(October 9, 2003 – CHARLESTON, SC) – When scientists began excavation of the Hunley’s ballast tanks this week, they were doubtful any artifacts would be found, but once again, the H. L. Hunley exceeds expectations. During the first week of excavation, a 19th century wooden cask was uncovered at the bottom of the submarine near the port side. “It more than likely was used to hold some type of liquid, it may have been water or liquor, or even used as a chamber pot. It’s too early to tell, as the cask also could have been used as some type of mechanism for the sub,” said Hunley Project Director, Dr. Robert Neyland. Neyland explains that it could be a floating mechanism used in the ballast tank to measure the water level of the tank.
The cask is about 10 inches in length and approximately 8 inches in diameter, and had metal hoops at either end, very much like a barrel. It was partially filled with orange-colored sediment, not typical of the earlier sediment found inside the sub. Samples of the sediment will be taken to Clemson University to be tested to determine what it might have contained 139 years ago.
The excavation is moving smoothly, “I am surprised that we were able to get to the bottom of the sub this quickly,” said Dr. Neyland. Although the focus is in the forward ballast tank at this time, rivets have been removed from a quarter panel in the stern. Senior Conservator Paul Mardikian and his conservation team will be analyzing a newly removed quarter plate and its rivets, in collaboration with Clemson University Professor Michael Drews. The ongoing corrosion studies will help conservators solve the unique conservation challenge the Hunley represents.
Clemson and Hunley researchers say that they are optimistic that applications of their research may benefit industries that deal with the challenges of metal corrosion, such as the treatment of metal for bridges, ships, oil drilling platforms and the metal infrastructure in some types of chemical plants.
Warren Lasch, Chairman of Friends of the Hunley, said, just as the Hunley has provided unforeseen artifacts, it has been the impetus for unexpected technological advancements as well. “The collaborative research taking place with Clemson University demonstrates that the benefits of the Hunley project exceed the historical perspective, but will offer innovative technological applications for the future,” Lasch commented.
The H. L. Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler’s National Underwater Agency (NUMA), a 501c3 non-profit organization. The hand-cranked submarine was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where an international team of scientists are at work excavating and conserving the historic vessel and its artifacts.
Hours of operation for public tours and the Hunley gift shop are from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p. m. on Saturdays and from noon to 5:00 p. m. on Sundays. All proceeds go to support the Hunley conservation and excavation project. To purchase tickets call toll free 1-877-4HUNLEY (1-877-448-6539) or log onto the Internet at www.etix.com.