Scientists exploring interior of submarine

Wednesday, January 24, 2001

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 hole.
     This excavation may reveal the answers to such questions.
     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 submarine's construction.
     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








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