Civil War Submariners' Teeth Tell Much About the Men

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"Some of them were habitually using their teeth for activities like tailoring, which was important for a lot of naval jobs at that time," Owsley explained.

The presence of these clues may aid in reconstructing the life stories of the crew members.

"I think you can tell who had longer service in the Navy, because of the way they were using their teeth as tools," said Owsley. "The men with a Navy background are all chipped up; they have notches in their teeth from repairing sails, splicing and stitching lines, and tailoring and adding ornamental designs to their uniforms."

Gold Fillings Reveal Status and Style

The men's teeth also reveal a wide range of dental conditions and pathology, providing a glimpse of 19th century dental care, and the physical toll exacted by a long and demanding war.

Many of the crew had early stage cavities, a likely result of substandard health care at a time of war. "During the war, these men obviously didn't have a lot of time to get to the dentist—if they could even find a dentist," Owsley said.

Dental work that was probably done before the war started tells the scientists a lot about the wealth and position of the men on the Hunley.

Only two of the sailors had dental fillings. One of them has standard metallic fillings. The Hunley's legendary commander Lt. George Dixon sports fillings of silver amalgam and even gold.

"Gold fillings were a status symbol, as they are in some places today," said Owsley. "Their presence also tells us something about the relative wealth of Dixon, and also supports the historical tradition that paints him as a rather dashing, flamboyant young officer."

The bones of the Hunley crew will yield far more clues about how they lived their lives and who they were. And then the men will finally be buried, with full military honors, at Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery sometime during the fall of 2003.

Related Stories from National Geographic:

The H.L. Hunley: Secret Weapon of the Confederacy
Forensic Team Studying Skeletons of Hunley Crew
U.S. Civil War Sub "Photo" Disproved as Image of Captain
Captain's Remains Found in U.S. Civil War Submarine Captain's "Lucky Coin" Found in Civil War Submarine
Curious Find on Confederate Sub Links North and South

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