Saturday, March 24, 2001
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier staff
Scientists don't know his name, but they do know he worked himself ragged.
Bone evidence from the Confederate submarine Hunley sailor uncovered this week indicates he endured long spells of physical exertion.
One of the disks in his spinal column is herniated - a fact scientists say is proof of sustained strenuous labor.
"It means he's putting stress on his back and getting compression and herniation of the disk," Doug Owsley, head of the Smithsonian Institution's division of physical anthropology, said Friday at a press conference.
"You see that type of injury on people today, too, but what it means is he's overloading it," Owsley said. "It's more strain than his back is prepared to physically deal with."
The man's remains include six ribs that were found in the forward part of the crew compartment, near the conning tower. He appears to be lying on his right side, close to the sub's ceiling. Scientists believe he may have floated in that position after the Hunley sank in February 1864 and filled with water.
The skeleton's left arm is raised above its torso. The crewman is not believed to be the sub's captain, Lt. George Dixon, who would have been stationed near that part of the vessel.
"It appears to be a small man, and Dixon was 6 feet tall," project manager Bob Neyland said.
Archaeologists also found a single uniform button in the ribs. It depicts an admiral's anchor, which would have been consistent with sailors in the Confederate navy.
Whoever the man is, Owsley knows only that the bones belong to "a young adult."
It is unknown whether the man's injuries were attributed to cranking the propeller shaft that powered the Hunley, since Confederate sailors would have been exposed to a wide degree of labors during life aboard ships. Most of the Hunley's crew were volunteers drafted from the rebel fleet.
The discovery comes as Hunley archaeologists say they probably will not be able to remove the sub's snorkel box or any of the panels closer to the front of the crew compartment. The sub's two dive planes are frozen in the "up" position and are blocking rivets that would have to be removed.
The offshoot is that the team's smallest member, chief archaeologist Maria Jacobsen, must crawl inside the sub, lie flat and work in a confined area scooping silt out.
The Hunley excavation at the Warren Lasch Conservation Lab in North Charleston will continue this weekend and is expected to take several months. The sub was recovered in August from its grave 4 miles off Charleston Harbor.