Thursday, March 22, 2001
BY BRIAN HICKS AND SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier staff
After 137 years missing in action, the remains of one member of the Hunley's final crew have been found by archaeologists.
On Wednesday, scientists excavating the Confederate submarine announced the discovery of three ribs poking through the clay-like silt in the sub's crew compartment. Dr. Doug Owsley, head of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, confirmed they were from the right side of a human - and are well-preserved.
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. In fact, they are not far under the hull plate that holds the snorkel box.
The bones are buried in sediment so scientists aren't yet sure whether the ribs are attached to other bones. For now, the ribs have been re-covered to keep them from deteriorating. They won't be removed until scientists are satisfied with a plan for excavating them.
Hunley officials were overjoyed with the discovery and said the remains will be handled with proper respect.
"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. "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 also have 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.
On Wednesday, chief archaeologist Maria Jacobsen climbed into the sub to excavate the area underneath the hull plate that holds the snorkel box - near the remains - to see if that plate could be removed. Scientists have removed three hull plates for their excavation. But this plate, just aft of the forward conning tower, is not homogenous.
While the others came off easily, Jacobsen found some unidentified machinery riveted to this plate, scrapping plans to remove it for now, Neyland said. The machinery could be related to the snorkels or the hand crank, the archaeologists surmise.
These new finds come only a day after scientists identified the controls for the aft ballast tank and a week after finding buttons from a crewman's jacket, the bench the crew sat on to crank the propeller and a medicine bottle.
Scientists expect to find the remains of the rest of the Hunley's crew lower in the submarine, possibly scattered on the floor of the crew compartment. Neyland said the discovery of remains this high up wasn't too much of a surprise.
"I've learned to quit predicting where the remains in shipwrecks will be," he said.
Used with permission of The Post and Courier and Charleston.Net