New Clues To The Sinking Of A Confederate Submarine

Confederate SubmarineThe Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley may have been sunk by its own torpedo, researchers say.

The cause of the Hunley’s sinking has been a mystery since it sank the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864, and then the Hunley itself mysteriously sank shortly thereafter. This submarine, which had a hand-cranked propeller and a torpedo set at the end of a 16-foot pole, was a desperate attempt by the Confederacy to destroy the Union blockade on Southern harbors that was strangling the economy.

A press release by the Friends of the Hunley, the organization that raised and is conserving the Civil War sub, says that archaeologists have discovered part of the torpedo still attached to the end of the pole. The jagged metal shows that the torpedo exploded its charge of 135 pounds of gunpowder as planned.

Historians used to think the plan was to ram the torpedo into the ship’s side, and then pull away, detaching the torpedo from the pole and then pulling a rope trigger that would explode the torpedo from a safe distance.

Now we can see this didn’t happen. The question remains whether the release mechanism was faulty or if the plan was much cruder – simply ramming the torpedo into the side of the ship and hoping for the best.

It remains unclear if this explosion is what actually sank the Hunley. The submarine’s hull is encased in hardened rock, sand, and silt that the archaeologists are still removing. Only when their job is done will they get a clear idea of how the brave crew of the Hunley met their end.

You can visit the lab where this historic sub is being studied; the Warren Lasch Conservation Center is located in North Charleston, SC. You can also see a different Confederate submarine at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

[Top photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Bottom photo showing the sub being raised courtesy Barbara Voulgaris, Naval Historical Center]

Confederate Submarine

Italy’s Famous Monuments Hit By Austerity Measures

ItalyHard economic times in Italy are threatening that country’s priceless cultural heritage.

The Times of Oman reports that billionaire Diego Della Valle said he’s thinking of withdrawing the 25 million euros ($33 million) he promised last year to restore the Colosseum, which has been crumbling due to lack of maintenance. An even more serious problem is Pompeii, which suffered a couple of spectacular collapses in 2010.

The Times reports that the government is increasingly looking to private investors to save the day, and is also promising to release 105 million euros ($138 million) from the European Union for a four-year maintenance plan for Pompeii.

Italy only spends 1.8 billion euros ($2.4 billion) annually on culture, just 0.21 percent of the gross domestic product and barely enough for basic maintenance. With tourism being a major portion of the Italian economy, it seems shortsighted not to preserve and restore the very sites that tourists come to see.

Not all news coming from Italy is bad. The government has finally cracked down on the fake Roman centurions and gladiators who prowl around the Colosseum, bullying tourists into taking pictures with them for exorbitant prices. The government says they are all ex-cons and are operating without a license. Some of the fake gladiators climbed onto the Colosseum to protest, showing that they care more about money than preserving their national heritage.

[Photo courtesy Adam Kahtava]

Is the Colosseum crumbling?

ColosseumEconomic instability, a change of government, and now this.

It looks like Italy’s most famous landmark, the Colosseum, may be crumbling. The Culture Ministry has launched an investigation after eyewitnesses spotted bits of stone falling off the Roman ruin on two different occasions in recent days.

An Italian shoe company has promised to restore the Colosseum with an ambitious 25 million euro ($34 million) project, but work won’t start until March.

If the reports are true, the Colosseum isn’t the only monument in trouble. Pompeii has suffered a series of collapses that has raised questions about the site’s management and has escalated into a major scandal. With Italian government deeply in debt and struggling with unpopular austerity measures, it’s doubtful if the glorious legacy of ancient Rome will receive much official funding in the coming fiscal year.

Photo courtesy Sebastian Bergmann.

Egypt to close Tutankhamun’s tomb

Tutankhamun, egypt, Egypt
The Valley of the Kings is one of the highlights of any trip to Egypt. In this hot, dusty ravine are some of the most remarkable tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. Paintings adorn their walls, showing the soul’s journey through the afterlife and the gods and goddesses described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Now the most popular of those tombs is going to close. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has announced he will close Tutankhamun’s tomb by the end of the year. Two others will also close. The brilliant paintings that make the tombs so attractive were preserved because the tombs were sealed. With thousands of people passing through every day, the tombs have become hotter and more humid. Paint is flaking off and mold is growing in some parts, as you can see from the above photo. It’s sad, but to save the tombs they have to be shut from public view.

Dr. Hawass has commissioned an exact replica of King Tut’s tomb so that visitors will get an idea what the original looked like.

[Photo courtesy user Hajor via Wikimedia Commons]

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Scandal as hundreds of historic treasures go missing


An audit of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission has revealed that more than 1,800 historic artifacts can’t be found. Officials aren’t sure what happened to them but assume many have been stolen and others misfiled.

Missing treasures include a Kentucky rifle like those pictured above, an Ottoman ring that’s almost 800 years old, one-of-a-kind paintings and photographs, and other irreplaceable objects.

Officials hope most are simply lost in the system, which has been added to for almost a century with various filing systems being in vogue at different times, making for much confusion and sometimes leaving an artifact with more than one accession number, or the same number being used for more than one object. Anyone who has worked with historic archives will be familiar with this annoying phenomenon. Archives and museums rarely have enough funding to do a complete overhaul of the system and therefore problems get compounded over the years. The Pennsylvania commission has been especially hard hit by budget cuts, seeing its funding reduced from $58 million to $26 million in the past four years.

Another problem is theft. Artifacts such as Civil War memorabilia or an image of Daniel Boone (another MIA) can attract big money in the illegal antiquities trade. This encourages thefts from Paris to Baghdad. I conduct research at Madrid’s Biblioteca Nacional and security there was upped a couple of years ago after they caught a guy cutting out 17th century maps from old atlases and selling them on the black market. This sort of selfishness is great for private collectors who don’t mind breaking the law, but bad for the general public who have their nation’s legacy taken from them.

[Photo courtesy Antique Military Rifles]