Tree Rings Solve Mystery of Old World Trade Center Ship

Study shows it got built in Philadelphia about 1773

By Shelley Hazen,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 29, 2014 5:50 PM CDT

(Newser) – A mystery ship unearthed during construction of the new World Trade Center site isn't so much of a mystery anymore. A new study based on analysis of tree rings in its wood reveals that the ship likely got built in 1773 in Philadelphia—and with the same white oak used to build parts of Independence Hall, Live Science reports. After the skeleton of the ship was discovered in 2010, researchers excavated it and began the task of unraveling its origins. Scientists matched the ring patterns to those found in both living trees in Philadelphia and to wood samples dating back to the days when the city had a thriving shipbuilding industry. The rings patterns, shaped by climate, constitute a sort of tree "birth certificate," explains the Maritime Executive.

But the keel of the ship was really the key to narrowing the search—it was made of hickory, which grows only in the eastern US and eastern Asia, and researchers say the latter wasn't much of a possibility. So how did the 32-foot hull end up where it did? One theory is that it was a merchant ship that sailed for years along the Atlantic and in the Caribbean and eventually got buried by 1797 in a landfill being used to extend the shoreline of Manhattan, reports DNA Info. To see some pictures of the ship, click here. (Archaeologists also recently uncovered the Santa Maria.)

Archeologists begin dismantling the remains of an 18th-century ship at the World Trade Center construction site in 2010 in New York.
Archeologists begin dismantling the remains of an 18th-century ship at the World Trade Center construction site in 2010 in New York.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
The curved ribs of a wood hull poke up from the mud at the World Trade Center site on July 15, 2010.
The curved ribs of a wood hull poke up from the mud at the World Trade Center site on July 15, 2010.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Planks of the ship stick out of the mud at the World Trade Center site in 2010.
Planks of the ship stick out of the mud at the World Trade Center site in 2010.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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