Archaeologists to Scan 1800's Construction Ship at Boston Building Site

May 31, 2016

A wooden ship at least 50 feet long, thought to be from the mid-to-late 1800s, was uncovered about 25 feet below grade late last week during construction of a 17-story building at 121 Seaport Boulevard.

Dozens of barrels of lime used for masonry and construction were found near the wreckage, along with a 19th century fork and a stack of burned dishes.

City archaeologist Joe Bagley said it's the first time a shipwreck has been found in that section of the city and only the second one found on land that was filled in to expand the city's footprint.

Unlike most other wrecks, its cargo is mostly intact, he said. The lime would have been unusable after getting wet, so the cargo was left where it was, Bagley said.

The lime was likely brought from Maine to Boston during a 19th century building boom, he said. Bagley noted the coincidence that the ship was found now, during another building boom in the city.

"This has never happened in Boston," he said.

The area was once mudflats that alternated between dry land and water based on the tides, so ships "kind of sailed right over" the property, Bagley said.

In the late 1800s, that section of Boston Harbor was filled in. Now it's home to office buildings, expensive condos and upscale restaurants.

Construction is expected to start up again next week and the ship itself will be impossible to recover. But the 3D images will provide an opportunity to learn more about its history.

"It's really cutting edge technology that's going to give us the best records ever taken of an archaeological example of anything in Boston," said Bagley.