Bringing the Hunley Up to the Surface

It’s back to school time, which makes us at Comco nostalgic for some of our favorite subjects: history and archaeology. Both spark our curiosity and a sense of wonder, which is why I was really excited to visit our customer at The Hunley Project last week. The H.L. Hunley was a state-of-the-art submarine and warship that saw battle in the American Civil War. It is known for being the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel.

The Hunley sank in Charleston harbor, South Carolina in 1864 following its successful mission. It was raised in 2000 and has been undergoing archaeological research and conservation treatment at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston ever since. The Center uses Comco MicroBlasting technology in their restoration work.

Restoring the Snorkel Box

The snorkel box was mounted on top of the H.L. Hunley submarine and was part of an air circulation system that was intended to bring oxygen into the vessel while it was submerged.  The system included snorkel tubes that could be raised to the surface and bellows that could be operated from inside the submarine. The view seen here shows the interior of the snorkel box from underneath. Following desalination and drying, the entire box including the two copper valves in the center were microblasted with sodium bicarbonate using Comco equipment.

Hunley snorkel box before MicroBlasting

Snorkel box before treatment

Hunley snorkel box after MicroBlasting

Snorkel box after treatment

Cleaning the Jaws of a Giant

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles relies on MicroBlasting to clean and reveal fossil specimen in their Dino Lab. As seen below, preparators are currently using Comco technology to clean the 4ft long jaws (and teeth!) of an Ichthyosaur skull from the Middle Triassic period recovered from what is now Nevada. 

Preparator using MicroBlasting to clean and prepare the jaws and skull of an Ichthyosaur fossil.

Preparator in the Dino Lab using MicroBlasting to clean and prepare the jaws and skull of an Ichthyosaur fossil. 

Students watching fossil cleaning and preparation in the Dino Lab at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Students watching preparators clean and reveal fossils in the Dino Lab. 

Why use MicroBlasting for this Delicate Work?

MicroBlasting provides just the right amount of precision and abrasion needed to remove the final layers of material around a delicate piece of history, be it a fossil or an artifact.

This technology affords the preparators the flexibility needed to dial-in their process and select the best abrasive, blast pressure, and nozzle size to remove each specific layer with the utmost precision. Sodium bicarbonate and pumice are often the go-to abrasives for artifact restoration and fossil preparation. Both abrasives can gentley chip away at a brittle matrix without damaging the delicate fossil or artifact underneath or simply clean the item and remove debris.

Preparator using sodium bicarbonate to remove matrix around Ichthyosaur vertebrae in the Dino Lab.

Which Blaster is Best?

The AccuFlo® is preferred by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles thanks to its precision and efficiency. The Hunley team uses our Dual Tank MicroBlaster® because their work often requires a quick switch between two different types of media.

The workstation showcased at right is the predecessor to our ProCenter Plus™. Our BigBox and Custom workstations offer alternative containment system for larger specimens.

Since long hours are required for fossil and artifact cleaning, we highly recommend using our ComfortGrip® handpiece

Conservator Virginie Ternisien using a Comco Dual Tank MicroBlaster.*

Dig Deeper

Friends of the Hunley

Learn more about the Hunley 

Paleontology Portal

Learn more about fossil preparation methods at the Paleontology Portal.


Pat Byrne, Sales and Marketing Manager


Curious to see the results of MicroBlasting on your application? Contact me via email or at 1-818-841-5500.