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Mobile’s many shipwrecks help tell the area’s long history

During last year’s search in Alabama’s Mobile River for the Clotilda -- the last known slave ship to arrive in the U.S. -- archaeologists also gathered data on all kinds of other artifacts that shed light on the area's rich history. NewsHour Weekend's Megan Thompson reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    During the hunt for the slave ship, Clotilda, that we told you about earlier in the broadcast, archaeologists also gathered data on all kinds of other sunken objects in the Mobile river and bay. Megan Thompson explains.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Maritime Archaeologist James Delgado calls the Earth's rivers, lakes and oceans the "world's biggest museum"- littered with artifacts that help tell an area's history.

  • James Delgado:

    We forget in this time and age, with planes and trains and semis on the highway, that this, the water, was the means by which we connected.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Core samples taken from the Mobile River banks revealed organic matter that's more than 2,000 years old.

  • James Delgado:

    We know about shellbanks where people in prehistoric times lived and harvested this area and deposited that shell after they ate what was in it.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Delgado also found about a dozen sunken barges, reflecting centuries of trade along here. Mobile Bay was also a major Confederate port during the Civil War. Delgado's team collected new electronic images of two ironclad gunboats buried deep in the mud.

  • James Delgado:

    The Tuscaloosa and the Huntsville, were scuttled– in April of 1865 as the city was surrendering to the Union. They settled down into the bottom of the river, and over time, they've just been buried in mud. And in a spot that's, like, right over there, for example during the Civil War, the Confederates sank a line of ships, one after the other, filled 'em with stone and brick. And then built pilings up around them to create an obstacle. Confederates also put out here floating explosive charges known to them as torpedoes.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Those torpedoes sunk the Union's U.S.S. Tecumseh at the start of the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 – its wreck still lies at the mouth of the bay.

  • James Delgado:

    It's the ship whose sinking led Admiral Farragut to famously say, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."

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