SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredgers recently discovered pre-Civil War artifacts at the bottom of the Savannah River as a part of the Harbor Expansion Project.

Three canons, a ship anchor and other wooden materials were found and remain in the hands of the Corps Engineers as they begin preservation steps.

“You never know what’s going to be under the surface,” said Andrea Farmer, an archeologist for the Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District.

“These items could just be part of a debris field,” said Farmer. “Maybe these cannons were not needed and pushed off a ship, or they could be part of a wreck that could potentially, in part, still be intact at the bottom of the Savannah River.”

It’s estimated the artifacts could date as far back as the 1770s when Great Britain held control of the Georgia colony.

Dredging in the area where the artifacts were discovered has been halted pending more research into the origin of the artifacts.

“With the dredging, we just wanted to ensure that it was stopped just so that if there is an intact vessel or site down there, that we did not disturb it any further,” Farmer explained. “And as part of National Preservation Historic Act — that’s just to ensure that there’s a process by which we work with consulting parties and interested parties.”

The Corps of Engineers says it wants to adhere to the letter and spirit of the National Historic Preservation Act.

“We want to assess whether or not there is an archeological site or sunken vessel and if it is significant,” said Farmer.

Dr. Stan Deaton with the Georgia Historical Society called it “wonder discovery.”

“Literally, the past just lies beneath our feet, in this case underneath the water,” he said, adding that Georgia history dates back to the earliest days of the republic.

“The event that dredged these things up is something that we would think of as progress, right? We are dredging the river to let even larger ships come in,” said Deaton. “That really focuses on our future and yet we have to pause a moment to take note of the past with something like this.”

The Corps will do more work, including using sonar underneath the surface to determine if there are additional artifacts. It’s a process that Farmer said may take months, but it’s important.

“We want to make sure we’re doing due diligence to protect the site and gather more information about it,” she said.

The deepening of the harbor will return $7.30 to the nation for each $1 spent on the project for a net benefit of $282 million annually, according to the Corps.