Help Identify a Mystery Artifact


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Over the past 13 years, NOAA archaeologists and Mariners’ Museum conservators have discovered hundreds of amazing artifacts within USS Monitor‘s revolving gun turret. Some artifacts, like the Dahlgren guns, gun carriages, and gun tools, are undergoing conservation as I type this blog entry. Others have already been fully conserved and are now on display within the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum or have been loaned to other institutions around the country to help share Monitor‘s fascinating stories.

However, there are handful of artifacts that continue to mystify us in the lab, particularly those that have been fully conserved but not properly identified. It may sound strange or surprising that in the last 13 years we have not successfully identified every single artifact from the turret. But this is often the case when many materials are excavated from an archaeological setting.

Please examine the following pictures of a mystery artifact:


Picture2Picture3What do we know about this artifact? It was excavated from USS Monitor‘s gun turret, thoroughly embedded in layers of thick concreted sediment. It was not attached to anything. It is made of a copper alloy, likely bronze or brass. It is the shape of a 5-point star with rounded edges. Each point has a small dimple. The artifact is approximately 3/4″ tall x 3/4″ wide. Threads have been cut into the artifacts indicating that it was likely screwed onto the end of another object. It appears decorative but could also be utilitarian. It could have been attached to a component of the turret, or it could have been part of another object that was carried into the turret the night Monitor sank off Hatteras, NC.

What is this artifact? What purpose did it serve? How was it used? Why was this found in archaeological sediment inside the gun turret? We don’t have any of these answers and we need your help to solve this historical mystery. Please help us identify this Mystery Artifact.

10 thoughts on “Help Identify a Mystery Artifact”

  1. Pure guess, were blunt nose wood screws found in close proximity? They really look like drawer handles /drawer pulls. Suggest looking at period furniture and or map cases. How many such objects? They seem to be close to the same size hopefully identical?

  2. Looks like an ornamental, screw-on cap, but I admit that’s not much help as an identification. Any idea what part of the ship it went with?

  3. Many photos show a canvas cover over the turret, it might be associated with the hardware for mounting it. The size and unusual shape rules out rivet, etc. But it could be attached to any number of fittings like for a voice tube, etc.

  4. John, thank you for your suggestion. We have done so and are awaiting more feedback.

    Roger, your suggestion is in line with some current conjecture from NOAA archaeologists and Mariners’ Museum conservators. We did find the remains of a wood chest and wood drawer inside the gun turret and are pursuing that line of thought.

    Geoffrey, I agree with you. It definitely looks ornamental. We know it was found concreted in sediment inside the turret, but it was merely deposited there and not fixed to the turret itself.

    Rob, thanks for your thoughts. You re-affirm the point that it could have served any number of purposes.

    Jay, we like your concept and have not yet ruled it out. It certainly looks similar to a pommel but almost looks like a drawer pull more than a dirk pommel due to the nature of the threading.

  5. Nice post, great to see new posts. Was the location where it was found documented, or was it just recovered with all of the other 100’s (1,000’s?) of items? It surely is small.

  6. I took some time to look at period furniture knobs. While the size seems to be close, all the examples I have seen seem to have the threaded bolt built in. It might be unique, but it seems to be pointless to have a threaded knob to screw into a bolt that is then affixed to furniture.

    Have you all considered a cane handle? It almost seems to be the right size.

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