FAIRPORT, Mich. - Digging continues in Lake Michigan as explorers from all over the world try to put a more than 300-year-old mystery to rest.
In September 1679, French explorer Robert La Salle's ship, Le Griffon, disappeared after leaving Washington Island.
The Great Lakes Exploration Group, stationed this week in Fairport, Mich., is hoping to officially determine if they've found the ship.
For three straight days, commercial divers have been dredging around a timber sticking out of the bed of Lake Michigan.
"It's a fact-finding mission," said Tommy Gouin of Great Lakes Diving & Salvage. "Hopefully we're trying to identify the Griffon."
"We believe it has some earmarks to being French-built and there's definitely something there," said Charlie Henriksen of Sister Bay, an associate of the Great Lakes Exploration Group.
Steve Libert, the founder of the exploration group, found the timber in 2001 after starting his search for the Griffon in 1981. After a decade of legal battles, his exploration group has permits to excavate the area for seven days.
"We knew this was definitely an archaeological find, so then we treated it like one," said Libert.
The dredging has gone much deeper than the crew expected. First, they cleared out about a three-foot layer of mussels, then an inch of stone and gravel, and now clay. The total hole is about eight feet.
"What takes time is getting in there, looking at it, not ripping through it, so you can actually know what's there, whether it's cultural, natural, a combination," said Misty Jackson, an archaeologist. "So far it's been a natural soil composition."
Crews monitor the underwater work through a camera attached to the diver's helmet.
With excavation turning the water dark, archaeologists sift through the dredge spoils on the boat.
"We're going to keep raking through this stuff because that's where we are going to get our first signs," said Jackson.
The work is being done on boats from Fairport fishermen. The explorers have become friends with locals as they've researched the area the past three decades.
"We weren't sure what we were getting into, but as soon as we saw the pictures, right away we fell in love with this project," said Larry Barbeau, who owns the boat dredgers are on.
Some of the top archeologists in all of France are in Fairport to make the final determination if this is the Griffon. However, they spent Sunday out of the water, hoping to maximize the day's dredging efforts.
"We're just going to keep going," said Gouin. "The dive plan right now for the archaeologists and the French team is just go to the bottom of this and see what it is. Is it a mast? Is it a piece of timber? Is it something from a barn from around here? We don't know."
The group hopes to find out by the end of the week, before their permits expire and the French archaeologists fly home.
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