|Published:||Jul 16, 2010 12:44 PM EDT|
|Updated:||Jul 16, 2010 9:45 AM EDT|
NEW YORK (AP) - The ship was buried as junk two centuries ago -
landfill to expand a bustling little island of commerce called
Manhattan. When it re-emerged this week, surrounded by skyscrapers,
it was an instant treasure that popped up from the mud near ground
A 32-foot piece of the vessel was found in soil 20 feet under
street level, amid noisy bulldozers excavating a parking garage for
the future World Trade Center. Near the site of so many grim finds
- Sept. 11 victims' remains, twisted steel - this discovery was as
unexpected as it was thrilling.
Historians say the ship, believed to date to the 1700s, was
defunct by the time it was used around 1810 to extend the shores of
"A ship is the summit of what you might find under the World
Trade Center - it's exciting!" said Molly McDonald, an
archaeologist who first spotted two pieces of hewn, curved timber -
part of the frame of the ship - peeking out of the muddy soil at
dawn on Tuesday.
By Thursday, she and three colleagues had dug up the hull from
the pit where a section of the new trade center is being built.
A steep, hanging ladder trembled with each step down into
chaotic mounds of dirt, dwarfed all around by Manhattan skyscrapers
rising into the July sun. People sank in the mud as they walked and
grasped pieces of the historic wood for support - touching the
centuries-old ship that may once have sailed the Caribbean,
according to marine historian Norman Brower, who examined it
"It smells like low tide, this muck," said McDonald as she
stood on the weathered planks, sniffing the dank odor that hovered
over them in the hot summer morning.
The ship harbors many mysteries still to be solved: "Where was
it built? How was it used? Why was it sunk?"
McDonald and archaeologist A. Michael Pappalardo made the
discovery on Tuesday at about 6:15 a.m., just as they started their
shift observing construction in the pit at the southern edge of
ground zero. The two work for AKRF, a New York environmental
consulting firm hired to document artifacts discovered at the trade
"We noticed two curved timbers that a backhoe had dislocated,"
McDonald said. Joined by two more archaeologists, they started
digging with shovels, "and we quickly found the rib of a vessel
and continued to clear it away and expose the hull over the last
Brower, the historian, works in Mystic, Conn. - renowned for its
historic vessels. He told the archaeologists that it was an
oceangoing vessel that might have sailed the Caribbean, as
evidenced by 18th-century marine organisms that had bored tiny
tunnels in the timber.
The vessel's age will be estimated after the two pieces that
first popped up are tested in a laboratory through dendrochronology
- the science of using tree rings to determine dates and
chronological order. Also unknown is what kind of wood was used to
build the ship.
A 100-pound iron anchor was found a few yards from the hull,
possibly from the old vessel.
There were also traces of human life nearby - "pieces of shoes
all over," said McDonald, who had no idea how they got there.
The ship likely got there because of the effort to extend lower
Manhattan into the Hudson River in the 1700s and 1800s using
landfill. Cribbing usually consisted of logs joined together - much
like a log cabin - but a derelict ship was occasionally used.
The ship discovered Tuesday was weighted down and sunk to the
bottom of the river, as support for new city piers in a part of
Manhattan tied to global commerce and trade.
A similar find emerged a walk away in 1982, when archaeologists
found an 18th-century cargo ship on Water Street.
The remains of the latest discovery will be removed in the
coming days, but the timber is so delicate it's unclear how much of
it will remain intact. The surrounding water acted as a preservant
for the wood for centuries, McDonald said, but the remains began to
deteriorate immediately upon contact with oxygen.
"We're mostly clearing it by hand because it's kind of
fragile," McDonald said, meaning shovels are used. Construction
equipment could come in handy later in the process.
On Thursday, archaeologists were quickly sketching, measuring
and photographing the ship remnants to help them analyze the find
later; the two pieces of timber that signaled the discovery were
taken away immediately. It was not clear from the 32-foot piece how
long the whole ship might have been.
Another fascinating detail might emerge as work progresses:
coins traditionally placed under a vessel's keel block as a symbol
of good fortune and safe travels.
But the team is already feeling pretty lucky. "I kept thinking
of how closely it came to being destroyed," Pappalardo said.
Somehow, the workers operating the bulldozers missed the bulk of
the ship, catching only the two timbers as they excavated ramps
that will connect to an underground parking garage at the rebuilt
Within the fenced-off, 16-acre site in downtown Manhattan, steel
for a planned 1,776-foot skyscraper has risen 24 stories. The
memorial to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, a multibillion-dollar
transit hub and a second office tower are under construction. More
office towers and a performing arts center are also part of the