- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

NORFOLK A skeletal hand, still wearing a ring, was excavated yesterday from the recovered gun turret of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, and the jewelry could be an important clue to the identity of the remains.
"We're hoping that there might be an inscription" that could lead to the person's name, John Broadwater, chief scientist of the Monitor salvage effort, said in a telephone news conference from the Mariners' Museum in Newport News. The ring was still too covered in debris to tell, he said.
Mr. Broadwater initially thought the plain band, perhaps made of gold, might be a wedding ring. But it was on the fourth finger of the right hand, and wedding bands usually are worn on the left hand.
Still, "any kind of personal ring, especially if there is a chance of an engraved name or identifying message, would be one of the strongest links we would have for identification," said Mr. Broadwater, manager of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary surrounding the ship's wreck site in the Atlantic Ocean, 16 miles off Hatteras, N.C.
The Monitor and the Confederate ship CSS Virginia, formerly named the Merrimack, revolutionized naval warfare and architecture when they fought to a draw in the first battle of ironclads on March 9, 1862, in the Hampton Roads harbor near Newport News.
The hand came from one of what scientists now say are two sets of remains inside the turret, which was raised from the Atlantic bottom Aug. 5. The turret now rests in chilled water in a giant conservation tank at the Mariners' Museum, and researchers began a one-week excavation project Monday.
Scientists at one point thought the 120-ton turret held the remains of perhaps three of the 16 Monitor sailors who died when the ship sank, upside down, in a storm on Dec. 13, 1862.
"One of the first things I had to do this week was to confirm or deny that," said Eric Emery, an archaeologist with the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, which handles human remains from military sites.
Mr. Emery said he has found parts of two, not three, skeletons.
"At this point, we're in the process of bringing all of the elements out," he said. "Everything has been mapped and exposed."
He said more remains could be found as researchers sift through the silt and spilled coal inside the turret.
The remains eventually will be returned to the families. If the remains cannot be identified, the Navy will bury them.
A joint Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration team used a huge crane to raise the turret, ending a five-year effort to save major artifacts from the deteriorating wreckage.
A fairly complete skeleton was found before the turret was raised. Divers removed as much of it as possible before the turret was lifted and sent the bones to the Army forensic lab in Hawaii.
The lower part of the skeleton was encased in sediment and pinned beneath one of the two cannons inside the turret. Those remains also will be sent to the lab, along with additional remains discovered as the turret was being transported to the museum to undergo 12 to 15 years of conservation.
Scientists also found five or six buttons near the first skeleton, Mr. Broadwater said. Several other items haven't been raised yet, including implements associated with the working of the guns, he said.
At the end of the week, researchers will stop, regroup and determine what more work needs to be done.
"For us to get inside the turret after watching the Navy divers have all the experience is pretty special," Mr. Broadwater said.
"Every once in a while it just sort of hits me that, my gosh, after all this time of studying the Monitor, here we are here are the guns, sitting right in front of us. It's pretty exciting."

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