By accident, 18th-century wharf revealed

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For years it has been buried, swallowed up by layers of earth, muck, and water, a once-prominent landmark concealed by time.

And the late-1700s wharf might have remained that way — embedded for the ages — had it not been for a recent accidental find.

Last June, as workers excavated portions of Newburyport’s Water Street for the city’s new waste-water operations building, they unearthed large, centuries-old slabs of granite. Based on maps and archaeological research, the giant rectangles of rock were identified as the capping stones of a 19th-century wharf built onto an earlier Revolutionary War wharf owned by Captain William Coombs.

And, as the city’s infrastructure project has continued for the past several months, archeologists have periodically been on-site to document additional finds from the 1700s and 1800s, including more capstones, cribbing supports, and, this month, timbers from an adjacent wharf.

Although many of the structural artifacts are too damaged or contaminated to save, local officials and historians call the find an extraordinary one, providing a conduit between modern times and the country’s beginnings....

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