If you dig near the riverbanks of a historic old city, there's no telling what you might find. In December, crews excavating for the foundation of a planned 120-room hotel in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, uncovered timbers from the ribs and keel of a wooden ship that was scuttled at the site around 1775. The Washington Post carries a report (see: "The discovery of a 300-year-old ship at a construction site has archaeologists ecstatic," by Patricia Sullivan. "The ship’s blackened bow was discovered as construction crews excavated the site where the 120-room Indigo Hotel will soon rise," the paper reported. "Digging by hand, archeology crews uncovered a nearly 50-foot-long remnant of the keel, frame, stern and flooring, estimated to be about one-third of the original hull." Dan Baicy, an archaeologist with consultant Thunderbird Archaeology, told the Post that low-oxygen conditions in the wet mud at the site had kept the timbers from rotting over the centuries.

Wooden Ship Discovered at Foundation Site
Archaeologists are working to preserve and study the partial hull of a Revolutionary-era wooden ship discovered in Alexandria, Virginia.
Archaeologists are working to preserve and study the partial hull of a Revolutionary-era wooden ship discovered in Alexandria, Virginia.

Alexandria's Waterfront Commission keeps a close eye on construction projects along the city's historic waterfront, according to the minutes of a commission meeting (see "Summary Minutes, September 15, 2015"). The town's Archaeological Protection Code "requires that Office of Historic Alexandria and the City Archaeologist be fully integrated into the site plan process" for work on waterfront sites, said City Archaeologist Francine Bromberg. "They review all site plans from the concept stage onward. They conduct site inspections, monitor sites, review artifacts discovered during excavation and work with archaeological consultants on a project's development team when the City has required developer to hire an archaeological consultant to conduct a full-scale archaeological investigation on its site."

"Scuttled sometime in the late eighteenth century, the ship served as the framework for part of the landfill process that extended the waterfront out to the deep channel of the Potomac River, helping to make the early town a thriving international port," explains a statement by the Alexandria Archaeology Museum (see: "Nautical Discoveries at 220 South Union Street"). "About a third of the hull of the vessel is present. It is sturdily built and well preserved, enough that it may offer archaeologists a great deal of information," the website says. "Further study of the ship has the potential to provide insight into ship-building practices of this early era of our history, and it may represent a vessel type that has not yet been documented through archaeological research." More detail is available at another Alexandria Archaeology Museum page (see: "Archaeological Discoveries on the Waterfront: 220 S Union Street").

For a closer look, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) has posted a series of animated GIF photos of crews uncovering the ship's skeleton and removing pieces (see: "Ship buried for hundreds of years unearthed in Virginia construction site," by Abbey Oldham).