Rene-Robert Sieur de La Salle on behalf of King Louis XIV.
The next step would be to seek a state permit for the excavation.
While the maritime center recommends going forward, the ultimate decision rests with the three parties involved: Michigan, France, and the Great Lakes Exploration Group, whose founder, Steve Libert, discovered the site in 2001.
The shipwreck site hasn’t been publicly disclosed but is believed to be between Escanaba and the St. Martin Islands, near Wisconsin.
Michigan had been skeptical and sought to have any wreckage declared state property during years of litigation with Libert’s group. But that position changed after France entered the case and claimed ownership in 2009. Michigan has said it won’t stand in the way of France taking ownership if it is the Griffin (also known by the French equivalent Griffon).
Vrana said there is agreement among all parties that if the wreck is the Griffin, it would stay in the Great Lakes region.
“It’s so significant to the maritime heritage of the Great Lakes and the U.S. that some arrangement would be made to conduct the architectural excavation and display of the vessel (here),” he said, adding that the decision of whether to preserve it in place or bring it to the surface also will come later based on what is found and the condition of it.
No public money has been spent on the investigation.
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