Excavated log reveals clues of possible early American camp on Kangaroo Island

The Flinders University Archaeology team with the excavated log at the American River wharf and hosts from the Rebuild Independence Group on Kangaroo Island.
The Flinders University Archaeology team with the excavated log at the American River wharf and hosts from the Rebuild Independence Group on Kangaroo Island.

The mystery log at American River will remain an enigma a little longer but a few more clues as to its origins were unearthed last week.

A team from archaeologists from Flinders University dug the beach area in front of the Rebuild Independence Group hoping to find more logs after a recent ground penetrating radar survey identified anomalies.

While the team did not find any more logs, they did find artifacts including a metal screw and bolt, a pig's tooth and a clearly defined ash layer from an old fire or fires.

Archaeologists are trying to determine if the large log unearthed during the construction of the RIG shed does indeed date back to the first American camp in 1803.

It was these first Americans that build the schooner Independence, but there was also a second group of American sealers that came to the Island in 1823.

Leading the team of six undergraduate and masters students, who hail from all over the world, was Professor Wendy van Duivenvoorde of the university's Maritime Archaeology program.

Also volunteering his services was former KI teacher John Naumann, who is now an occupational health and safety officer at Flinders Uni.

Prof. van Duivenvoorde said the log was believed to be from a local sugar gum tree, different from the turpentine wood logs used in later jetty construction.

The species of tree and also the date of an unusually shaped iron bolt in the log would be determined once the results of the excavation were analysed.

She hopes to return to American River possibly as soon as this summer to do some underwater survey work.

"The two jetty structures at the wharf were built in the 1850s and 1908, so diving out there should help us determine if this log is associated with those jetties or whether it is indeed earlier," she said.

Dig video

Local amateur historian Steve Berzel first unearthed the log during the construction of the stone retaining wall for the RIG shed.

He said it was disappointing but not surprising that the radar anomalies turned out not to be logs, as it was an inexact science.

He like the Flinders Uni archaeologists is keen for further excavation to try and solve the mystery.

RIG president Tony Klieve thanked the Flinders University for their visit and also SeaLink for assisting with travel costs.

"It's great and helps paint a picture of what happened here all those years ago," Mr Klieve said.

Flinders University was most grateful for the support of the RIG volunteers and also SeaLink. "The RIG people have been phenomenal and so supportive every day of our work here," she said.

The professor has several KI shipwrecks she would like to investigate, including the Breeze sunk somewhere out from American River in the mid 1800's.

Also on her list were two shipwrecks on the Nepean Bay sand spit, including the Robert Burns, built in Tasmania in the mid 19th century, sinking off Kingscote in 1908.

After the American River dig, the log and other excavations were covered up for preservation and to prevent erosion.