The Shoreline Heritage Identification Partnerships Strategy, or SHIPS, is a collaborative effort of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources (BUAR) with local historical societies, local museums, and the public. The purpose is to document the historical environment along the Massachusetts shoreline to ensure that historical and archaeological properties are not lost through neglect or inadvertently destroyed. Archaeological remains are often fragile and can be damaged by apparently harmless activities.

It has been estimated that more than 3,000 vessels have wrecked off the Massachusetts coast over the past centuries. If they get buried in sediments, remains of these vessels can be very well preserved. However, natural movements and man-made alterations to the sea floor can uncover and disturb these sites, causing ancient timbers and other artifacts to then be washed ashore.

Why are remains from shipwrecks important?

Timbers and other materials found on the beach can be important because:

  • They can give a clue to the location of shipwrecks off shore.
  • They can give clues as to the type of vessels that were operating off our coast and help identify areas that were particularly dangerous to sailors.
  • Individual timbers can provide information about the construction of older vessels.
Why should I report any timber or other remains I find?

Archaeological remains are often fragile and can be damaged by apparently harmless activities. Wood, for example, at first sight seems firm and solid. However, the timber is waterlogged, with the water providing much of the wood's strength. As soon as the wood starts to dry it can split and begin to disintegrate. Once this process has started, it cannot be reversed. For this reason, it is important to document the find as soon as possible after its discovery.

What should I do if I think I have found a ship's timber or other archaeological objects?

If possible, leave the object where it is. Only move it if it seems likely to be washed away by the tide. If it is partially buried, do not attempt to dig it up. Please report your find to the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources. You will be asked for a brief description of the object, its location, and your contact information so that you can be kept informed. You can use the SHIPS Reporting Form pdf format of SHIPS Reporting Form
to record and report your find.

What will happen to the timber or other archaeological objects?

The object will be examined by the staff of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources and/or trained volunteers known as Coast Watchers. The information will be placed in an inventory database, where it will be available for future research. If you believe you found an old ship's timbers or any other archaeological remains, please report your find to either a partner organization or directly to the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources.

Contact Information
Victor Mastone, Director, Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources
251 Causeway Street, Suite 800
Boston, MA 02114-2199
Telephone: (617) 626-1141
Fax: (617) 626-1240
Email: victor.mastone@state.ma.us