Incredible Find as 19th-Century Wooden Boat Unearthed in Florida

The vessel was buried 8-feet underground in a historic quarter of St Augustine in the USA.

Sun 22 Oct 23


A near-perfect-preserved wooden fishing boat, believed to be from the 1880s and made from cedar and pine, has been discovered by construction crews in the US.

The rare find was made by the Florida Department of Transportation crew digging an 8-foot trench for a sewage line in St. Augustine, near the bank of the Matanzas River.

St. Augustine is a small town with a population of 15,000 and is the “oldest continuously occupied settlement of European and African-American origin”, dating back to 1565.

Once a major slave market for the Spanish, the town’s architectural legacy is much younger due to many historic buildings being sacked by pirates in the 16th century and the invading British forces in 1702.

Nonetheless, vestiges of the First Spanish Colonial Period (1565 to 1764) remain intact, with narrow streets and balconied houses used by early European settlers.

According to Greg Evans, District Secretary for the Department of Transport (DOT), the DOT is always looking for potential historical finds given the town’s historic significance.

Crews had to remove layers of mud to expose the full boat. (Photo Credit: Daniel Fiore from SEARCH, Inc. and the Florida Department of Transportation)

SEARCH, the US largest maritime discovery team was appointed to carry out the excavation process and unearthed broken bottles, shoes, wood fragments, and an oil-fired lantern from the shipwreck.

“We believe the vessel to be a small single-masted, shallow-draft sailing craft of the 19th century that was likely used to extract fish and shellfish from coastal waterways and directly offshore,” leading excavator Dr James Delgado said.

In an interview with CNN, Dr Delgado believed the boat was originally 28 feet long, though it was 19 feet when discovered.

“The stern was missing when exposed by the excavation, consumed by marine organisms long ago,” he said, describing it as a well-built boat possibly constructed by “the people who owned and worked it.”

Joining Dr Delgado was Sam Turner, the firm’s principal investigator and maritime archaeological expert, who was on site when the tip of an excavator bucket digging in the trench exposed the water-soaked wood of the unexpected discovery.

Archaeologists Dr Sam Turner (left) and Dr James Delgado slide a bottom rib from its socket in the centreboard trunk of the ship. (Photo Credit: Daniel Fiore from SEARCH, Inc. and the Florida Department of Transportation)

“Sam asked the operator to stop, got into the hole and gently scraped with his trowel to reveal a gently curving outline of what he immediately identified as the edge of the hull, with a displaced piece of timber from a frame,” Dr Delgado said.

“Detailed hand mapping and measurement was done, but the main focus was measurable, three-dimensional photo-modelling of all major construction features as well as measured photomosaics of the hull throughout the careful excavation and disassembly of the vessel,” he said.

“We used water and gentle troweling and gloved hands to wash and brush off the mud to expose the fragile wood,” he added.

De Delgado believes the boat was abandoned near the end of its working life on what were once the banks of a local river and bay.

Aerial imagery shows the site where archaeologists recovered a 19th-century ship in Florida. (Photo Credit: Daniel Fiore from SEARCH, Inc. and the Florida Department of Transportation)

It was likely buried for “as much as a century” before crews found it, Dr Delgado said.

“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 maritime archaeology.”

The rare find follows the discovery of a wooden vessel on the site of the Twin Towers ruins, which, according to a 2014 study, used timber harvested from forests in Pennsylvania in 1773.

Workers discovered the 30-foot section of the vessel, 20 to 30 feet below street level – and used tree ring research to date the vessel back to the US Revolution.

As for the latest discovery, Wood Central understands that the vessel will now be stabilised before a decision on a permanent home for the vessel will be decided by Flordia authorities.

“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,” Ian Pawnm Flordia, DOT Cultural Resouce Manager, said in a statement.

“The pieces will be observed in wet storage to stabilise as we determine future preservation efforts.”


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