Preserving Human Remains in the Context of Excavation and Forensic study of the H. L. Hunley

Author(s): Paul Mardikian

Year: 2020


This is an abstract from the session entitled "Lives Revealed: Interpreting the Human Remains and Personal Artifacts from the Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley" , at the 2020 annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology.

The waterlogged, anoxic and mostly sealed conditions that prevailed inside the Hunley​ ​for 136 years provided an optimal environment for the preservation of the human remains from the eight crewmembers. Of all the materials preserved on the submarine, conjoined human remains and artifacts (essentially textiles) were the most vulnerable.

When the submarine was not being excavated, a combination of refrigerated water and a cathodic protection system reduced the microbial degradation of potential soft tissue and/or fragile organic materials and provided a chemical-free solution to reduce the corrosion of the hull without interfering with the other materials.

This presentation will describe the protocols and creative solutions developed by conservators for the optimal preservation of the human remains during and after the excavation. These include stabilization of brain tissues using silicone seals, excavation of composite block-lifts in the laboratory, X-ray analysis, molding of an articulated hand and skin pseudomorphs and storage strategies.

Cite this Record

Preserving Human Remains in the Context of Excavation and Forensic study of the H. L. Hunley. Paul Mardikian. 2020 ( tDAR id: 457066)


Temporal Keywords
19th Century

Spatial Coverage

min long: -129.199; min lat: 24.495 ; max long: -66.973; max lat: 49.359 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): 527