Bone found in Hunley's hull came from an animal


Saturday, February 3, 2001

Of The Post and Courier staff


     It might have been a bizarre clue: a rib-like bone found in the rear of the Hunley.
     Turns out it was a rib, but it belonged to an animal.
     The Hunley excavation team says it found a hog or cow bone wedged in the sub's aft compartment during its recent excavation.
     It was washed into the sub's 3-foot-long stern gash long after the Hunley sank in 1864, they believe.
     An animal bone in the ocean is not considered an oddity, and it could have been thrown over the side of a passing boat at any time in history either as garbage or after being a sailor's meal that simply meandered its way into the Hunley.
     The fact it was found in a good state of preservation gives the recovery team hope the remains of the Hunley's nine sailors will be found when they open the crew compartment later this month.
     "The presence of a bulkhead and the good condition of the animal bone increased the probabilities that the human skeletal remains are in (a) very good state of preservation," Hunley Commission Chairman Glenn McConnell said Friday.
     Scientists are also getting a better picture of the sub's mechanics. They have found a series of internal frames that run inside the sub that gave it lateral strength.
     Also, the rivets that seal the sub's hull were driven from the inside out. They were then pounded down and sanded over flat, to reduce excess drag.
     And instead of being built by overlapping its iron plates like fish scales, the hull plates have been riveted to backing plates that were in turn riveted together.
     "These new structural findings ... seem to defy all recollections," said Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley.
     Other discoveries are that the steering cables and propeller shaft run inside hollow tubes that gave them protection, and two rectangular iron ballast blocks in the rear.
     Scientist believe the blocks indicate "that the builders of this submarine gave great thought to balance and design."
     The excavation timetable is ahead of schedule although archaeologists are still continuing to X-ray the sub to expose more of its design features. But how the rear gash got there is also a mystery, although one theory points to an anchor getting caught on the sub.
     "It will take further study of the interior and removal of the exterior concretion to see whether or not there are bends inward or outward," officials said.
     Work continues next week.
     The Hunley was recovered 4 miles off Charleston Harbor in August after being lost for more than 130 years. It was discovered in May 1995 by a dive team funded by adventure novelist Clive Cussler.
     It became the world's first successful attack submarine in February 1864 when it sank the blockade ship USS Housatonic by ramming an explosive charge into its side.
     The sub is being housed in a cold-water tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Lab in North Charleston.


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Revised: 22 Jun 2011 03:54:40 -0400.

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