The call came to Rhode Island almost as soon as the outline of a shipwreck appeared at a construction site in Boston.
Excavation for a 17-story office tower in Boston’s Seaport District was immediately halted. The contractor, Skanska USA, called in experts from three places: Boston’s city archaeologist, the Massachusetts Historic Commission and the Pawtucket-based Public Archaeology Laboratory.
“Skanska was great, because they didn’t have to stop when they found this boat, but they did, and they called us and the city archaeologist,” said Deborah C. Cox, president and founder of PAL. The Pawtucket company has 82 employees, 54 of them archaeologists, she said, and since 2012 it has occupied the former To Kalon Club building at 26 Main St.
Seven archaeologists, two of them from PAL, responded to the site Wednesday. Their job: to investigate and document the wreck before construction resumes. They had until Friday.
“We almost never get this kind of opportunity,” said Boston’s archaeologist Joe Bagley, who once worked at PAL.
Cox said Friday that the PAL team, an industrial historian and an industrial archaeologist, will report its findings to Skanska in a few weeks.
Bagley and Skanska President Shawn Hurley held a press conference Friday morning and issued a news release to tell what they have learned so far:
The wooden boat, which had at least two masts, was built in the late 1700s or early 1800s and was carrying a cargo of lime in wooden barrels. Lime was used to make plaster and mortar.
At least one barrel lid was marked Rockland, indicating the shipment came from Maine.
Two knives, two forks and a stack of burned plates were recovered.
The boat sank sometime between 1850 and 1880 in an area once known as Dorchester Flats. In 1880, the mud flats were filled in to allow the city to expand.
Charred wood indicates that the ship burned, but the team could not tell which came first, the sinking or the fire.
According to W.H. Rowe’s “The Maritime History of Maine,” lime had to be kept dry or it could burst into flames. If wet lime could not be starved of air, the boat would be scuttled away from other boats.
The Facebook page of the Boston Archaeology Program reported Friday afternoon that the boat had probably been about 65 feet long, although only 50 feet remain. Hemp fibers indicate efforts to waterproof the boards.
The wood is too fragile to allow the boat’s removal, Bagley and Hurley said. So the shipment of lime, uncovered by a construction dig that resulted in an archaeological dig, will be buried in concrete.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.