An interactive ecological time machine takes you to New York City in 1609

Eric W. Sanderson is a landscape ecologist, and Vice President for Urban Conservation Strategy at the New York Botanical Garden, who has embarked on a project to digitally recreate all of New York City as it existed in 1609, the year Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbor.

He has already successfully completed the project for the borough of Manhattan, and wrote a gorgeous book about his findings called Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City — Manahatta which was the Lenape Native American word for the island. As his website describes the project:

As a landscape ecologist, Dr. Sanderson uses spatial analysis techniques to protect wildlife in modern landscapes. His idea was to apply these techniques to recreate an extinct, historic landscape in detail, that is, to recreate, in digital form using mapping software, each and every hill, valley, stream, spring, beach, forest, cave, wetland, and pond that existed on Mannahatta.

Sanderson and the Wildlife Conservation Society created an interactive "Map Explorer," on which you can explore a map of 1609 Mannahatta and get information about the probable wildlife, landscape, and Lenape use for every single "block" of Manhattan.

Screengrab from the Welikia Project Map Explorer

For example, if you click on the area that is now Times Square, you will find that it was a forest, and probably home to meadow voles, sharp-shinned hawks, Eastern painted turtles, and green frogs. The list of probable plants in that area is huge. The Lenape probably did not have an encampment there, but may have used the grounds for hunting Eastern box turtles, passenger pigeons, beavers, wild turkeys, and American black bear.

He is now working on a follow-up to Mannahatta, to do the same analysis for all of New York City, plus bits of New Jersey an Westchester, an area that he calls Welikia, the Lenape word for "my good home." (There was no Lenape word for the New York City geographic area as current American culture defines it.) The Welikia Project will result in a new book, as well as an expansion of the current Map Explorer.