Archaeologists were in a race against time Thursday at the World Trade Center site as they tried to salvage pieces of an 18th century wooden ship unearthed during construction, before decomposition destroyed the historic remains.
Some 30 feet of the vessel's hull, sheltered and preserved for over 200-plus years, was unearthed during excavation Wednesday for an underground vehicle garage at the reconstruction site. Experts said the find was the most significant maritime archaeological discovery in the city since the 1980s.
Port Authority spokesman Steven Coleman said workers came across the remains as they worked a backhoe to excavate an area not far from a newly constructed wall that separates the trade center from the old Deutsche Bank building, which is slated for demolition. The area had been untouched during the 1960s construction, he said.
"They came across the ship hull and immediately called the state," said Coleman, adding that A. Michael Pappalardo, an archaeologist retained by the agency, was also notified.
Doug McKey, an archaeologist for New York State, told Newsday the wood began to deteriorate right before his eyes as he rummaged Wednesday over the soggy and dark wooden beams and keel pieces embedded in the ground. As the wood dried in the air McKey said he could see the pieces shrink and pull apart. Only a few pieces are likely to be salvaged and kept in a museum, he said.
"Each piece has to be kept wet for now," said McKey.
Construction of the new retaining wall cut through a portion of the ship's remains, which were destroyed, said McKey, who works for the New York State Historic Preservation Office.
Pappalardo, of the environmental consulting firm AKFR of Manhattan, said the ship was likely at least 50 or 60 feet long. Archaeologists were taking measurements Thursday to get a sense of exactly what kind of 18th century vessel they had and what it might have been used for.
Coleman said earlier workers had come across a ship's anchor, although it wasn't clear if it came from the newly found vessel. He also said a large section of an old granite Hudson River bulkhead built in the 1800s was uncovered during recent construction.
The latest find isn't the first vessel unearthed in Manhattan. McKey said in the 1980s remains of a merchant ship were found at an excavation at 175 Water St. Historical reports also noted in 1916, during excavation for a subway line, remains of the old Dutch trading ship Tiger were found near Greenwich and Dey streets and sent to the Museum of the City of New York. The Tiger, also known as "Tyger," burned around 1614 while it was moored, according to historical accounts.