Gold Jewelry Found in Civil War Sub Hunley

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
November 14, 2002
Ongoing excavation of the Civil War submarine H. L. Hunley has uncovered another surprise: ornate gold and diamond jewelry.

A ring and brooch were found among clothing remnants of the captain, Lt. George Dixon, but their use and significance is a mystery. The location of the jewelry, nestled between layers of textiles, suggests that he was probably carrying the valuable items in a pocket of his trousers or jacket.

The flooded and silt-filled interior of the Hunley's hull, which was raised off Charleston Harbor two years ago, was found to contain fragile artifacts and pieces of textiles amid the sediment.

Last year this material was carefully removed from the submarine in blocks, which are currently being excavated under laboratory conditions. The process of examining the 40 blocks of material is about 25 percent complete.

X-rays had suggested the presence of a metallic object in the sediment block that contained Lt. Dixon's clothing.

Remarking on the recovery of the jewelry, the chairman of Friends of the Hunley, Warren Lasch, said: "The Hunley continues to present us with exciting and unexpected treasures from the past. This discovery will no doubt prove to be the beginning of another chapter in the amazing story that is the Hunley."

The Hunley sank on February 17, 1864, shortly after it attacked the Union blockader U.S.S. Housatonic. The sub lay undisturbed until May 1995, when a salvage team funded by author Clive Cussler found it.

The 40-foot-long (12-meter-long) hull was raised in August 2000 and moved to a specially built lab. Scientists began excavating the sub in January 2001. The work is funded in part by the National Geographic Society.

The jewelry found in the Hunley's remains appears to have been skillfully crafted of expensive materials and quality craftsmanship. The gold used in both pieces is 18- or 24-carat.

The ring has nine diamonds, the center one alone about half a carat. "The ring is ornate, and both sides of the ring are decorated in filigree," said Maria Jacobsen, senior archaeologist on the Hunley project. The brooch has 37 diamonds totaling about two carats.

The pieces bear no inscription or maker's mark, and it's not clear whether they were meant to be worn by a man or a woman.

Shelly Foote, a jewelry expert with the Smithsonian Institution, will study the design and composition of the precious artifacts for clues to their origin and significance.

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