Scientists exploring interior of submarine
Wednesday, January 24, 2001
By BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier staff
One spoonful at a time, scientists began
digging their way inside the Hunley on Tuesday.
By day's end, archaeologists had gingerly
shoveled out a couple of buckets' worth of silt from the Confederate
submarine's rear ballast tank.
No, they do not yet have Lt. George Dixon's
gold coin good luck piece.
Today, the scientists are expected to record
the stratigraphy of the silt inside to look for clues about how the sub
filled with concrete-hard sediments.
Archaeologists began their excavation of the
sub's interior at the largest hole in the submarine - a 3-foot-long gash
probably made well after the submarine sank on Feb. 17, 1864.
Some close to the project have speculated
another boat's anchor landed on the upper starboard stern, causing the
This excavation may reveal the answers to such
While project archaeologist Maria Jacobsen dug
in the ballast tank, other workers drilled out a rivet on one of the
panels that covers the crew compartment.
Even the metal shavings were bagged and saved.
On spots where the protective concretion that has protected the
submarine was removed, the hull appeared blackish-blue.
That work is in anticipation of the next phase
of the excavation, when Hunley project workers will remove three
semi-hemispherical panels between the submarine's two conning towers.
That will open, for the first time in 137
years, the sub's crew compartment.
Dr. Bob Neyland, the project manager, said the
first day on the job proved encouraging.
"We learned that everything seems to be
working," he said.
The excavation of the ballast tank, expected to
take about a week, will give scientists an inside look at the
The hole, which is in the starboard stern
quarter panel, exposes the ballast tank between the sub's steering and
propeller shafts. So far, scientists are unsure how far into the
submarine they will be able to reach through the stern hole.
The silt removed from the submarine, which
looks like pluff mud, is being sifted for tiny artifacts. Finding pieces
of iron in the sediment could prove that something landed on the
submarine later. Other theories are that oxygen collected in the rear of
the sub and eventually exploded outward.
Neyland said the archaeologists aren't really
expecting to find anything in the way of artifacts in the ballast tank,
although it's possible. Some 19th century accounts of the submarine say
the wall separating the ballast tank from the crew compartment did not
go all the way to the sub's ceiling.
If that's the case, anything - papers, buttons
or cloth - may have drifted back there.
Used with permission of The Post
and Courier and Charleston.Net