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Ancient Ship Discovered From The Ruins of The World Trade Center

On the morning of July 13, 2010, the roar of backhoes and bulldozers echoed through lower Manhattan as construction continued on the rebirth of the World Trade Center site, which had been destroyed nearly nine years earlier in the worst terrorist attack in American history. At that time, construction workers suddenly halted the backhoes when they uncovered something unexpected just south of where the Twin Towers once stood. From the ruins they found the mangled skeleton of a long-forgotten wooden ship. An amazing link to Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia. 

According to archeologist Michael Pappalardo, the 32-foot long (9.7 meter) ship was discovered at 22 feet (6.7 meters) below today’s street level, in a pit that would become an underground security and parking complex which likely dated back at least 200 years when part of the river was filled in with trash, debris and wooden beams in order to expand a fast-growing Manhattan.

Many other kinds of antique debris have also been found.

Archaeologists had been on-site throughout the excavation of the World Trade Center’s Vehicular Security Center. They had found animal bones, ceramic dishes, bottles and dozens of shoes.

Four years after a shipwreck was revealed at Ground Zero, a new report details how tree rings helped establish the origins of the wooden vessel.

The vessel was quickly excavated, to prevent damage from exposure to the air. Piece by piece, the delicate oak fragments were documented and taken out of the rotten-smelling mud. The timbers were sent to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, where they would be soaked in water to keep the wood from cracking and warping.

Image Credit: Huffington Post

With the ship’s skeleton finally removed from the construction site, work then began to solve the mystery. What were the origins of this ship and how did it end up below the World Trade Center site? According to a new study published in the July 2014 edition of the journal Tree-Ring Research, scientists believe they have the answer, and the key to solving the mystery was buried with the ship itself.

According to, scientists identified the vessel as a Hudson River Sloop—a boat type designed by Dutch settlers to transport passengers and cargo in shallow, rocky waters—that was likely built in a small shipyard near Philadelphia. Small holes discovered in the ship’s frame likely resulted from shipworms native to the salty, warm waters of the Caribbean, which means the vessel was likely among the commercial flotilla engaged in the Colonial triangle trade, transporting rum and sugar along the Atlantic seaboard.

How did the Philadelphia-constructed ship end up below ground in lower Manhattan? Two centuries ago, the site of the World Trade Center would have been in the Hudson River. But as Manhattan prospered after the American Revolution, land on the lower part of the island became scarce, so New Yorkers began to create land by filling the river with garbage, rock, scrap wood and other fill material that sometimes included the hulks of ships that were no longer seaworthy. The area around the World Trade Center was built on this extended shoreline, and the shipworm damage found on the unearthed vessel suggest it was a prime candidate to have been used in Manhattan’s westward expansion. Since the location where the ship was found was not part of the original World Trade Center site, it remained undisturbed for two centuries below the ground.


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