Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Archaeologists have begun to disassemble the 18th century ship found on the World Trade Center site. They started taking it apart, plank by plank, on Monday and are hoping to finish this week so construction crews can go back to work.
As the mud is removed, the original color and grain of the wood is revealed. Disassembly also reveals the joining techniques that were used in the ship’s construction. It’s a race against time and climate, though, to keep the wood from degrading. The boat was covered by a canopy to keep it as dark and damp as possible even in the middle of an east coast heat wave.
Port Authority has authorized double shifts so the archaeologist can keep working day and night to get the speedily-disintegrating wood into a safe environment.
On Monday, archaeologists painstakingly tagged and logged each plank of the boat before removing it.
“We’re recording everything as if each piece is going to fall apart — just in case,” said Warren Riess, a professor at the University of Maine who is working on the boat for AKRF.
Workers wrapped each piece of wood in polyethylene foam and plastic sheeting, to keep the moisture in and the sun out, and then loaded them into a dumpster.
The hundreds of timbers will go to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, about 50 miles outside of Washington, D.C., where archaeologists will study them further.
The conservation process will take years. First the planks will be soaked in polyethylene glycol, a waxy plastic that will penetrate the wood and provide it a stable structure, for 3 years. Then they’ll be vacuum freeze-dried to drive out every last drop of water. Once that’s done, the ship will be put back together.
Port Authority hasn’t decided yet what its ultimate fate will be. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., owners of the site where the boat was found, will ask for public input on what should happen to the ship. Here’s hoping they choose to put it on display.
There’s a great deal of documentation of government boats and warships, but private shipbuilders in the 18th c. didn’t publish any blueprints or design plans (they wanted to preserve their trade secrets), so there’s a lot this find can teach us about how these smaller privateers were built.
So far we can tell from the heaviness of the planks indicate this ship was used to carry heavy cargo. It was probably 60 feet long (the section found is 30 feet long) which is fairly large for a ship that traveled the Atlantic coast. Ships that crossed the Atlantic, on the other hand, were usually considerably larger.
It’s not likely to have been a dedicated slave ship. Slave ships were built for speed so they were usually lightweight.