Exact number of crew puzzles archaeologists
Friday, July 27, 2001
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier staff
New X-rays of the H.L. Hunley's interior
suggest that archaeologists still have much to uncover when work inside
the Confederate submarine resumes in two months.
They don't know if they'll figure out this fall
why the submarine sank, but they should be able to clear up another
lingering question: Exactly how many men were on board when the
fish-boat went down?
In the initial excavation of the Hunley,
archaeologists recovered hundreds of bones - and eight skulls. While
some Hunley officials believed an X-ray might have shown a ninth skull
beneath the crew bench, no one knew for sure.
Without a complete inventory of bones -
impossible with many of them still inside the sub - a ninth skull is the
only way to be certain.
The second phase of the excavation, which will
begin by early October, in some ways is about confirmation. The
archaeologists believe nothing until they see it - or, more importantly,
"Hopefully, some questions will be settled
by the fall excavation," Hunley Commission Chairman Glenn McConnell
said Thursday. "There's a strong possibility the ninth skull is
under that bench. If it isn't, we've got another mystery."
Every historical account of the Hunley listed
the submarine's crew complement as nine, and there are nine duty
But Friends of the Hunley Chairman Warren Lasch
points out that everyone believed there were eight cranks for the
propeller shaft - something that was proven untrue by the spring dig.
There are seven cranks inside the Hunley.
"Until the excavation is finished, you
don't know for sure," Lasch said. "Maybe Dixon captained and
pumped the bellows. The ninth man couldn't have cranked, and he would
have been more weight. Hopefully by November, we'll know."
The number of crewmen is a big question, almost
as large as why the submarine sank. That answer could be years away. But
when archaeologists continue their work this fall, they know they will
have more clues from which to draw their conclusions.
The images taken from the submarine this month
confirm what the archaeologists suspected during the spring dig - that
the area beneath the bench is target-rich. In X-rays of the bottom of
the hull, scientists can see a couple more canteens, a pipe that may
have circulated air pumped in from the sub's bellows and a glass bottle
beneath the bench.
"If the crew carried any personal items on
board the sub, the bench would be the likely place because of the
cramped conditions," said Bob Neyland, the project director.
The work this fall will concentrate on small
areas, but is expected to move slowly. The new evidence indicates that
some of the artifacts under the bench are heavily concreted and, as a
result, probably stuck to the hull. McConnell said the work should take
six to eight weeks, allowing the Warren Lasch Conservation Center to
re-open for tours during the holidays.
Conservators are working now to conserve the
most fragile artifacts already recovered from the submarine - such as
leather and cloth. And archaeologists are studying finds they made
during the three-month dig in the spring.
McConnell said the discovery of a pencil during
the first excavation has raised hopes that there is a logbook of some
kind on the submarine. If so, the archaeologists could have more
questions answered than they ever imagined.
But it likely wouldn't tell them the cause of
the Hunley's sinking just hours after it sank the USS Housatonic.
That answer, if it exists, is somewhere inside
the submarine, recorded in the artifacts, the muck or the hull itself.
Whether archaeologists will ever be able to answer that question remains
the Hunley's biggest mystery.
"She's stingy about her secrets,"
Used with permission of The Post and
Courier and Charleston.Net.