Opposition Grows to Seismic Testing For Offshore Oil Reserves

Scientists are worried that an executive order issued by President Trump earlier this year that seeks to open large portions of the mid-Atlantic and other coastal areas to oil and gas exploration would harm the endangered North Atlantic right whale and other species that occasionally visit the Chesapeake Bay.

Trump’s order, issued April 28, would reverse a 2016 policy from the Obama administration that outlawed drilling in federal waters off portions of the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. The order also instructed federal agencies to streamline the permitting process to speed approval of seismic testing to locate oil and gas reserves in those areas.

But the action is increasingly unpopular with many elected officials along the East Coast. In July, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced his opposition to further offshore exploration. And the attorneys general from nine East Coast jurisdictions — including those from Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and Delaware — submitted comments opposing additional surveys.

“The proposed seismic tests are themselves disruptive and harmful,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement. “Worse, they are the precursors to offshore drilling that would put the Chesapeake Bay at risk to drilling-related contamination. That contamination would have catastrophic impacts on fragile ecosystems and important economies. This is a foolish gamble with our precious natural resources.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia is the lone Southeastern governor supporting marine oil exploration, saying he “never had a problem” with seismic testing. While 127 municipalities have passed resolutions against the tests, only five are in Virginia.

But coastal Virginians’ unease with seismic tests appears to be growing. In July, the city council of Norfolk passed a unanimous resolution opposing both offshore drilling and seismic testing, citing threats to marine life, local fisheries and wetlands that offer vital protection from rising seas. The previous month, the city council of Virginia Beach also voted to oppose offshore drilling.

The seismic testing has raised particular concern because of its potential impact on marine life. The tests are conducted by firing seismic air guns from ships “every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, at a noise level that would rupture a human eardrum,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that was among 10 organizations that filed suit May 3 over the executive order. Among the plaintiffs’ contentions is that seismic blasts “could deafen and even kill whales, dolphins and other animals.”

The University of Rhode Island, in partnership with NOAA, has created a website called “sound in the sea,” through which visitors can click to hear what seismic air guns actually sound like when heard several thousand kilometers away underwater.

Cetaceans — whales and their relatives — use specialized echolocation for almost all of their activities, including hunting, migration, courtship and communication, but they are extremely sensitive to underwater sound vibrations, scientists say. Right whales, whose population is thought to number only around 500, could be at particular risk, they say.

Last spring, 28 top marine mammal scientists specializing in right whales signed a statement declaring unequivocally that for this species, already facing a “desperate level of endangerment,” widespread seismic surveys may well represent a tipping point toward extinction.

To locate new sources of undersea oil, companies employ compressed-air guns that blast powerful acoustic waves through the water and into the seafloor. Each seismic test can affect an area of more than 2,500 square nautical miles, raising background noise levels to 260 decibels, approximately equaling the epicenter of a grenade blast. This can go on continuously for weeks or even months, according to a 2013 report released by the international body carrying out the United Nations sponsored Convention on Biodiversity.

Scientists say potential harm is not limited to large marine mammals. The testing could also harm zooplankton — microscopic invertebrates that constitute the core of the marine food chain for everything from shrimp to baleen whales. In a June 2017 study published in the journal Nature, a team of marine ecologists found that their air gun tests decreased zooplankton abundance and caused a two–to threefold increase in dead adult and larval zooplankton. The study concluded that there was significant potential for negative impacts on the ocean ecosystem’s functions and productivity.

In May, 133 environmental and civic organizations sent a joint letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking him not to proceed with the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling and related seismic testing, citing “unacceptable risks” to ocean wildlife and ecosystems as well as human populations on the coast.

But Zinke followed up on the president’s executive order with an order of his own on May 11, setting the seismic testing in motion. “Seismic surveying helps a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation’s offshore areas, including locating offshore hazards, siting of wind turbines, as well as offshore energy development,” Zinke said in a statement. “Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service has also proposed authorizing more than 90,000 miles of active seismic blasting which, based on the results of the Nature report, would constitute “approximately 135,000 square miles,” according to the Natural Resource Defense Council.

Reflection seismology, as the geophysical exploratory process is called, uses concussive compressed air to send a sudden shock of sound beneath the ocean surface. Oil deposits can be detected by a geological interpretation of sounds, or reflections, that bounce back. Reflections are gathered and collated by floating hydrophones, also called towed arrays or streamers.

“When a mammal is exposed to an audible sound of high intensity and long duration,” said Maria Morell, a specialist in marine mammal acoustics in the University of British Columbia’s zoology. “The sensory cells of the inner ear can suffer mechanical and metabolical fatigue.” This can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss, she said.

The seismic testing, she said, just adds to the cacophony that Atlantic’s marine mammals endure every day, including everything from ship engine noise and military activities to acoustic deterrent and harassment devices.

Ingrid Biedron, a marine biologist with the conservation group Oceana, said that Trump’s call for offshore drilling may be difficult to enact under federal law. “Current proposals conflict with the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” she said. “They also conflict with the Endangered Species Act because several endangered whale species use the area proposed for seismic air gun blasting.” Citing a federal study, she said that as many as 138,000 whales and dolphins could be harmed and up to 13 million disturbed if the seismic testing is allowed.

The recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Noise Roadmap recognizes that “sound is a fundamental component of the physical and biological habitat that many aquatic animals and ecosystems have evolved to rely on over millions of years.”

By William H. Funk

William H. (Bill) Funk is a freelance environmental journalist whose work for the Bay Journal centers on wildlife, forestry, rivers, farming and other land use issues in the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley.

Mid Shore Mediation Sponsors Volunteer Mediator Informational Seminar

Imagine a young couple, with a young child, who have decided to part ways. There are some issues which need to be addressed, and, for the benefit of their child, they have decided they would like to try to resolve things as peacefully and amicably as possible. If not for the availability of mediation, stress could set in, and the conflict could escalate, impacting their child, and the entire family. Costs could mount, as the conflict became more adversarial. Did you know that community members can help by becoming trained mediators with Mid Shore Mediation Center, bringing peace and resolution promptly to those who need it most? Mid Shore Mediation Center offers free mediation and conflict resolution services, provided by highly trained volunteer mediators.

The Center is in need of volunteer mediators from all backgrounds to help with the growing demand in the community for mediation services. The extensive training needed is provided by the Center through Community Mediation Maryland. Mid Shore Mediation helps resolve disputes of all kinds involving interpersonal conflicts, such as parenting plans for parents who live apart, parent and teen mediations, elder and family mediations, re-entry from incarceration discussions, neighbor conflicts, workplace disputes, as well as larger group community conversations.

On Monday, August 28, at 5 pm, Mid Shore Community Mediation Center (MSCMC) will host an Informational Seminar for prospective volunteer mediators. At this Information Session, MSCMC Executive Director Cynthia Jurrius, as well as other staff members and volunteers, will describe the function of the Center and the nature of its work. The next 50-hour basic training for new MSCMC mediators will take place three weekends in September 2017. Training is interactive and is free to all participants, with volunteer commitment.  Space is limited.

Mid Shore Community Mediation Center brings the community together by helping support productive conversations that increase understanding and transform relationships, between individuals and among groups. By overcoming the barriers to communication and understanding, families, organizations and communities are strengthened.

For more information about training to become a volunteer mediator, or to rsvp for the Informational Seminar, please contact Mid Shore Community Mediation Center at 410-820-5553, or mscmc@ goeaston.net.

St. Michaels Library to Offer Coloring for Teens & Adults

On Monday, August 28, at 3:00 p.m., the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Free Library will offer a coloring program for teens and adults.  Patrons are invited to explore the relaxing process of coloring.  All library programs are free and open to the public.  Patrons do not need to pre-register for this program.  For more information, please call the library at 410-745-5877, or visit www.tcfl.org.

Contact: Diana Hastings, telephone: 410-745-5877

Freedom Rowers Accepting New Members

The Freedom Rowers will be hosting their information and registration for the upcoming fall season Thursday, August 24th from 7 – 8pm at the Evergreen Cove practice location.

Students and their parents will get an overview of the sport of rowing as well as a chance to see the boats in the water with current team members. Freedom Rowers is a coeducational rowing program open to all students ages 13 – 18 in schools from Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester and Queen Anne’s Counties.

The fall season will run from September through the beginning of November. Evergreen Cove is located at 770 Port Street in Easton.

For further information please visit the website at: www.freedomrowers.org or call Coach Gill at 410-253-6851.

The Women & Girls Fund Golf Day on September 12

Women golfers—from beginners to veterans—are welcome to pick up tips, enjoy lunch and play in a 9-hole tournament at the Women & Girls Fund’s 6th Annual Golf Day at the Talbot Country Club on Tuesday, September 12.

The Women & Girls Fund will use the proceeds to support its annual grant-making efforts for the benefit of non-profit organizations whose programs serve women, girls, and families in the five Mid-Shore counties. Since 2003, the Fund’s grants have totaled $507,022 in support of programs at 82 local non-profit organizations.

Chesley Nonemaker, left, and Kari Rider.

“The Clinic and 9-hole tournament is a really fun way to support the Women & Girls Fund,” said Alice Ryan, Women & Girls Fund founder and event co-chair with board member Susie Dillon. “The golf day has turned into a wonderful event, thanks to the generosity of the golf pros who help improve the players’ games, the great field of women, and our great sponsors.”

During the morning clinics, Head Golf Professional Marc Kimminau and his assistant pros at Talbot Country Club will offer tips and techniques for putting, chipping, driving and getting out of sand traps. The clinics also include a popular session on the rules of the game.

“The rules clinic is an important part of the event,” said Talli Oxnam, Women & Girls Fund board president. “I’ve been amazed to learn rules beyond basic play that have really helped my game.”

After lunch, the women will break into foursomes for a 9-hole “scramble” where all players will hit from their foursome’s “best ball” position, from tee to green. That way, even novices have a chance to contribute to the team’s cumulative low score.

“Women love this event because it works as well for new golfers as it does for really good players,” said Beth Spurry, former Women & Girls Fund board president and avid golfer. “And the best part is that the sponsors and players all know they’re helping us improve lives for the Mid-Shore’s women and girls, and that means we’re building stronger communities. It’s the best win-win golf day I can imagine.”

The fee for the full day, including the clinic, luncheon, golf cart, and 9 holes of golf, is $150. The cost of lunch, a cart, and the 9-hole tournament is $100.

For further information and to sign up for the “Golf Day,” call 410-770-8347, e-mail info@womenandgirlsfund.org, or go to www.womenandgirlsfund.org.

Chesapeake and Dorchester YMCA Organizations Merge

Over the past year, volunteer leaders from the Dorchester County YMCA in Cambridge, Maryland and the YMCA of the Chesapeake have been exploring the benefits that could come from working more closely together. Those efforts led to both volunteer Board of Directors voting to merge the two charities together. “Bringing these two YMCAs together expands our ability to invest more into the communities we serve, strengthen programs and services, and maximize efficiencies to make a bigger impact in the lives of children, families and adults across the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia.” said YMCA of the Chesapeake Board member and Committee Chair Mark Welsh. The merger is slated to be completed in early September.

When the two charities officially merge together, the YMCA of the Chesapeake will be the largest human service organization on the Eastern Shore serving over 35,000 members. “With ten YMCA branches across the Shore, and another two dozen points of contact, the YMCA has the depth and breadth to tackle key community issues like the achievement gap, youth obesity and adult onset diabetes.” stated Mary Ann Moore, Past Board Chair for the Dorchester Y and Merger Committee Chair. “Our mission is focused around doing the most good for the most people and bringing these Ys together helps us further our cause.” The Dorchester County YMCA will keep its name and continue to be led by a local Board of volunteers.

Established on the Shore in 1857, the Y provides financial assistance for membership, programs and services turning no one away due to the inability to pay. In 2017, the YMCA will provide over $1,500,000 to over 15,000 people to ensure the Y is a place where everyone is welcome. Dorchester Y Board Chair Lee Grier echoed his excitement for the merger, “The Dorchester Y and the YMCA of the Chesapeake have the same cause and the same culture. We’re both working to strengthen the communities we call home. As we explored the opportunity to bring the two Ys together, it was evident that we could make a bigger impact working together than we ever could working alone.”

YMCA members will have access to facilities, programs and services across the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia as a part of the merger at no additional cost. The YMCA will employ over 850 staff and is currently one of the largest employers of first time work force employees. “Bringing these Y’s together gives us the ability to recruit, grow and develop and retain local talent who have a passion for serving others through the work of the Y and want to live and work on the Shore.” stated YMCA of the Chesapeake CEO Robbie Gill. “This merger is a big win for communities across the Shore and we’re excited to work together to make a positive difference in the lives of those we’re blessed enough to serve.”

Old Wye Grist Mill Seriously Damaged after Hard Rains Hit Region

It was a somber day for the Friends of Old Wye Grist Mill, and the Eastern Shore community as a whole, after a torrential downpour hit the Mid-Shore a few days ago. The historic Wye Mills site experienced serious flooding in its aftermath.

The water wheel had water above the axle, and the entire lower museum area remains flooded. The water coming from the Mill Pond has also flooded the entire area where Route 213 intersects Route 662, while the bridge over the stream was closed for a time because it was covered with water.

It’s going to be a major project for the Friends of Wye Mill, Inc. to restore the Mill, and they express the hope that those who love to Grist Mill will consider donating the repairs that will be needed.

Volunteers to help clean up after the water recedes will also be gratefully welcomed. The small non-profit organization is staffed by a small, dedicated group of volunteers. The Mill, which was established in 1682 is the oldest water-powered mill in continuous use in the U.S., and the oldest commercial establishment in continuous use in Maryland. It’s a priceless historical resource that must be preserved for present and future generations.

Donors and volunteers are asked to contact the Friends of Old Wye Grist Mill here to help.

Kinera to Celebrate Five Year Anniversary on August 20

The Kinera Foundation will host its annual board meeting, along with a family friendly block party to celebrate its five-year anniversary on Sunday, August 20, 2017 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., at the Kinera Hub location, 115 Sallitt Drive, Suite C, Stevensville, Maryland 21666.

The meeting, block party and five-year anniversary celebration is tailored for families with children who have disabilities and special needs, and is also open to the general public. This is a rain or shine, free community event that will include games and activities for the entire family to participate in and brothers, sisters, parents, caregivers and extended family are invited to attend.

The annual board meeting will kick off at noon and will feature a brief presentation of Kinera’s activities during the last year and accomplishments over the last five years, including other initiatives that help to enhance the lives of children with special health care needs and their families who reside on both the Eastern and Western Shores. Those in attendance will have the opportunity to meet Kinera Foundation’s Board of Directors, providers, therapists and community partners. The Kinera Hub will also be open for tours.

The Kinera parking lot will be filled with food trucks and vendors, all offering a variety of food and beverages for sale, including gluten-free and vegetarian options. Food vendors include: Rita’s Italian Ice; Smoke Rattle &Roll BBQ; Sprouts Farmers Market; and Team Autism’s Fish Fry & Crab Cakes. Entertainment will include music by DJ Dalton, a cornhole tournament, photo booth, along with family-fun games and activities for all ages. Additionally, one of the highlights of the event will be the silent auction, which will feature items and packages with local products.

This is an admission-free, rain or shine event, but registration is encouraged; to register, visit www.kinera.org or call 443-249-3126. For additional information about this event and how to become a donor, sponsor or volunteer, please call 443-249-3126 or email info@kinera.org. Kinera can be found on the web at www.kinera.org, and remember to like us on Facebook.

The Kinera Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to enhancing the quality of life for children with special needs and their families by providing parent support groups, social activities and events, access to therapies and treatments, while continuing to support inclusive and community programs. The Kinera Foundation Eastern Shore Regional Hub, with partners that include the Office of Genetics and People with Special Health Care Needs and Kennedy Krieger’s Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities, provides a centralized, coordinated Hub of patient/family centered care. The Hub brings together providers, therapists, families and supporting agencies to ensure Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN) have access to the level of care, services and resources they need. The majority of those served by the Kinera Hub reside on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, however families travel from the Western Shore for therapies and services. For more information visit www.kinera.org.

Just So You Know… Sobriety Checkpoint Planned for August in Talbot County

Law enforcement agencies and Maryland State Highway Administration from throughout Talbot County will join forces to conduct a sobriety checkpoint.  The operation will be conducted with the five States and the District of Columbia campaign, “Checkpoint Strikeforce”.  The goal is to reduce the number of drunk and drugged drivers on Talbot County roadways.

Law enforcement agencies and Maryland State Highway Administration from throughout Talbot County will join forces to conduct a sobriety checkpoint.  The operation will be conducted with the five States and the District of Columbia campaign, “Checkpoint Strikeforce”.  The goal is to reduce the number of drunk and drugged drivers on Talbot County roadways.

A John Smith Historic Discovery or a Double-Cross by Tom Horton

Coastal geologist Darrin Lowery, among the Bay region’s premier finders of ancient artifacts, tells cautionary tales about how discoveries are not always as they seem.

There was the fork inscribed “Davy Crockett” that he found poking out of an eroding Delmarva Peninsula coastline, which turned out to be a 1955 Disney commemorative product, and a 4,500-year-old spear point penetrating a castoff Frigidaire. Go figure.

“Proving anything from the archaeology of a single day is virtually impossible,” Lowery said.

The two-and-a-half inch brass cross found on Mockhorn Island was determined to at least 400 years old, but later tests showed it contained an epoxy that wasn’t developed until 1937. (Dave Harp)

But then there came the blistering, buggy day Lowery and two colleagues virtually tripped over a small brass cross as they surveyed one of the Eastern Shore’s remotest shorelines on Mockhorn Island, VA.

If the little cross was what they had reason to think it might be, it would be one of the most significant archaeological finds made around the Chesapeake.

They found it on June 20, 2010 — 402 years and 17 days after Capt. John Smith sailed into the area near the Chesapeake’s mouth. A day out from Jamestown, Smith had just embarked on his famous voyages of exploration during the spring and summer of 1608 that literally put the Bay on the map.

Smith’s map, remarkably accurate by standards of the time, was further distinguished by showing where Smith had nailed up metal crosses to mark where he and his crew had actually explored.

Before this, none of the crosses had ever been found. According to the map, though, one such cross had been placed just south of the modern-day town of Oyster, which is just across a narrow bay from Mockhorn Island. For years, Lowery had been developing a hypothesis that Smith had not gone ashore near Oyster, as historians had long assumed, but a few miles east, on Mockhorn.

An authenticated John Smith cross where Lowery’s team found it would have dramatically boosted his theory. As Lowery would have been the first to tell you —though findings since the discovery have raised at least as many questions as they’ve answered.

Katherine Ridgway, the conservator at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, shows a cross found at Mockhorn Island and the original X-ray she made that revealed the second hole in the cross’s base. (Dave Harp)

It was a compelling discovery. As a coastal geologist, Lowery knew the sandy barrier islands lining Virginia’s Atlantic coast are among the most dynamic of all landforms, changing shapes at the whim of storms, currents and rising sea levels on time scales as short as decades.

By dating marsh sediment cores, old oyster beds, dune soils and other features around Mockhorn and Smith Island just to the southeast, he was fairly sure that John Smith had sailed into a very different landscape than exists there now.

Back then, Smith Island (named for the explorer, unlike the Smith Island in the Maryland Chesapeake, which is named for an early settler) was shaped and oriented differently from today. According to Lowery’s research, deep water flowed up the eastern side of Mockhorn, where now it would be difficult to paddle a kayak. On the island’s western side, where a broad channel now separates it from the mainland, only a narrow, barely discernible opening existed in 1608.

By Lowery’s reckoning, Smith most likely came around the tip of Delmarva and ventured up the eastern, Atlantic-facing side of Mockhorn. The island’s forested ridges, shown on Smith’s map, would have prevented his landing party from seeing that it was separated by water from the mainland (that is, the Eastern Shore).

Darrin Lowery, right, discusses an artifact with Norm Brady in Lowery’s study. (Dave Harp)

But it all happened a long time ago, in a dynamic, ever-shifting environment. And other than the map, there is no record or description of the 24 or so crosses that Smith said he nailed up (or, in places, carved into tree trunks) throughout the Chesapeake and its rivers.

But despite Lowery’s published theory, and close to a hundred visits to Mockhorn, which is rich in artifacts from 13,000 years of human habitation, the geologist said he was never on a “cross hunt.”

“We were just doing coastal archaeology, surveys under contract to the state of Virginia . . . doing our business,” explained Norm Brady, a retired arborist and longtime sidekick of Lowery on his expeditions. “We’d kid about it sometimes: ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we found the cross?’ But not seriously.”

Then, in June of 2010, Brady recalled, he literally stepped on it. He was walking along the shore ahead of Lowery and another assistant, and never noticed the ancient-looking brass cross lying there. It was about 2.5 inches in height and width, blackened by exposure and showing the imprint where a barnacle had been attached.

Lowery, coming up behind, plucked it from Brady’s boot print. “They caught up and said, ‘Norm, you just stepped on John Smith’s cross’ ” Brady remembers. “I wasn’t happy because I’d broken it.”

Now, seven years later, Lowery often seems to wish he’d never found the cross. Even the moment of discovery that day in 2010, he explained, was not the “eureka” moment the casual beachcomber might assume.

“I guess after finding tens of thousands of artifacts over the decades, I don’t get excited much anymore, especially when I find an object that is outside of my knowledge base (i.e. historic vs. prehistoric),” Lowery said in an email. “As always, you have to go back home and put all the pieces together before you know what you have.”

Lowery notified Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources, which agreed that he should seek to have it tested for possible authenticity. That was when things did get exciting, he said.

In 2011, testing by the Smithsonian Institution found that the cross was old enough to be from John Smith’s time. It was about half copper, a quarter to a third lead, mixed with tin, zinc and iron in lesser amounts. Subsequent research indicated it might even date to the 9th century — possibly a “pilgrim’s badge,” worn by someone making a religious pilgrimage. A hole in the top of the cross might have enabled someone to insert a metal ring and wear it.

Lowery was advised by Virginia officials to hold onto the cross. It was 2014 before he would turn it over to the state, which by law owns artifacts found on public lands like Mockhorn. More testing by Virginia’s historic resources department would confirm the Smithsonian’s finding about its age.

“We had people on both sides of [whether the cross was authentic], but it seemed a real possibility that it might be John Smith’s cross,” said Michael Barber, Virginia’s state archeologist. “It was exciting.”

Last October, though, that excitement turn into something that Lowery said he felt bordered on accusation. He and Brady were in Williamsburg to present results of contractual survey work to archaeologists. The day before, the two had uncovered some previously unknown archaeological sites on Virginia’s Rappahannock River. Brady mentioned to Barber that “he wouldn’t believe” what they had found.

“I probably won’t,” Barber replied, according to a lengthy account of the cross affair Lowery has recently published online, called “Coastal Geomorphology and the Search for John Smith’s First Landing Site.” Lowery said he thought the comment “odd, but I shrugged it off.”

Later that day, Barber showed Lowery and Brady an X-ray of the cross done as part of Virginia’s further authentication process. It showed a hole in the bottom of the cross, which had been filled, apparently to conceal it. The X-ray analysis determined that the bottom hole, the same diameter as the visible top hole, was as old as the rest of the cross. But what had been used to fill it was not. More tests had revealed the hole had been plugged with a mix of clay and a modern epoxy, invented in Germany in 1937 and still in use. In fact, epoxy coated the whole cross.

“The meeting took on the aura of an investigation,” Lowery wrote in his online account. He recalled that Michael Madden, a federal archeologist present with Barber during the discussion, advised him that “we know you have a lot of enemies in archaeology and you should find out who might have planted the metal cross.”

In an interview, Madden said, “[Being tricked] has happened to other archaeologists. People screw with people all the time, and archaeology is no different.”

Barber, in a separate interview, added: “All we can say for sure is the science was done, and the cross didn’t stand up as authentic. We’re done with it — time to move on.”

Lowery acknowledged that his “bubbly personality,” as he puts it, has rubbed some people the wrong way in the relatively small and sometimes competitive world of Chesapeake archaeology. “The one course I failed miserably in all my years of training” — he holds a Ph.D. in coastal geology — “was kiss-ass 101,” he said.

His friends will confirm that. “Darrin is from Tilghman Island,” said Brady, “and down there they say what they think, and if you’ve got an ego, you might get pissed off.”

Could someone have played a nasty trick? Brady and Lowery both think it’s wildly unlikely someone might have taken a John Smith era cross, cleverly altered it so that it would eventually be found a fake, and then actually have been able to “plant” it in a wave-washed shoreline zone on remote and inaccessible Mockhorn Island, so that it would be discovered that day.

“There was no one else in sight that day,” Brady said. “No one even knew we’d be out there looking then.”

Lowery wondered out loud in his online paper whether the cross might have been altered once it passed from his hands for testing. The Smithsonian appears to have no documentation of how it did its analysis, and the woman who did the tests retired soon thereafter to Boston. Brady says he was told she was ill, and his attempts to contact her have proven fruitless.

Katherine Ridgway, a conservator with the Virginia archaeologist’s office who handled the state’s analyses, says the Smithsonian testing was a non-invasive process (i.e. it wouldn’t have required drilling a hole or destroying a sliver of the cross). She said it would not have necessarily revealed the second hole or the epoxy.

The epoxy finding, she said, was made by Winterthur, a DuPont museum of decorative arts in Delaware that has “some of the best” facilities for such an analysis.

“Their finding is solid,” Ridgway said, “and unfortunately it means there is no way that cross can ever be linked to John Smith.”

No one has ever publicly suggested the almost unthinkable — that Lowery might have obtained and planted the cross, not knowing of the epoxy in it. He has always been a prolific discoverer of artifacts, and from time to time one hears that Lowery seems uncommonly “lucky.”

My own observation, based on trips afield with Lowery over the last couple decades, is that for both work and pleasure he spends more time exploring the region’s coastal edges than most. He uses his considerable expertise in coastal processes, such as erosion and sea-level rise, to deduce where Americans Indians likely ranged through the millennia. He knows where to look and when — after big storms have exposed new soils, for instance.

“I’ve asked Darrin, what is it he looks for to find artifacts — shapes, colors, textures.” Brady explained. “He basically seems to just integrate it all at once. . . . Sometimes I’ll try to fool him, bring him an artifact I showed him years ago, and he always recognizes it.”

Barber said that Virginia will hold onto the cross, “put it with the bottle caps and other detritus of history.” Lowery and Brady, who tried unsuccessfully to get it back for more testing, seem resigned.

“I’ve moved on,” Lowery said. “You find lots of weird stuff along the shoreline…let’s just call it that.”

By Tom Horton

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University.