World Trade Center Ship found to be from 1770s

Archeologists begin dismantling the remains of an 18th century ship at the World Trade Center construction site, Monday, July 26, 2010 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Scientists have concluded that the ship uncovered at the World Trade Center site in 2010 actually dates back to 1773.

The wood was made of trees from a forest of white oaks in Philadelphia, the same type of trees used to build Independence Hall.

"Therefore, the ship's construction date of 1773 is important in confirming that the hull encountered at the World Trade Center represents a rare and valuable piece of American shipbuilding history," according to scientists at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

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 zero.

A 32-foot piece of the vessel was found in 2010 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 unexpected.

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 lower Manhattan.
"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.

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 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.
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 trade center.

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