Shiver me timbers: Archaeologists discover Revolutionary War-era ship during works to construct trendy Virginia hotel

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Archaeologists working on the site of a new hotel in Alexandria, Virginia have discovered the well-preserved remains of a Revolutionary War-era cargo ship.

The new hotel is being constructed on a site which is believed to be the location of the city’s first building.

Due to the historic nature of the area, the city’s team of archaeologists have been heavily involved in the process and were stunned to discover the vessel.

Experts believe the ship was deliberately scuttled to provide the foundations for the construction of the original building sometime between 1755 and 1798.

According to the City of Alexandria, special laws were passed to allow archaeologists to ‘explore the 18th and 19th century’ of the area during a major redevelopment of the historic waterfront area.

The law, which was passed in 1989, obliges developers to allow archaeologists onto the site before construction can begin.

According to the city, the team discovered the port side of the vessel, which is approximately one third of the hull.

The exact type of boat involved has not yet been identified. But the construction method and material used date the vessel to the Revolutionary War.

The city claimed: ‘The ship appears to have been very sturdily built. The sections of the frame are very close together, suggesting that it carried something heavy. It was probably a coastal vessel, and its use for military purposes cannot be ruled out.

‘There is evidence of the keel, the frame, a possible part of the bow stem, a section of the stern, exterior boards, and a section of the interior floor boards, or ceiling.’

As a result of the discovery, experts are going to examine the ship in detail at the scene before it is removed.

However, the wooden remains will have to be ‘submerged in a wet environment’ to allow the option of conserving the discovery.

City records show that in 1755 a warehouse was constructed on the site of the discovery suggesting the boat had been deliberately destroyed to provide the foundations for the building.

A Scottish merchant John Carlyle was commissioned to build the warehouse.

The archaeologists working on the site thought they may find evidence of the original building, but were unaware of the existence of the ship until the layers of mud and earth were slowly removed.

According to the city: ‘The frame foundation of the building consisted of massive timbers, possibly 20 to 30 feet long, with 12-inch-square cross-sections. These wood sills spanned much of the length of the building.’

‘The remarkable discovery of the remnants of this 260-year-old building help us to envision what the town would have looked like at the time of its founding. The warehouse remains provide a unique opportunity to study the 18th-century building techniques and help to provide insight into the early historical activities on the waterfront as the town strove to become a center of international trade. By the end of the 18th century, this vision had become reality, with Alexandria rated among the ten busiest ports in America.’

The shops remains could be moved to a planned tourist centre on the waterfront.

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