Local Reporter May Have Found the Burned Remains of the Last American Slave Ship

Al.com, YouTube
Al.com, YouTube

An Alabama-based environmental reporter may have just solved a 158-year-old historical mystery. Ben Raines, a writer for Al.com, has been exploring what lies beneath the waters around Mobile, Alabama for years, helping scientists locate significant finds like an Ice Age forest at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Now, he seems to have found another huge piece of lost history. Using historical records and interviews, he thinks he has located the long-lost wreck of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to enter the U.S.

The Clotilda was not your average slave ship. The schooner sailed to the U.S. in 1859 as part of an illegal scheme, and was sunk by its captain to cover the evidence. While slavery was still legal in 1859, importing slaves was not. The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves passed Congress in 1807. But on the eve of the Civil War, many in Alabama—the birthplace of the Confederacy—were set on reopening the transatlantic slave trade. One Mobile businessman made a bet out of reviving it under the noses of the federal authorities. Timothy Meaher hired William Foster to captain the Clotilda in a transatlantic voyage to Africa and back in an attempt to illegally import newly captured slaves.

The authorities were onto Meaher and Foster’s plan by the time the Clotilda arrived in Mobile’s harbor on a dark summer night in 1860. To slip past them, Foster offloaded his human cargo to a riverboat, burning the Clotilda to hide the evidence of the venture. The ship disappeared under the waters.

Now, unusually low tides may have uncovered it once again. Raines used historical documents and interviews with longtime Mobile residents familiar with the delta's waterways to track down where the remains of the ship might be. According to local historians, ship experts, and archaeologists, the sunken hull he discovered lies right around where Foster wrote in his journals that he burned the Clotilda.

While most of the historic ship is buried in mud, one entire side is exposed and recently became visible during an extra-low tide. The wooden ship is around the right size and shows signs of being burned, adding to the evidence that it is the Clotilda. However, that fact has yet to be proven, since researchers need to examine the ship more closely by digging it up and removing artifacts for analysis. This could take quite a while because both federal and state permits are involved, and, by Raines’s account, “a lot of money” is too. We’ll have to wait just a little bit longer to find out the truth about the Clotilda.

[h/t Al.com]

Laser Scans Detect Hidden Buildings and Tunnels Beneath Alcatraz Prison

iStock.com/f8grapher
iStock.com/f8grapher

Isolated in the San Francisco Bay and surrounded by steep cliff faces, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary seemed like the most secure place to keep dangerous criminals in the mid-20th century. But it's recently come to light that every inmate on Alcatraz Island lived above a series of potential escape routes that predated the prison's construction, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

In a new study published in the journal Near Surface Geophysics, archaeologists reported their discovery of structures and artifacts beneath the Alcatraz prison yard, including underground buildings, tunnels, and ammunition magazines. Guided by historical maps, documents, and photographs, they used laser scanning technology and ground-penetrating radar to locate the subterranean fortress close to the surface.

The site dates back to the mid-19th century, when Alcatraz Island was used for military purposes. The same natural features that would later make Alcatraz an appealing prison also made it an ideal coastal fortification. Enough brick buildings were built there to house 200 soldiers and enough food was shipped in to feed them for four months.

But the fortification wasn't used for its original purpose for very long. It was transformed into the West Coast's official military prison during the Civil War, and in the 1930s, the government turned it into a federal prison. Instead of tearing down the forts and tunnels leftover from its military days, workers left them intact and built over them to save money. Archaeologists plan to investigate the underground structures further without disturbing the historic site.

Alcatraz Prison closed in 1963, so the underground tunnels no longer pose a security problem. Today the island is part of the U.S. National Park Service and is a popular tourist attraction.

[h/t San Fransisco Chronicle]

The Site Where Julius Caesar Was Assassinated Will Open to the Public in 2021

iStock.com/Largo di Torre Argentina
iStock.com/Largo di Torre Argentina

Besides being a sanctuary for stray cats, Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome is best known as the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 22 times by assassins in 44 BCE. As the city's oldest open-air square, the spot is an important piece of Roman history, but it's fallen into disrepair. Now, Condé Nast Traveler reports that Largo di Torre Argentina will reopen to the public following a $1.1 million restoration project.

The site includes four ancient temples, a medieval brick tower, and the ruins of the senate house where Caesar was murdered. About 20 feet below street level, it was excavated under the rule of Benito Mussolini in the 1920s, and has remained largely closed to the public since. Today, Largo di Torre Argentina is overgrown and accessible only to the feral cats that live there.

On Monday, February 25, Rome mayor Virginia Raggi announced that Largo di Torre Argentina will reopen in the second half of 2021. To get the site ready for the public, the city will add restrooms, install lights, and build walkways that allow visitors to explore the area. Stone ruins, some of which are stacked into piles, will be secured, and artifacts currently sitting in storage will be moved to a museum. The one area the project will avoid is the corner where the cat sanctuary is located.

Rome, of course, is filled with ancient ruins—some that residents weren't even aware of until recently. In 2014, a 2000-year-old Roman road was unearthed during the construction of a McDonald's.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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