A giant, 120-ton boulder that may have dug New York City in half has been excavated at the edge of Brooklyn. The discovery is a reminder that the massive foundations that dig behind Manhattan’s skyscrapers — the “piers” of New York — almost certainly traced the roots of the capital.
Archaeologists are excavating about 2,000 yards east of West 23rd Street in Gowanus for the 100-foot Brooklyn Bridge Trestle, an archaeological marker that once funneled huge chunks of salt across the bay, the only way to get to the East River.
The excavators are excited — because the brick core of the structure has been unearthed.
But they are also trapped in an age-old debate. Archaeologists and historians in the 19th century spoke of the Brooklyn Bridge Trestle as the source of “all of Gotham,” but the structure is also defined by controversy. To some, the structure appeared to be something new at the beginning of the 20th century. To others, they believe they found the antiquities behind the ironwork, although that view is not the standard belief among archaeologists.
In the 1780s, then-Senator Thomas Jefferson looked at the structure as a possible source of tax revenue for a new country. “I could not imagine a more inspiring evidence of the wealth of the country than this monument,” he said.
Later, other governors said it was a stoneage site, and in 1918, John Raskob said it could have been from Norse traders.
This question remained for centuries: What was that 160-foot-long mound?