Expert discusses S.C. law protecting artifacts sunken in the Savannah River

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 8:23 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -People are finding themselves in deep water not knowing anything about this state law: The South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act.

“This was developed to protect underwater archeological sites in state waters and there’s other archeological sites people don’t think about like submerged logs,” James Spirek, state underwater archeologist of South Carolina, said.

In the bottom of the Savannah River and other South Carolina waterways, that law protects massive logs like these lay at the bottom.

Just a couple of days ago, two men were charged after trying to take wooden logs from the water.

It turns out the logs are considered artifacts and taking them is illegal.

“A lot of the loggers are interested in Cyprus logs that are usually a little bit older and especially is they’re axe cut which suggested colonial or at least early period of the industry so those are pretty prized logs,” Spirek said.

The dark water and low oxygen levels, like the Savannah River’s, help keep the wood in pristine shape. They’re used to make expensive furniture, housing, or even musical instruments.

“But again, any archaeological material that people want to try and commercially profit from need to get an exclusive license,” Spirek said.

Those licenses aren’t cheap. It’s $500 for in-state and $1,000 for out of state-residents.

“Well, we hear a lot that supposedly people are recovering logs illegally,” Spirek said.

Spirek says he usually sees around 20 to 30 people looking to start logging. Once they figure out how lengthy the license process is, they back out.

“Out of all the people I’ve dealt with only like two or three percent have actually gone forward with this,” Spirek said.

Which leads to people illegally logging for these 100-year-old logs.

Officials really want to stress the importance of getting a permit before doing something like this. They say getting natural deadfall or trees that have fallen in are okay to take.

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