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Human Remains Found in Civil War Submarine Hunley

The first remains of a crewmember from the Civil War submarine H. L. Hunley have been discovered. Archaeologists found what appears to be three ribs from the right side of a body imbedded in sediment that has filled the sub.

Civil War submarine

The Civil War submarine H. L. Hunley prior to excavation.
Photograph by Mark Christmas/National Geographic Society

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Doug Owsley, head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, confirmed the ribs were human, and are well-preserved.

The Hunley sunk on February 17, 1864, shortly after it attacked and sank the Union blockader, the U.S.S. Housatonic.

The sub lay in its watery grave four miles off the coast of Sullivans Island, South Carolina, until May 1995, when a team funded by author Clive Cussler discovered the 40-foot-long (12-meter) hull intact. The Hunley was buried at a 45-degree angle under a layer of silt.

The Hunley was raised in August 2000, and the excavation of the sub, funded in part by the National Geographic Society, began in January.

Find Includes Thread, Belt

A small patch of textile, about the size of a half-dollar, was also uncovered. It appears to be in good condition; very fragile and possibly attached to more material so the archaeologists covered it back up to preserve it. Two thread samples were recovered in remarkable condition.

"The threads are in such great condition," project director Robert Neyland said, "that if it wasn't found under all this sediment, we would have thought the threads to be from the present."

A small portion of a leather belt was discovered in the mid-section of the submarine. Only a couple inches of the belt can be seen in the sediment.

The archaeologists are crediting the excellent condition of the artifacts to the blue-gray clay-like sediment, which is perfect for preservation.

At a Friday press conference, Hunley archaeologists announced that additional remains and a button were found near the ribs.

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