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IN SEARCH OF SUNKEN TREASURE: Divers plunge into Lake Michigan to search for 17th Century ship

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Divers have started looking at an underwater pit in a remote part of northern Lake Michigan. They hope to find the resting place of the Griffin, a ship commanded by the 17th century French explorer La Salle. The ultimate fate of the ship has remained a mystery over the course of three centuries.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Plans to search for the ship began in 2001, when expedition leader Steve Libert discovered a timber slab wedged in the lake bed. Both U.S. and French archaeologists examined sediment removed from a hole dug near that slab and found a 15-inch slab of blackened wood that might have been a human-fashioned "cultural artifact." According to project manager Ken Vrana, more analysis will be required to determine whether it was part of a vessel.

Libert has spent 30 years searching for the Griffin, which also went under the name of its French equivalent Le Griffon, said he hoped that by this weekend, the excavation would reach what sonar readings indicate is a distinct shape beneath several feet of sediment.

The object in question is over 40 feet long and about 18 feet wide, which are dimensions similar to those the Griffin is believed to have had, Vrana says - although he notes that it's still 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 says. "We've got to get those test pits dug and hit (the) structure, because anything else is pure speculation."

Vrana 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.

Rene Robert Cavelier de la Salle ordered the Griffin built near Niagara Falls in 1679 to support his quest for what was originally believed to be a passageway to China and Japan. It was the first European-style vessel to traverse the upper Great Lakes, crossing Lake Erie and venturing northward to Lake Huron, then across Lake Michigan to the eastern shore of modern-day Wisconsin.

La Salle ordered the ship to return for more supplies and to deliver a load of furs, while he continued his journey by canoe. The Griffin was never heard from again. There are various theories about its fate, but none that have been proven.

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