George Gelé has spent the past 35 years or so trying to solve a mystery.
There’s something at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico near the northern Chandeleur Islands off the coast of Louisiana, and Gelé wants to know what it is and how it got there.
Gelé, a 64-year-old Prairieville architect and commercial contractor, calls himself an “amateur archeologist.”
His quest for the truth has consumed his time with hard work over the past three decades, Gelé said, and led to the spending of hundreds of thousands of his own dollars.
“What’s important is to figure out what’s there because whatever it is, it belongs to the people of Louisiana,” Gelé said.
Gelé has state officials rooting for him and supporting his search, including Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and State Archeologist Chip McGimsey.
So far, this is what Gelé knows:
He found a large continuous mass of thousands and thousands of broken and square stones last year.
Even though granite is not natural to Louisiana or Mississippi, most of the rock in the mass is granite, which means someone had to bring it to the location, Gelé said.
Looking at the spot from a distance, the mass is bigger than the base of the Louisiana Superdome, Gelé said.
The largest part of the continuous rock mass is 200 feet by 700 feet.
In some spots, the mounds of rock and stone rise 14 feet high from the bottom of the sand.
Following a dive in April, Gelé and a team of private, underwater archeologists he hired brought up artifacts from the site, including four roofing tiles made in Marseilles, France, sometime between the 1800s and the turn of the century.
Another artifact he found was a curved clay pottery piece or possibly a sewer tile, Gelé said.
A sixth piece he brought up has some kind of glaze or paint on it and looks like it could be the end piece of a building or an architectural façade, Gelé said.
Gelé also found a stone with a sharp 90-degree angle, which looks man-made.
“And there are hundreds of pieces like that down there,” Gelé said.
Gelé said he is looking at different hypotheses to explain why the mass is there.
The site could be a construction dumping ground, an attempt to create an artificial reef, ballast rocks from sailing ships, multiple shipwrecks, a cultural site that was built on the St. Bernard Mississippi River Delta 3,000 years ago, building ruins that could be 12,000 years old or something else.
Gelé won’t say what he thinks the site is.
“What I think would only be speculation. That doesn’t matter. What matters is what the professional archeologists think it is,” Gelé said.
The whole search really started for Gelé back in 1966 when he went to Mexico as an LSU college student to study ancient cities and civilizations.
The trip left Gelé with what would turn out to be a lifelong interest in ancient civilizations.
Gelé realized that if there were ancient civilizations in Mexico, why wouldn’t there be ancient civilizations here. After all, the two countries are not that far apart.
As the years went by, Gelé said, he studied photos, worked with math equations involving the distance between geographical regions and met with a fisherman from Mississippi in 1984 who showed him a drawing of a piece of granite he found after the end of the Korean War at a popular fishing site — off the northern Chandeleur Islands.
In 1976, Gelé went for his first dive in the area surrounding the islands, but it would take almost 35 years to find the actual site.
McGimsey, the state’s archeologist, said he has been out to the site for a day and loves Gelé’s story.
“It so great that he has been following this for 30 or so years, and it’s great to see someone with that much enthusiasm for history,” McGimsey said.
McGimsey said Gelé has been going about his search officially by seeking permits from the Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission.
McGimsey said there doesn’t appear to be evidence of a shipwreck at the site. Instead, it appears somebody may have dumped barge loads of the stone there, he said.
“But why and why there? Those are questions that need to be answered,” McGimsey said.
After meeting with Gelé twice, Dardenne wrote a letter to the Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission last month asking members to approve Gelé’s request for a permit to bring up more artifacts from the site.
The permit was approved.
“I sure hope he’s onto something with all this because if he is correct this could be something that has been discarded, but could be a valuable piece of history to the people of the state,” Dardenne said recently.
Dardenne said he was not surprised to learn Gelé has worked so hard on his quest.
“People here have a passion for Louisiana, and Mr. Gelé is very passionate about his discovery,” Dardenne said.
LSU archeology professor Rob Mann has met Gelé and seen his presentation on the findings.
Mann said Gelé has definitely found something.
The question, Mann said, is what is it.
“Based on my professional opinion and my limited knowledge of what’s been found, I think we may differ on what it turns out to be,” Mann said.
Mann said he thinks the site will turn out to be something more “pedestrian” rather than anything “mystical.”
Mann said it might be an attempt by someone to create an artificial reef in the 1940s by dumping barge loads of building materials in the water.
“I think simply searching underwater at this point won’t give us any more answers. When the historical archive work is done, looking at records and newspapers, that’s when we will know what it is,” Mann said.
Gelé said he asked the state for money to continue his research, but Dardenne said the state has no money to give him.
Gelé said he is running out of his own money for the project.
“My hope is I can continue to work somehow so we can get to the truth. Whatever is out there belongs to the state of Louisiana,” Gelé said.
But Gelé wants to know what it is and where it came from.
“I just want the truth,” Gelé said.