Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Empire State's Waterways Volume 56 Number 2, March/April 2003
by Eric A. Powell

[image]A sonar image reveals the possible remains of a Hudson River sloop. (Marine Sciences Research Center, SUNY Stony Brook) [LARGER IMAGE]

Now plied mainly by weekend boaters, the Hudson River was once one of the world's busiest waterways and served, along with the Erie Canal, as a major route to the Midwest. A recent sonar survey of the river bottom, intended to map marine habitats, is finding that one of the legacies of the Hudson as a transportation artery is shipwrecks--a lot of them.

Daria Merwin, an archaeologist at SUNY Stony Brook, says that the sonar survey, sponsored by the State of New York, has identified over a hundred sites that are possible shipwrecks. "We have targets that are obviously boats. One signal seems shaped like a Hudson River sloop, of which there are no known surviving examples." The ship might be one of ten sloops that were known to have been lost during a storm in 1870. Plans are in the works to dive to the vessel, as well as other sites identified by the survey, one of which may be a prehistoric wall.

Farther upstate, in downtown Albany, archaeologists from Union College have been searching for remnants of the Erie Canal, which originally stretched 323 miles from Albany to Buffalo. The team recently recovered the foundation of a toll collector's house, as well as a weigh lock that collectors would have used to determine what toll to charge. They also unearthed limestone blocks dating to the 1840s from the wall of Lock No. 1, a reminder of an era when New York's waterways bustled with commerce.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America