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National Geographic

New York City's Wild Past Life

17th-century explorer Henry Hudson had a real knack for making his crew miserable. Among numerous failed attempts to find an all-water passage to Asia, Hudson somewhat accidentally explored what is now Manhattan — exactly this time of year, 400 years ago. Little did his mutinous crew know, this lush landscape would become a global epicenter. It goes without saying that, were they to stumble upon it again today, they would find it slightly altered.

Although Hudson could never see today's Manhattan, we can now get an idea of what he saw that September of 1609 — thanks to The Mannahatta Project, the brainchild of ecologist Eric Sanderson. His project, featured in National Geographic's September issue, shows New York like we've never seen it before: rural enough to make any Manhattanite shudder.

The project began when Sanderson came across a topographical map of the region dating to around 1782. The hills and ponds piqued his curiosity, so he matched that map with one from today to see what exactly preceded the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, etc. Artists Markley Boyer and Philip Straub re-created the old New York to contrast with Robert Clark's contemporary photographs. The result: a before and after spanning nearly half a millennium.

To learn more, take a look at The Mannahatta Project's extensive Web site, read the National Geographic article, or check out this really cool map interactive.

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