Jan Bartek - AncientPages.com - The boat is not ancient, but the discovery is truly incredible. While working on a drainage problem to ease the flooding problem in the area, construction workers discovered a nearly intact, wooden 19th-century boat hidden under a road in St. Augustine, Florida, US.
Crews painstakingly removed mud, layer by layer, to expose a historic vessel unearthed during a drainage construction project in St. Augustine. Credit: Florida Department of Transportation, District Two
Archaeologists from SEARCH Inc. (Southeastern Archaeological Research) were called to the site to investigate, and excavations of the vessel buried 8 feet below the ground started.
The fishing boat was found on State Road A1A near the Bridge of Lions in the city known as the “oldest continuously occupied settlement of European and African-American origin” in the US, according to the historic city’s website.
According to officials, the boat dates to around the mid-to late 1800s, and it was built locally, probably by the people who owned and sailed it.
"The humble, much-repaired wooden boat, about 28 feet long, with a flat bottom and single mast, had no doubt reached the end of its useful life when it was left in the mud at the edge of St. Augustine.
Whoever left it there probably took its mast, its rigging, anything that could have been useful, but might have left behind some coins — including one dating to 1869 — as well as part of an oil-fired lamp, a cut coconut shell that might have been used as a cup and two leather shoes. Enough of the shoes remained that archaeologists could determine that there was one for someone's right foot and another for someone's left foot.
This is a close-up of the base of the oil-fired lantern found inside what is estimated to be an 1800s vessel unearthed during drainage construction project in St. Augustine. Credit: Florida Department of Transportation, District Two
Eventually mud and water covered the boat, which helped preserve it, and it was further buried as fill was brought in to extend St. Augustine's old city to the east. At some point, a piling on a now-gone wharf was driven right through the vessel, probably as it lay unseen under the mud," USA Today explains.
“We believe the vessel may have sunk unexpectedly and, over time, was silted in,” said Greg Evans, the department’s District 2 secretary, in a statement. “That is why it was preserved so well – it was encapsulated in soil and mud, so there was no air contact for it to decay. It’s truly an incredible find.”
Investigators believe the flat-bottomed boat, possibly made of soft wood such as pine and cedar, was originally about 28 feet long. It measured 19 feet in length when it was found.
It was likely buried for “as much as a century” before crews found it, James Delgado, the senior vice president and exploration sector leader for SEARCH’s station in Washington, DC. told CNN.
Aerial imagery of the site where SEARCH Inc. archaeologists discovered a 19th-century ship beneath a road in St. Augustine. Credit: Florida Department of Transportation, District Two
Many waterfronts that have changed over time through landfill have buried boats and ships,” he said. “That being said, these are still rare finds in the world of maritime archaeology.”
Before the boat is relocated to a permanent home, the next step is to stabilize the vessel, according to Ian Pawn, Florida DOT District 2 cultural resources manager.
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“When an object this well-preserved is discovered in wet conditions, archaeologists have to work quickly as the drying of wood will begin the decaying process,” Pawn said in a statement.
“The pieces will be observed in wet storage to stabilize as we determine future preservation efforts,” he added.
Written by Jan Bartek - AncientPages.com Staff Writer