In recent years, hurricanes have unearthed an array of unexpected finds: among others, a dugout canoe believed to be more than 100 years old, the remains of a 19th-century historic fort and a World War II-era gun mount. Now, Hurricane Dorian has added another discovery to the list. As Lillian Donahue reports for local news station WCSC, a couple exploring the shores of South Carolina’s Folly Beach in the aftermath of last week’s destructive storm chanced upon a pair of Civil War cannonballs buried near a pile of brush.
“At first, we just thought it was a rock,” Aaron Lattin, a South Carolinian who found the artillery with his girlfriend Alba, explains to WCSC. “[But] the more we got to looking, we realized it was something more than a rock.”
According to Donahue, the duo visited the beach in search of artifacts washed ashore during the hurricane. Lattin originally hoped to scour the area with a metal detector, but they discovered the 8-inch cannonball and a smaller 3-inch shell without the aid of any treasure-hunting tools: “We actually just got lucky with no equipment,” he adds, “just spending a day at the beach.”
Andrew Gilreath, head of the Folly Beach Department of Public Safety, tells CNN’s David Williams that authorities blocked off the area where the objects were found until explosive ordnance disposal experts from the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Air Force arrived to assess the situation. Although the team deemed the cannonballs safe, Gilreath says the experts will probably destroy them to avoid the possibility of future accidents.
As Laura Geggel reported for Live Science in 2016, centuries-old cannonballs still pose a significant safety threat. Some are simply large steel projectiles, but others are live explosives liable to detonate if handled. In 2008, for example, hobbyist Sam White, 53, was restoring a 75-pound cannonball when it exploded, killing him and sending shrapnel flying into his neighbor’s porch.
Lattin’s find actually represents the second set of Civil War cannonballs found at Folly Beach over the past several years. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew unearthed a trove of 16 cannonballs at the South Carolina site; as Gilreath told Geggel at the time, authorities’ hopes of displaying the weapons were thwarted by the realization that a “large number of them were explosive cannonballs, and thus contained old and very unstable gunpowder.” Ultimately, explosive experts destroyed the majority of the artifacts.
According to the City of Folly Beach website, Union soldiers seized control of the island in 1863, building roads, forts, an artillery battery and a supply depot sizable enough to support 13,000 troops.
Given the region’s close ties to the Civil War, Gilreath says the cannonball finds are not wholly uncommon.
“This is something that's happened every couple of years since I've been here, at least,” Gilreath tells CNN’s Williams. “We'll have some erosion on the beach, and something will get uncovered.”