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article imageAfter removing years of corrosion, we can now see the H.L. Hunley

By Karen Graham     Jun 8, 2017 in Science
Charleston - Back in 2000, when the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley was raised from its watery grave off Sullivan's Island in Charleston County, South Carolina, it looked like a lumpy, corroded artifact and not the submarine conservationists proudly show-off today.
In 2015, Digital Journal detailed the painstaking restoration work being done on the Confederate submarine after it was recovered in 2000 and taken to Clemson University’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston.
However, two years later, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in battle is finally looking just as it was when originally constructed. It has been a tedious and painstaking 17 years, starting with the submarine being put in a 90,000-gallon tank of fresh water to remove the accumulation of salt, a long, drawn out process that entailed changing the water in the tank a number of times.
Then came the baths in a mixture of sodium hydroxide, the reaction enhanced with the help of a mild electrical current. Michael Scafuri, the lead archaeologist in the conservation effort says the solution works sort of like oven cleaner, gradually softening some of the concrete-hard buildups of sand, mud, and shells that accumulated inside the sub during the 140 years it lay on the ocean's bottom, according to the Post and Courier.
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Sam Spence
Scafuri said, “The hull is exposed in its entirety on the exterior, so they’re going to be able to see the submarine as it was originally constructed. It looks like a submarine now as opposed to a corroded artifact. The design of the submarine will be visible. The features that were hidden before are now exposed. Basically, it looks like a submarine now more than ever.”
The latest and probably most significant find was a tooth belonging to crewmember Frank Collins. The remains of most of the eight men who manned the H.L. Hunley were removed and ceremonially buried in Magnolia Cemetery in 2004. The tooth was found stuck to the corroded crank handle at position No, 3 where Collins sat.
Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley. Sepia wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett  1902  after a painting then ...
Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley. Sepia wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1902, after a painting then held by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society Museum, Richmond, Virginia.
R.G. Skerrett
Scafuri says the tooth loss was post-mortem, meaning that long after the sinking, the tooth became loose during the decomposition process and fell out. The discovery of the tooth was not a total surprise as researchers had noticed several teeth missing from Collins' remains at the time of burial, reports the Charleston City Paper.
And while archaeologists are pleased with the restoration efforts, there still remains the mystery of what happened to cause the sinking of the Confederate submarine following the attack on the Union ship USS Housatonic. A 2016 study focused on whether the Hunley crew could have died of suffocation.
A century and a half after it sank and a decade and a half after it was raised  scientists are final...
A century and a half after it sank and a decade and a half after it was raised, scientists are finally getting a look at the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship.
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The most plausible explanation for the Hunley’s demise is that it was too close to the death blow it dealt the Housatonic. Shockwaves from a huge underwater concussion, even without causing lethal structural damage to the Hunley, could have either killed or knocked unconscious her entire crew.
The conclusion of the researchers was that the crew did not die of suffocation, the report reading, in part: “Even with conservative calculations, the entire crew would have been experiencing noticeable hyperventilation, gasping for breath, choking, symptoms of panic, and possibly physical pain a minimum of 10 minutes before any risk of loss of consciousness. It is not plausible that the crew would have ignored these strong symptoms and not attempted to open the hatches.”
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