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Low Mississippi River levels reveal mystery boat

A sunken boat discovered in southeast Missouri when water levels dropped in the Mississippi River could be an early 20th century barge that carried coal or other goods.

Amy Grammer spotted the wreckage during a walk along the river in September in Cape Girardeau. It is mostly buried, apart from a 30-foot-long section in a location that is not being disclosed for safety reasons, according to an article in the Southeast Missourian.

James Phillips, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Crisp Museum at Southeast Missouri State University, has a background in archaeology and has volunteered to help the boat's discoverers, Amy and Russell Grammer, along with a local overseer of the project, retired teacher and shipwreck salvage diver Randy Barnhouse.

Barnhouse said Phillips' initial observations included that the boat is likely a barge from about 1920 that might have been used in conjunction with paddle-wheel boats. Phillips surveyed the construction of the boat and the manufacturing process of the nails used to hold wooden sections together to get an estimate of the boat's age.

Phillips said Wednesday that the barge is likely empty, but a small sample the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will allow under his supervision should give a better idea. The department has granted permission for a core sample to be taken from the wreckage because the site could be covered by water before the entire permit process is completed, according to Barnhouse. The visible sections of the boat are also in the beginning stages of decomposition because of exposure to sunlight and air.

Low water on the river this year caused by drought has left the waterline around 8 feet from the wreckage. Barnhouse and the Grammers hope that an archaeological survey of the boat that includes local students can be completed before the water rises.

"This is probably not a huge historical find, but it is important and interesting," Barnhouse told the paper. "I think it could teach us about river travel at that time like we don't often get to learn about it."

Phillips said the boat should be left in its present location because moving it could cause damage and finding a permanent place to store it would not be easy.

Click here for the full report.

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