Almost two hundred years ago workers buried a huge merchant ship. Part of the fill and junk used to expand a little island called Manhattan. Now, 200 years later, we're getting a peek at their work. Not in New York, but in a Maryland lab.
It's a dirty job. Employees and volunteers use toothbrushes to clean pieces of wood cut generations ago. But to understand it, you have to backtrack just a few weeks.
"Woke up with an alarm radio on a Tuesday morning and someone said on the news that there was a ship found at the World Trade Center," says Maritime archaeologist Warren Reiss, who was soon on site.
It's unique because it was found under ground, not under water. It's 32 feet long. It's half of a ship. They took it apart piece by piece. Each piece was sealed and marked.
Then, the ship made the journey to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. The ship was probably built in the 1780s.
Riess wonders why it was made with metal nails instead of wooden dowels.
"There are a lot of voids of these common everyday merchant ships because nobody bothered recording them. They recorded the war ships. They recorded the ships that belonged to the kings and queens. But not the everyday thing that 99 percent of the people are using," said Riess.
Each piece of wood tells a story. In some you can see where worms have tunneled through.
Since particular species of worms are specific to certain geographic areas, researchers will be able to study the wood and figure out, not just where they ship originated, but also where it's been.
Researchers can literally count the tree rings to determine the type and age of the oak.
Warren Riess says part of the journey is knowing that for every mystery solved, another question surfaces.