NEW YORK Ã¢â‚¬â€ New Yorkers raced against time Friday to reveal the secrets of a mostly intact, 18th century sailing ship found in the muddy foundations of the World Trade Center reconstruction site.
The ghostly vessel emerged from the mud earlier this week, its hull and deck virtually complete and still equipped with an anchor. But with sudden exposure to air wreaking havoc on the wood, archaeologists are hurrying to examine their find.
“Once water logged, it preserves well, but once exposed to the air, as it dries out, it starts to disintegrate. It loses its structure,” New York State parks department archaeologist Doug Mackey told AFP.
There’s another reason for the rush: “It’s right in the middle of the construction site,” he said. “It can’t just sit there for weeks on end. We have to record what we can.”
Construction workers at Ground Zero are used to looking out for grimmer relics from the September 11, 2001 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers, killing nearly 3,000 people.
The unexpected echo from Manhattan’s early years as a seafaring island — long before skyscrapers and the business district conquered the neighborhood around Ground Zero — was a welcome surprise.
Many mysteries remain. No one knows yet the name of the ship, where it might have sailed or with what crew or cargo.
What’s already established is that the vessel didn’t sink, but ended up deliberately at the modern Ground Zero as part of landfill debris that early builders used to extend Manhattan’s coastline into the Hudson River.
The section found is about 30 feet (nine meters) long and consists of wood planking over ribs and a deck. Any superstructure there would have been is missing.
At some point during construction work in the 20th century, the ship suffered the indignity of having one end smashed off by a foundations wall.
“We have one end of the ship, but we’re not sure 100 percent if it’s the bow or the stern,” Mackey said.
Experts on Friday used laser scanning equipment to help build a 3D model of the vessel based on what has survived.
“That’s always the goal in archaeology: to put it back together on paper,” Mackey said.