Hunley Update 2-8-02
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CHARLESTON, SC – February 8, 2002 - Dr. Doug Owsley, Division Head for Physical Anthropology, and research osteologist Rebecca Kardash from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Dr. Robert Mann, a hand and foot bone expert from the U.S. Army’s, Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI), Dr. Jamie Downs, Chief Medical Examiner of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, and genealogist Linda Abrams from Massachusetts have been working this week at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. They are beginning the forensic analysis of the eight-man crew of the H. L. Hunley. Now that the bones are all sorted, some information is being revealed about these individuals. "I can look at the bones and tell that some of the crewmembers had been in the submarine longer. By looking at the remains of the crew’s youngest member, aged of 18-20 years, I can tell he went through a lot of physical strain when he turned the crank," said Dr. Doug Owsley.


"It will be interesting to see if Dr. Owsley’s findings on the young man’s skeleton indicate a lot of physical strain that can be associated with the bellows and snorkels. Was he straining to get air into the sub during the final minutes of the voyage of the H. L. Hunley, or was he straining to crank the propeller? This could provide another clue for the speculation that anoxia may have figured into the demise of the H. L. Hunley on its journey home," said Senator Glenn McConnell, Chairman of the Hunley Commission.


The forensics team is following a detailed protocol designed to identify each crewmember.

    • Sorting of Commingled Remains. The bones were partially mixed within the submarine, especially the skeletons found in the second and third positions and the seventh and eighth positions. Sorting and inventorying the bones of each skeleton was the focus of this week’s work.

        The precise location of recovery allowed preliminary assignment of each bone to individual skeletons. Using this information, each skeleton was placed in anatomical position to determine which bones were missing and whether there were duplications or mixing. Size and lengths, joint surface articulations, and other anatomical features were matched to confirm association of each bone to a specific individual.

        All major bones are accounted for. A few small finger bones are still concreted to the wall of the submarine. The bones of Lt. George Dixon have not been laid out at this time. Due to preservation of fragile textiles, his remains were removed in "block lifts" in order to allow controlled laboratory separation of the clothing and personal items from the remains. These block lifts have been x-rayed in preparation for this archaeological and conservation effort. After the sorting is complete, a larger forensic team will return to Charleston to begin the forensic anthropological analysis. Major steps include:

    • Determining Age, Sex, Ancestry and Physical Characteristics. This step will finalize the bone and dental inventories for each skeleton and confirm the ages of the crew. Measuring the skeletons will provide information about body build and height. Given the small size of the interior of the submarine, the men show remarkable differences in physical size and represent a broad distribution of ages. The examination will note the presence of earlier injuries, infections, and activity-related changes. These bone biographies will provide clues that will help identify each person when matched to personal information gathered by the genealogist.
    • Taphonomic Observations. The objective is to describe bone, dental, and soft tissue preservation. This step will include mapping color and stain distributions on each skeleton. The scientists’ are particularly interested in the presence of red staining on some of the bones.
    • Stable Isotope and DNA Analysis. These analyses represent important methods for determining individual identity.
    • Facial Reconstructions. The skulls will be molded and cast in order to prepare facial reconstructions for interpretive purposes. This process will take a minimum of one month per crewmember.
    • Determination of Individual Identities. A major goal of this investigation is to determine the personal identification of as many of the men as possible. This will require a merger of the forensic/skeletal data, the archaeological record, and historical/genealogical information. Key documentation critical to this process includes specific information about each individual including age, stature, physical features, information about earlier injuries, military service records, and genealogical data as a basis for maternal lineage DNA comparisons.


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