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Is this the first photo of Cape Cod? Instagram users debate the date

'The preservation of history is crucial,' says Provincetown historian Stefan Anikewich, who scours archives and curates his finds at @provincetownarcheology.

The oldest photograph of the Cape could well have been snapped here, overlooking a bridge stretching across East Harbor at Beach Point.

But when was the picture taken? Certainly not in 1830, as Instagram followers of @provincetownarcheology were quick to point out this month. For one thing, power lines and beach grass can be seen, neither of which entered the picture until at least 1860, said Stefan Anikewich, who runs the account.

It appears that the photo, which could have been taken as late as 1880, was dated erroneously by the artist Ross Moffett, Anikewich said. Moffett's collection is archived at the Provincetown History Preservation Project.

"We have no way of knowing how he came across that date," he added. "But that's where the story begins."

Anikewich is working to track down the oldest photo of the Cape by tapping online archives, maintained by the Provincetown History Preservation Project, and David Dunlap's extensive Building Provincetown initiative, which catalogs virtually every property in town.

The hunt has unexpectedly flourished into a community effort on Instagram, where followers eagerly clarify the historical attributes of his posts.

Anikewich says he welcomes the engagement.

"Honestly, everything I post, a lot of people correct," he said. "I'm trying to correct what's already out there, and then the community jumps in and helps me out. It's such a beautiful thing."

Of course it's possible that the consensus is wrong. Given the timing discrepancy of the beach photo, it might have been taken after George Nickerson snapped a pic of Town Hall in 1875. (See gallery above.)

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.