Shipwreck in Manhattan

I decided this week that I would try to look at some things that were recent archaeological finds. Even before class today, I understood that there is still a lot of active archaeological research going on at Stonehenge, such as ground penetrating radar finding new sites and mapping stops to excavate the cursus. However, while I was looking for things that were current and interesting, I can across something that really caught my curiosity. I discovered an article about how there was a ship wreck found while construction was being done on the site of the World Trade Center.

The reason that this first caught my eye was because I had never heard about it! There was noting in the news that told me about it, and I never read it online or in the newspapers. How had I missed this piece of news back in 2010. I will admit that this is now 5 years old, but in the rand scheme of archaeology, this is a very recent find. So, I decided to read the article and it did not disappoint.

This article talks about how, while digging for construction, twenty-two feet below street level there was a shipwreck found. This ship was made from white oak, and researchers concluded that it most likely came from the Philadelphia region. There were many different aspects that went into this conclusion.The first thing that the archaeologists had to do was quickly excavate the site, which sounds strange because we learned that when you are excavating a site, you need to take your time. Yet, this was a different circumstance because due to how the ship was found, in an almost mud like dirt, the ships remains were not used to the air, and so in order to preserve the ship, archaeologists had to quickly get it out of the ground and then preserve it in water.

Then, there was the fact that they had to somehow date this ship. How they went about doing that was by counting the tree rings, since it would logically be too young for carbon dating.They sent it to the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. This is how they decided that they ship was constructed roughly around 1773. Another thing that they found through looking at the rings of the wreck was where the ship might have bene build. Because it was white oak, they were able to limit the regions where it could have been build to the East coast of America. And then with tree ring records, specifically the ones from city hall in Philadelphia, they were able to determine that it was built in Philadelphia. This also made sense because of historical records of ship building going on there.

And after figuring out where the ship was from and when, they decided to find out why the ship was where it was found? Had it crashed into the coast? What had happened to this ship? They came up with two theories One says that it could have just crashed. Another is that it was used as landfill for Manhattan, since in the wood, there were shipworm damages found in its hull. This means that the ship would not have lasted as long as it should have, and so was used to create Manhattan instead of just wreck from the shipworms.

If you would like to read the article or look at the pictures of the excavation that go along with it, look at the following link.

2 thoughts on “Shipwreck in Manhattan

  1. I’m so glad I got to read your blog post, because I would have never known about this archaeological find either! This find must have not made much of a stir in the news, which is surprising to me because I find it incredibly interesting as well. It is amazing how scientists were able to investigate and figure out where the ship came from. It must have been fairly well preserved to find the origin of the ship. The article also points out that the shipworms were probably from a voyage to the Caribbean. This was most likely for trading purposes.

    When I was in Europe, my group used public transportation as a primary means of getting around. In Rome, it was much more difficult. While digging tunnels for subways, workers kept running into ruins. Because these were historically significant they could not keep digging any further. This severely limited the public transportation system in the city, which is why the subway only runs in an “X” across Rome. I am surprised that New York City did not run into this issue when building their subway system. Perhaps the ruins and archeological objects were deeper in the ground than required for digging.

    For me it is sometimes difficult to think of current metropolises in the past and what it would have been like. Archaeological finds remind us of the people that used to be in the area and what they did. This gives me a whole new perspective on what New York City used to be like in the past.

  2. This is so interesting! I wonder why there wasn’t much media coverage on this. I feel like there should have been with how much the public loves learning about archaeological finds. I’m very impressed with the scientist’s abilities to determine where the trees were from and where the boat was made. Who knew tree rings could tell you all that? Something else you mentioned caught my eye, shipworms. I’ve never heard of shipworms before and so I had to look them up.
    Shipworms are actually a group of saltwater clams who are notorious for boring into, and eventually destroying, wood that is immersed in sea water. They burrow using two small shells at the end of their bodies, and then the worms actually digest the cellulose in the wood using the bacteria in one of their organs. These little clams have been causing havoc for centuries and it took people a while to be able to prevent their damage. In the eighteenth century, the British Royal Navy started to use a copper sheathing on the undersides of their boats in order to prevent the clams from burrowing. The copper sheathing worked successfully and was used for some time after. The Netherlands also had a problem with the clams when it came to their sea dikes. The clams caused so much damage the dikes had to be lined with stones in order to prevent them from burrowing. More recently, shipworms have caused several minor collapses along the Hudson River in New Jersey due to damage to underwater pillars. I wonder if these little guys have been responsible for any shipwrecks?

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