An unearthed ship was found in July, 2010, by crews working at Ground Zero where the World Trade Center towers once stood. The mystery of the ship – what it was and where it came from – baffled scientists for the last few years, but now its origin, make and design have been unearthed as well.
Twenty-two feet below New York’s street level, in the space that would eventually become an underground parking structure, excavators found the decomposing and mangled skeleton of the historic vessel according to Discovery.
After examining the wood of the hull, scientists have determined that the ship dates to about 1773, or soon after, and was most likely built in a shipyard in Philadelphia. Knowing that, they inferred that the ship was probably built from the same kind of white oak trees that were used to build parts of Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed.
Archaeologists were on hand at Ground Zero during the entire excavation of the World Trade Center rubble and what lay beneath. They reportedly oversaw the excavation of animal bones, ceramic bottles and dishes, and dozens of shoes – but no one was expecting it when the 32-foot long partial hull of the ship was discovered.
The hull was quickly removed from the site as the rate of decomposition of the ship’s wood would dramatically increase once exposed to air. Piece by piece, the delicate parts of the ship were taken out of the mud and sent to the Maryland Archeological Conservation Laboratory where they were submerged under water to keep the wood from cracking.
A few parts of the ship were sent back to New York – just 20 miles from the site of the World Trade Center – to the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. Once there, scientists dried the timbers slowly in what’s called a Cold Room, and then cut off thick slices of the wood to get a look at the tree rings.
The tree rings, scientists say, are the reason we know as much about the strange ship found beneath the World Trade Center as we do. The rings made it possible to pinpoint the origin geographically of the timbers that made up the ship, according to Live Science. Researchers determined that some of the trees used to build the ship were over a hundred years old, and comparing them to samples of trees found in different areas of North America, they discovered the origin of the timber.
Dario Martin-Benito, a postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, said that weather leaves an imprint on tree rings in a certain area.
“What makes the tree-ring patterns in a certain region look very similar, in general, is climate.”
The makeup of the keel of the ship helped the scientists greatly when determining where to look for a matching tree ring sample. The keel from the ship was made of hickory, a tree only found in the eastern North America and eastern Asia. The World Trade Center ship’s pattern closely matched trees found in and around Philadelphia, including the wood used in the construction of Independence Hall, built between 1732 and 1756.
So we know where and when the ship was most likely built, but how did it come to be entrenched in the earth beneath the World Trade Center site? Scientists are unsure. They don’t know if the ship sank accidentally, or if it was purposefully sunk to bulk up the coastline of Lower Manhattan. Oyster shells found on the hull indicate that the ship was submerged in water for a significant length of time before being covered by mud and trash.
Holes in the ship were probably made by a “shipworm” called Lyrodus pedicellatus, which only resides in warmer regions of the ocean, suggesting that the ship had traveled to the Caribbean, perhaps on a trading voyage.