SEASIDE — What three friends discovered while metal-detecting in the dunes last November is indeed a shipwreck.

Now the question is: which one?

“We have over 2,000 wrecks at the mouth of the Columbia (River),” said Oregon’s State Archaeologist, Dennis Griffin. “So it’s interesting if we can figure out what wreck this is because we don’t have it on record.”

In hopes of recovering the ship’s identity, Griffin traveled to the site near Avenue L Jan. 13 and took two wood samples from the boat’s 21-foot keel, then sent them to Eugene for testing. The results, expected in a few weeks, will determine the type of lumber used in construction and, in turn, narrow the ship’s potential points of origin.

Hypothetically “Let’s say it’s Douglas fir,” Griffin said. “If that’s what it is, that’s usually used in more West Coast shipping.”

Should that be the case, lost ships from abroad — and even the East Coast — would be crossed off the list of candidates.

The tests being performed will not account for age, though Christopher Dewey, a volunteer at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, examined the site and estimated that the ship was built in the 20th century.

“It’s really a process of elimination,” Griffin said. “You look at reported wrecks in the area and try to determine would this size of an artifact be from one ship rather than another? Trying to nail that down to one particular wreck, that can be very difficult.”

That is, in part, because where a ship was known to sink and where it may wash up can be vastly different.

“We’ve known boats to hit a sandbar off the Columbia but found the wrecks had floated down 20-some miles or so to Arch Cape,” Griffin said. Historically, lost ships are more likely not to be found, he said.

“Over 3,000 wrecks are known to be off the coast of Oregon,” he said. “We have the locations of a little over 300 in our database.”

Regardless of whether or not the wreck beneath the dunes in Seaside is identified, it’s likely to remain where it is — buried in the sand.

“Once a piece of a ship that’s been in a water-logged state leaves the beach, or leaves that environment, it will dry and fall apart,” Griffin said. “It would need to be placed in a tank ­— in a plastic solution — that protects it. I don’t know of any place on the West Coast that has a tank large enough to hold that piece. This piece of wood is huge. It would cost tens-upon-tens-of-thousands of dollars to protect that wood.”

“The best environment it could be in is right where it is now,” he said. “It’s being preserved right there.”

The worth of the find, he added, is purely informational.

“We place the value, archaeologywise, on the historical value,” he said. “What those sites have is a potential to tell us more about our past.”

“Shipwrecks tie us more into the land that we now live in,” he added. “Whether it’s the logging industry, whether it’s commercial trade or fishing trade, whatever it was, it’s all important.”

“The wreck itself might be important because, perhaps, it was a fishing trawler that sunk in a storm in the 1930s,” Griffin said. “If so, it tells us more about the expanse of people going out there to harvest fish to feed the growing cities.”

“So it’s about historical value,” he said. “We don’t place monetary value on these sites.”