Wednesday, February 13, 2013

City Science Kids presents: Episode #3—Shipworm Science!

Originally called the Ronson Ship, after the company that built the office tower in our story, the Princess Caroline was a 3-masted, square-sterned (the stern is the back of a boat), 150-ton trading ship. She was sunk on purpose to use as landfill on the site of what is currently 175 Water Street, near South Street Seaport in Manhattan. Possibly it had become un-seaworthy because of the shipworms that infested it (the same shipworms that later helped identify it).

For 200 years, the Princess Caroline lay submerged in water, where no wood-eating bacteria could live. But as soon as marine archaeologist Warren Riess and his team dug her up and exposed her to air, she began to rot. To keep her from falling apart completely, they pumped her full of special wax; this held her together until she could be sent to a conservation facility.

In total, about 20 feet of the bow (the front part of the ship) were excavated by Riess and saved; they now live in the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia. The rest of the ship was pulled out of the ground by the Ronson company, to make way for the pilings that now support the building on Water Street. And what became of the ship’s remains? They were brought to Staten Island—to be used as landfill…again!

Videography by Amy Sirot; excavation, ship and map images courtesy of Joan Geismar, urban archaeologist in charge of the 175 Water Street excavation (and an extra-special thanks to her, for all her time and help with this episode!); shipworm video and images courtesy of Hugh Macintosh; ship etching by William Burgis; and another special thanks to Warren Riess, the marine archaeologist who unraveled the mystery of the Princess Caroline, 30 years after she was dug up!

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