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Preserving pirate plunders.

A FORMER HIGH SCHOOL science teacher who grew tired of always reading about other people's discoveries is finally making a few of his own. Jerome Lynn Hall has hit upon the ultimate shipwreck.

The vessel, which went down around 1650--just off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, near their border with Haiti--sits in only 15 feet of water. Many people have seen it and some have even stolen artifacts from it, but Hall is the first scientist to systematically take the wreck apart and preserve its many treasures for future generations of Dominicans.

"Our submerged cultural resources are disappearing at an alarming rate," said Hall, director of the Montecristi shipwreck project and president of the Pan-American Institute of Maritime Archaeology. "When you study how a society moves from one place to another, you're studying the leading edge of their technology."

With the help of Earthwatch, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Watertown, Massachusetts, Hall has excavated 40 feet of the 100-foot wreck. In the three seasons of operation, the project has yielded more than 13,400 Dutch-manufactured clay tobacco pipes dating from the early seventeenth century. All items recovered are donated to the Dominican government.

This particular ship interests Hall because no one seems to know anything about it or why it was sunk. But Hall says he has a pretty good idea about when it went down. "We know the ship was built from wood forested in England between 1642 and 1643. We know this by growth rings," he said. "We know who made the pipes, Edward Bird, an Englishman living in Amsterdam." Hall suspects the ship was involved in illegal trade between European merchants and wild bands of white settlers living on Hispaniola's north coast. He said the bandits--descended from French, Dutch and English pirates--would kill cattle, eat the meat and smoke the hides, which they would trade for European goods such as pipes, ceramics and weapons.

In addition to the pipes, Hall and his crew have discovered silver Spanish coins from the potosi mine in Bolivia, as well as coins dated 1651 from the Santa Fe de Bogota mint in Colombia, ceramics and various types of cannons. Some gold objects have also been unearthed, but he said the coins and ceramics are far more useful to his crew because they more easily pinpoint the date of the shipwreck. "In the past 20 years, one fisherman has taken over 1,000 people to the wreck," he said. "Everyone in town knows where it is, but we are getting ready to excavate an area that's never been touched." The entire project should be finished by 1995, and within five years after that, Hall expects to have his first book on the subject published.

His love for discovery led Hall in 1990 to found the Pan-American Institute of Maritime Archaeology, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving underwater cultural resources. "Archaeologists criticize treasure hunters because they break up groups of artifacts and sell them," he said. "We feel all of these need to be in one place where they can be studied. These are the treasures of the Americas."
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Title Annotation:Ojo; preserving underwater cultural resources of the Dominican Republic
Author:Luxner, Larry
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:A keystroke for language.
Next Article:Crosscurrents to the mainland.

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