When a group of treasure hunters in Kansas got a "ping" on their metal detectors in a cornfield half a mile from the Missouri River, they must have realized they had found what they were looking for. But confirmation that it was indeed the Arabia wasn't even the exciting part, curators for the "Steamboat Arabia" exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh said in an April 2014 press release. It's what was inside the boat that made this find historic.

The boat itself was lying 45 feet beneath the cornfield; which instantly posed a problem, since the water table in Kansas is 10 feet below the ground's surface. Archaeologists had to use pumps to remove all the water from the dig site. 

When they finished, the archaeologists couldn't believe what they had unearthed. It was a large steamboat that was built in Pittsburgh in the mid-1800s, and it was sitting in a remarkably oxygen-free environment that had preserved much of the cargo within. This cargo included, "fine dishware, clothing, and even bottled food all preserved in excellent condition," according to the press release. It also contained guns, which abolitionists had tried to smuggle to comrades in Kansas fighting to make that state slave-free. Clearly, none of the ship's cargo reached its intended target. 

When all was said and done, archaeologists at the dig site realized they had on their hands one of the largest caches of American Civil War-era material ever found. It was a discovery that would teach historians a great deal about what is a particularly fascinating moment in our nation's history.

You can watch a virtual tour of the exhibition by clicking on the video below.