Robinson Terminal South Excavation Update: Excavation of Ship 3 (Feature 159)

Archaeology continued in October 2018 on Ship 3 (Feature 159) at the Robinson Landing site. Archaeologists from Thunderbird Archeology on contract with the developer originally discovered the ship in March 2018.

Page archived as of March 9, 2019

Note: The information on this page reflects the state of knowledge when this update was written. Information may have changed. 

Excavation of Ship 3 (Feature 159)

October 2018

Ship 3 excavation October 2018, looking southThe wooden vessel has recently been more fully exposed in preparation for excavation. A retaining wall installed through the ship allows archaeologists to work safely on the section within the footprint of the future parking garage. The remainder of the ship outside the wall near and under Wolfe Street will be preserved in the ground. Contract archaeologists with the assistance of City staff are carefully documenting, excavating, and stabilizing the ship’s timbers. 

This vessel is the largest and most intact of the four ships found along the waterfront since 2015. The length of the hull runs a few degrees off the street grid and at a steep angle from west to east, suggesting the slope of the original shoreline. The hull fragment within the project area is roughly 85 feet long and about 30 feet wide at its widest point. For comparison, the three other ships discovered at Robinson Landing and at the site of the Hotel Indigo each measured about 50 feet in length and 15 feet in width. Because of the size, Ship 3 could have sailed in the open ocean.

From what is visible, this ship does not appear to have been cut in half along the keel like the other vessels and still has both its port and starboard sides. Remains of the hull include the presumed bow, ceiling planking, keelson, framing, futtocks, keel, and hull and sacrificial planking. Preliminary field evaluation of the materials and construction technique suggests that this vessel was built sometime in the 18th or early 19th century. A mixture of trunnels (wooden pegs) and iron fasteners hold the timbers together. 

Based on an examination of historic maps and survey located points on the ship, we hypothesize that this ship became part of landfill sometime between 1798 and 1845. Fragments of a wharf structure are set atop of the ship.

A team of contract archaeologists, City staff, and consulting experts will thoroughly document the ship in place using a combination of traditional mapping and 3D documentation (photogrammetry) several times during the excavation process to record the individual layers before carefully excavating it. Additionally, experts will take dendrochronology samples from multiple timbers, which may tell us more about where and when this ship was constructed. Like the two smaller ships excavated earlier this year and the ship from 220 South Union Street discovered in 2015, the City will store the timbers in tanks of water to ensure their continued stabilization while long term plans are developed. 

Excavating Ship 3 October 2018, looking west  

The excavation of Ship 3, looking west.

Ship 3 ceiling planking

Ceiling planking, with markings from the ship-builders.

Ship 3, filling pool with timbers, October 2018

The ship's timbers being placed in a pool of water to preserve the wood.