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College of Arts and Sciences

  • A researcher with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology hands equipment to a diver.

Archaeologists dive for a Civil War-era torpedo and the ship it sank

Five miles off the shore of Charleston, South Carolina, University of South Carolina archaeologists are exploring the wreckage of the USS Housatonic, a Union ship sunk nearly 160 years ago by the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley.

Jim Spirek, an archaeologist with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, says the divers are studying the area where the Hunley’s torpedo blasted through the Housatonic’s hull.

They hope to learn more about the area of impact and, perhaps, find remnants of the torpedo or pieces of H.L. Hunley.

Why it matters

The Hunley was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship, a feat not repeated by a submarine until the end of World War I, more than 50 years later. Details revealed about the blast by Spirek, who serves as South Carolina’s state archaeologist, will fill gaps in the knowledge of submarine history, and could help resolve the mystery of what happened to the Hunley

Background on the Housatonic and the Hunley:

  • The Hunley sank the Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864. The attack was part of a Confederate attempt to break a Union blockade around Charleston.
  • The Hunley never came back to port. It disappeared after the attack, leading to several expeditions in search of it.
  • The Housatonic wreckage was located in the 1980s, and the Hunley was discovered on the ocean floor, farther out to sea, in 1995.
  • SCIAA explored the Housatonic in 1999. A year later, the Hunley was raised. The submarine is currently undergoing conservation treatment and archaeological analysis at Clemson University’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston.

The current expedition began in September by relocating the Housatonic site. The next stage involves dredging several feet of sediment off the wreckage. Then divers will spend the rest of October diving and searching for more evidence. Any material or artifacts recovered from the site will be brought back to the lab at WLCC for further investigation and conservation.


The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology conducts archaeological and educational activities to explore and preserve South Carolina’s past. It is part of the University of South Carolina College of Arts and Sciences, the university’s largest college.

Information for media

Photos and video

Photos and videos of documenting the archaeology work are available, including underwater images.

Dockside interviews

Archaeologists are available for dockside interviews weekdays before 8 a.m. and after 4:30 p.m.

To request photos, video or interviews, contact Bryan Gentry at or 803-576-7650 at least 24 hours in advance.

More information

To learn more about the history of the USS Housatonic and H.L. Hunley, please visit SCIAA’s website about the project or The Friends of the Hunley.

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