Wednesday, March 21, 2001
BY BRIAN HICKS and SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier staff
Archaeologists have found the remains of a Hunley crew member inside the Confederate submarine.
On Wednesday, scientists excavating the Hunley announced they have found three ribs from the right side of a body. Dr. Doug Owsley, head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution confirmed they were from a human - and are well-preserved.
"The remains that were discovered represent a portion of the rib cage," Owsley said.
The bones were found near the front of the submarine's crew compartment and were higher in the sediment than scientists expected to find them. The bones are still buried in the clay-like sediment so scientists aren't yet sure whether the ribs are still attached to more bones.
"These remains apparently were floating and they appear to be above or over an object that might be a stool," Hunley Commission Chairman Glenn McConnell said Wednesday morning. "It gives me chills. We're starting to realize their final moments had to be terrifying and awful. That cabin was probably pitch black in the final moments. This lays to rest any question that the crew was not in the sub."
Bob Neyland, the project's manager, said archaeologists have also now found a small patch of cloth about the size of a half-dollar and a few inches of a leather belt in the mid-section of the crew compartment.
Scientists covered the patch of textile back up - it may be attached to more cloth. Two thread samples were recovered that Neyland says are in remarkable condition.
"The threads are in such great condition that if it wasn't found under all this sediment, we would have thought the threads to be from the present," Neyland said.
This will slow the excavation work as scientists carefully dig around the remains to see how much of the crew member is intact in the silt.
This discovery comes only a day after finding the controls for the aft ballast tank, and a week after finding buttons from a crewman's jacket and the bench the crew sat on to crank the propeller.
The Hunley's crew complement was nine men, eight of which turned a hand-crank to propel the sub. The captain sat in the forward conning tower and operated its forward ballast tank, rudder and dive fins. Scientists expect to find the remains of all the crewmen, but expected to find their bones scattered on the floor of the submarine's crew compartment.
The discovery of human remains less than halfway down in the sediment that filled the submarine came as a surprise to everyone connected to the Hunley project.