1800s shipwreck uncovered in Boston's Seaport District

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BOSTON >> A sunken, burned ship from the 1800s uncovered during a construction project in Boston's Seaport District is a rare and remarkable find, the city's archaeologist said.

City archaeologist Joe Bagley said Thursday it's the first time a shipwreck has been found in that section of the city and only the second one found on land that was filled in to expand the city's footprint. Also, unlike most other wrecks, its cargo is mostly intact, he said.

The vessel, which appears to be partially burnt, was uncovered last week during construction of a 17-story office building. The company working at the site, Skanska, halted construction so archaeologists could examine the ship.

The area was once mudflats that alternated between dry land and water based on the tides, so ships "kind of sailed right over" the property, Bagley said. In the late 1800s, that section of Boston Harbor was filled in. Now, it's home to office buildings, expensive condos and upscale restaurants.

Archaeologists studying the vessel found a shattered ceramic vessel, a knife, construction equipment and some loose nails, Bagley said.

He said it appears the ship had a load of lime, which was used for masonry and construction. The lime would have been unusable after getting wet, so the cargo was left where it was, Bagley said. He called that fact "pretty remarkable," since at the time ships typically would have been completely scavenged of their valuables within days of being wrecked.

The lime was likely brought from Maine to Boston during a 19th century building boom, he said. Bagley noted the coincidence that the ship was found now, during another building boom in the city.

"They're really part of the same narrative of Boston growing as a city," he said.

He said the discovery says a lot about the 386-year-old city.

"To me what it says is that history is everywhere in Boston — sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to find it," he added.

Shawn Hurley, a Skanska executive, said work was halted for almost a week because of the find.

"There are certainly impacts, but we'll work through them," he said.


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