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Remnants of 18th Century Ship Uncovered on Virginia Construction Site

  • Deborah Block

At a construction site in the port city of Alexandria, Virginia, close to Washington, archeologists are carefully digging out by hand an 18th century ship.

The find was discovered in December as excavation began for a new hotel. Three-D scanning imagery has indicated that the underground vessel was about 15 meters long, but that may only be one-third of its actual length when it was at sea.

Calling the discovery “an extremely significant find,” Alexandria’s city archeologist, Francine Bromberg, said the ship “calls back the time when Alexandria was a major East Coast port.” Europeans settled in Alexandria with their ships in the late 1600s.

Bromberg said the location probably once was the local landfill, filled with water, where the ship was “deliberately sunk.” She said the wood did not decay because it has been buried underground.

“But as it’s exposed to the oxygen, the wood begins to deteriorate,” she explained, and we can already see cracking occurring.” For now, the heavy timber pieces will be preserved in tanks with “plain drinking water,” she said, until a preservation lab can be found.

How it was used is a mystery, said Bromberg, but it “was probably a military ship or a trade ship” that traveled along the United States East Coast. As naval archeologists help disassemble the ship, they search for markings or artifacts to help identify it.

Bromberg said other ships have been discovered in Alexandria, but they usually are not as old. The hope is that this ship can go on display in the future.