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Remnants of 18th-century ship found in Alexandria to be preserved at Ben Brenman Park


Remnants of an 18th-century ship, found in Alexandria, Virginia, will be preserved underwater at Ben Brenman Park. (7News)
Remnants of an 18th-century ship, found in Alexandria, Virginia, will be preserved underwater at Ben Brenman Park. (7News)
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This is very unusual and some have even described it as a bizarre project in the City of Alexandria -- A project to re-Submerge or re-sink historic ship timbers into a public pond at Ben Brenman Park.

These historic ship remnants were found in 2018 during archaeological excavations along the Potomac River. To preserve them in the long term, they have to be kept wet because they were found in a waterlogged condition.

Alexandria officials are calling this a medium-term storage solution, which means they’ll probably be underwater at the pond for the next 25 years. The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab has crossed state lines to assist with this project, expert scuba divers are also involved in carefully placing the timbers at the bottom of the pond.

After the ships were uncovered, they were kept in tanks of water to prevent the wood from decaying. Some pieces of the largest ship have been undergoing restorative treatment and study at Texas A&M.

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City Archaeologist Eleanor Breen said Ben Brenman Park Pond was chosen as having the least risk of contamination or damage to the frames while also being the easiest to access. Breen said signage will be added to the park explaining the history of the ship fragments. A study is underway to consider a waterfront museum as the permanent home for at least one of the ship hulls.

“One way to do this is to place them in the bottom of a pond that’s very similar to the environment in which they were found and that will ensure their preservation. So it's a creative way to preserve these historic resources of Alexandria," said Breen.

Expert divers have already come in to place a geogrid on the bottom of the pond, that’s what the timbers will be secured to. So this week the massive historic timbers will be transported from a city warehouse to the pond where the re-sinking operation will happen.

All of the timbers will be wrapped in protective fabric to ensure that they are preserved. This unique project should take about six weeks and the public is invited on Sunday, May 15 to a free family-friendly open house from noon to 4 p.m. Residents can learn about this ship ponding project and different archaeology projects the City of Alexandria is working on.

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Three ships were found in 2018, and another one was found three years earlier. Officials believe they are late 18-century merchant ships that would’ve sailed down the Potomac River, possibly transatlantic bringing goods in and out of the port of Alexandria.

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