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Rings and Worms Tell the Tale of a Shipwreck Found at Ground Zero [Slide Show]

Researchers were stunned to find an 18th-century ship that had been unearthed by construction workers at the World Trade Center where the Twin Towers once stood. With great care they followed clues in the well-preserved wood to trace the craft's history to the era of the American Revolution

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FINAL CREW:

Evidence of more innocuous creatures was also found in the wreckage, from bones of the extinct passenger pigeon to a bright green sprig of eelgrass. Aside from some shipworm casings, all of the remains represented species endemic to the Hudson River region.....[ More ]

INTIMATE DETAILS:

The sailors also left some more intimate items aboard the vessel. Strands of hair were found in at least 10 contexts in and around the USS Adrian, including some black strands that were tangled up in a sea sponge.....[ More ]

REVOLUTIONARY FINDING:

Carved wooden planks were not the only artifacts of human engineering uncovered at the World Trade Center site. Ceramics, shoes, rope fragments and ammunition were also pulled from the ship's wreckage.....[ More ]

SOUTHERN SLOOP:

When he first saw the ancient timbers, maritime historian Norman Brouwer recalls thinking that the ship had probably been built in a small shipyard, mostly due to the lack of uniformity in the timbers and planking.....[ More ]

ARRIVING AT ANSWERS:

The keel (pictured) had 144 rings. Lining these natural markings up against historical records helped the scientists trace the tree's life span: It likely sprouted in 1581 and fell in 1724 or shortly thereafter.....[ More ]

BASIC FORENSICS:

After the cellophane-wrapped waterlogged wood was finally pulled from the fridge, Dario Martin-Benito of LDEO dried out one piece to see if it would decay as feared. More luck: it stayed intact. So the team proceeded to slowly dry out and sand down each of their 23 samples to uncover the detailed structures of the rings.....[ More ]

TAKING FINGERPRINTS:

Thanks to hungry shipworms, the ability to apply tree-ring analysis to an old wooden ship is very unusual, according to Eckelbarger. Cannons and metal parts are often all that remain of an ancient shipwreck.....[ More ]

WORMY WOOD:

But a curious creature would soon reinsert some uncertainty. Mixed in with bottles, buttons and belt buckles were telling remnants of marine life, including holes made by wood-boring clams known as shipworms—the scourge of seamen.....[ More ]

HOPE IN HICKORY:

As a global economic center at that time, Manhattan could have harbored ships from near and far. So identifying the USS Adrian 's origin posed a challenging task. Most of the timbers pulled from the mud appeared to be white oak, which is very common around the world including Europe—a clue which is of little help.....[ More ]

GHOST SHIP:

As excavators quickly and carefully removed the hull, stern and orlop (lowest) deck layer by layer, archaeologists labeled and photographed each piece, and even hired outside experts to scan the dig site with 3-D lasers.....[ More ]

UNDER THE WEATHER:

The first challenge in solving the puzzle was simply to keep the pieces from rotting away once they were unearthed and exposed to air. After more than 200 years of being entombed in a wet, oxygen-free environment, exposure to the sun and aerobic (oxygen-using) bacteria threatened to take their toll.....[ More ]

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