Titanic Site Reveals Hints of Human Remains: Photos

These photos are a reminder of the truly devastating nature of the Titanic's fate in 1912.

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April 18, 2012 - A heart-catching reminder of the Titanic tragedy, this image shows a crumpled large coat with a boot protruding from beneath its seam. Lying near the Titanic's stern, two-and-a-half miles down the North Atlantic, the articulated clothing and boot strongly indicate that they belonged to a body.

"The way that the clothes are arranged, makes it look like someone's final resting place," Kristina Killgrove, a biological anthropologist at the University of North Carolina, told Discovery News. These images were taken in 2004, during an expedition by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) and explorer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985.

They were reissued to the public on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, for the first time in uncropped versions, to stress that the site is a memorial and deserves the respect of a graveyard.

No distinct human remains were seen during the NOAA expedition, yet there were a number of places where it was obvious that someone had come to rest. This pair of shoes lying in close proximity and a tortoise shell comb suggest that a Titanic victim had been lying here. While certain underwater environmental conditions can preserve bodies, the sea floor is not conducive to this process. "There is definitely sea life down there, as you can see from the little crab in the picture," Killgrove said. "Unless pieces of the Titanic have walled off a little micro-environment, ocean currents and sea life over the last century most likely mean there are no organic human remains left."

This pair of shoes, still laced, indicates another spot where a victim may have perished. Only 340 bodies were recovered after the sinking of the ship. Of the roughly 1,500 people killed in the disaster, about 1,160 bodies remain lost. The ghostly shoes and boots scattered around the wreck would also suggest that human remains may be buried inside sealed and inaccessible areas of the wreck. "I was shown a video taken during James Cameron's expeditions in which articulated clothing lying in a human form was seen on a deck.Without being too pointed, whatever factors that preserved the clothing would also preserve some traces of that individual," James P. Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the wreck, told Discovery News.

The Titanic is a graveyard, but hasn't been respected for its tragic status. In 2010, an expedition documented the worrying presence of modern materials, such as equipment from submersibles dives and various garbage at the wreck site. In this picture, you can see the bridge of the Titanic, with the surviving telemotor used to help steer the ship, and memorial plaques and plastic flowers left by various expeditions. There is also one modern interment, the ashes of Florida treasure hunter Mel Fisher, resting on the bridge of the ship.

According to NOAA, an exclusion zone for dumping, discharge and disposal around the wreck site must be created, as well as setting zones in non-sensitive areas where submersibles could land and depart from the wreck. "There is so much evidence that speaks to the human cost of the accident. Should we dump modern garbage on such a site?" NOAA said in a statement. Here, a modern plastic cup lies wedged under the end of a Titanic bench.

Scattered among the larger pieces of hull and machinery, are thousands of artifacts that came from the inside the ship and from the people on board: dishes, cabin furniture, glass windows, bottles of wine, silver trays, cooking pots and pans. In this picture, a third class mug lies on the seabed. It was likely used by one of the 708 people traveling in third class - 528 died.

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"It is a disaster scene, not unlike the site of an airplane crash, and due to its location in the deep sea, in many ways this is an accident scene that remains fresh and dramatic a century after it happened," NOAA said. Indeed, these open and unbroken windows on the boat deck provide an emotional, frozen-in-time picture of the tragedy.

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The telemotor on the Titanic's bridge is where Titanic's officers tried to avoid the iceberg. Here Captain Edward John Smith is believed to have been when the ship sank. His body was never recovered.

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Lying scattered on the seabed, a suitcase from one of the Titanic's passengers is another, strong image that speaks to the human side of the tragedy. "Such type of artifact perhaps can offer more detailed information about the ship's passengers and crew through personal possessions if they were ever the focus of archaeological research on Titanic," Delgado said. He added that NOAA has no plans to conduct such an expedition. "Our interest is in working with international partners to encourage appropriate activities at the site that reflect public interest and benefit, science and preservation," Delgado said. A final report of the 2010 expedition is due to be published in 2013.

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