(Mark Price/Charlotte Observer) - A barnacle-covered object found on North Carolina's newly formed Shelly Island has presented historians and one sleuthing tourist with an intriguing puzzle.
The weighty object – which looks a bit like a large metal bowl – was found July 28 by a family of Virginia tourists who had taken a charter boat to the island.
Family member Dina Hoffmann said it was first spotted under a pile of shells. She has vowed to unravel the mystery of what it is, and sent photos this week to a historian at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. An investigation is in progress.
"I told my son-in-law, Dan, that he found treasure," Hoffmann said. "With all those hundreds of shipwrecks off the Outer Banks, I'm just fascinated at what it might be."
At first glance, she thought it might be a chalice or large cup. Holes suggest it may have had a handle at some point, she said. Maybe it was for a candle, or possibly it hung on a ship, she guessed.
"Clearly, whatever it is, it's been rolling around in the ocean for a long time," she said.
Photos of the object were examined in late August by historian Jami Lanier at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and she was stumped.
"I cannot say for sure what this object is, but my initial thought was some type of watercraft instrument," said Lanier. "It is hard to tell with the encrustation."
Lanier intends to send the photos to a regional archeologist for further study.
It's not the first odd discovery made on Shelly Island.
In mid-July, Shelly Island was evacuated when someone found what appeared to be an unexploded bomb in the sand. An ordnance disposal unit later removed the item and it was identified as a World War II-era training device.
A week later, an actual bomb washed up on the tip of Hatteras Island, about 13 miles away. The Navy sent a team and they performed a precautionary detonation of the object.
Hoffmann doesn't think the object her son-in-law found is explosive or dangerous.
"The first time I saw it, he was using it as an ashtray," she says, noting that's a pretty good test for any explosive device.
April and it has continued to grow because of currents washing up additional sand. It is separated from Hatteras Island by a channel of water that has been growing increasingly shallow.
NASA photos released in July show it began forming in November.