Hidden Tunnels and Civil War–Era Buildings Found Below Alcatraz Prison

Archeologists have discovered that San Francisco’s notorious prison was built directly on top of a military fort.

Hidden Tunnels and Civil War–Era Buildings Found Below Alcatraz Prison

Archaeologists made the discovery using ground-penetrating radar and terrestrial laser scans.

Courtesy of AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Archaeologists have confirmed a long-time suspicion of historians—that the famed Alcatraz prison was built over a Civil War–era military fortification.

Researchers found a series of buildings and tunnels under the prison yard of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which once held Al Capone, SFGate reported Tuesday.

A study published last week in the journal Near Surface Geophysics said archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar and terrestrial laser scans and historical maps and photographs. They found fully buried structures, ammunition magazines, and tunnels.

“This really changes the picture of things,” study author Timothy de Smet, an archaeologist at Binghamton University, told PBS. “They weren’t erased from the island—they are right beneath your feet.”

Archaeologists are now planning more studies to discover what else lies below the surface. Historians believe workers built over existing structures when the prison was constructed in the 20th century.

Alcatraz first came to the attention of the U.S. government after it took control of California from Mexico in the 1840s. Its location in San Francisco Bay made it attractive for military fortification purposes. During the Civil War, Fort Alcatraz was the official military prison for the West Coast. The first federal prisoners arrived in the 1930s, and the last inmate left Alcatraz in 1963.

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