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Construction crews uncover buried mast from Boston's past

Shipwreck dating to the mid-to late-1800s will have to be bulldozed after work halted to let archaeologists study it for a week.

Call it a mast from the past.

In the giant pit that is the construction site at 121 Seaport Boulevard, among all the big steel posts that have been driven into the dirt and the equipment and rubble, there’s an unusual sight.

Sitting there like a 50-foot-long floppy old shoe made out of wood is, of all things, the wreck of a ship that has spent more than a century hidden underground.

Construction crews were shocked last week when they uncovered the find, which experts later confirmed was in fact a shipwreck, and an unlikely historical treasure.

Skanska, the development and construction firm running the build has stopped work at the site, and all this week, a team of archaeologists has been going to work on it. They’ve been taking measurements, analyzing the shape of the vessel and noting all its contents, among them a fork and dishes, a hull stocked with lime and the lid of a barrel with the inscription “Rockland” (possibly related to a company in Maine).


RELATED:Shipwreck discovered in Boston's Seaport District

“It went down in the mid- to late-1800s we can say conclusively,” said Joe Bagley, Boston’s official architect, who has been working at the site with a company called thePublic Archaeology Laboratoryand tweeting updates with the hashtag#SeaportShipwreck. “The boat itself may actually be a bit older.”

That’s because the boat was used to ship barrels full of lime,which can blow up if it gets wet, and so shipping companies preferred not to use newer boats in case something went wrong.

Mysteries remain, and time is swiftly running out. When the dig is over at the end of this week, it will not be preserved, Bagley said. It will have to be bulldozed out of the way.

So instead of rescuing it, researchers will be creating a 3-D scan on Friday.

“We can’t save this ship,” he said. “At least we can save what it looks like.”

Some of the pieces may end up on display in the building once it’s complete. A450,000 square foot structurewith office and retail space is planned for the site.

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Bagley said he’s thankful Skanska was willing to stop construction. The firm even donated the services of some of their construction equipment to help clear away the mud and clay it was stuck in, he said.

“They did the right thing,” he said.

Robert Allison, president of theSouth Boston Historical Societyand head of the history department at Suffolk University, said he has chatted with Bagley and is watching the dig’s progress with curiosity.


Inner hull with mast step that would be where the mast was held #SeaportShipwreck #digbos

A photo posted by City Archaeologist (@bostonarchaeo) on

How it ended up in its final resting place is part of the mystery, he said.

“It might have beached accidentally,” he said. “And it might been seen as an opportunity for landfill.”

Researchers have also found evidence that the boat was once on fire, either by accident or perhaps on purpose to lighten it.

Regardless, Allison said he’s pleased to see history making such a big, unexpected splash in Boston this week.

“It’s amazing what is right beneath us,” he said. “The past is always there.”


Intact 19th century fork found next to a stack of burned dishes in the rear hull of the #SeaportShipwreck #digbos

A photo posted by City Archaeologist (@bostonarchaeo) on

 

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