Robinson Terminal South Update: Ship Preservation at the Bus Barn

Where are they now? City archaeologists and volunteers in our museum frequently get this question about the three ships excavated in 2018 from the former site of Robinson Terminal South.

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.

Ship Preservation at the Bus Barn

How much space do three dismantled 18th century ships take up? City archaeologists have recently discovered the answer to this question as they’ve moved the last of the timbers into tanks of water. 

Now that you’ve seen the ships in storage, here are a few details. The white tags you see in the video on each timber are labels that will help archaeologists piece the ships back together. The labels are archival quality Tyvek and are attached using non-corroding fasteners. You might have also spotted one of our archaeologists in a pool moving timbers. Timbers that are impossible for one person to move on land are a lot easier to move in the water where their buoyancy helps us out!

All the timbers of the three ships excavated at the Robinson Landing site in April, June, and October are now being stored at a City facility in nine tanks of water, including four metal tanks and five above ground swimming pools.  The wood, which came from a wet environment, must remain waterlogged to ensure its continued stabilization and long-term preservation. Without this measure, the timbers would desiccate (dry out) and disintegrate, precluding any potential for future study or conservation.  City archaeologists are routinely monitoring the tanks and pools, taking water samples, periodically changing water, and conducting routine pool maintenance to prevent biological growth. [Fun fact: archaeology staff now can set up a pool in under an hour.] Our staff has become very proficient at setting up above ground pools and backwashing filters. 

Now that the timbers are in a stable environment, archaeologists and other City staff are developing plans for their documentation, interpretation, and long-term storage. Documentation will entail recording the details of each wooden piece which will allow for a better understanding of how the ships were built. Archaeology staff are also exploring new programming possibilities in the ship storage space that will allow the public to see the timbers up close, learn how the ships fit into Alexandria’s history, how they were excavated, and the steps being taken to study and preserve them. Stay tuned for exciting event announcements! 

Wetlands Studies and Solutions, Inc. took this drone footage of the interior of the warehouse. Thunderbird Archeology, a division of Wetlands, excavated the ships as part of Alexandria’s Archaeology Protection Code.