AIC 2011 in Philadelphia: Archaeology!

June 14, 2011

Cool checklist of supplies to take in the field, find it on the ADG website!

This was a good conference for those of us involved in archaeological conservation.  The Objects Specialty Group and Archaeological Discussion Group gave a two-hour group luncheon, sponsored by Kremer Pigmente, with a panel discussion: “Ethical Issues in Archaeological Field Conservation.”  Whose idea was this??  Brilliant!  Nancy Odegaard, Rae Beaubien, , and Eric Nordgren each got up and gave their take on several questions that each had been given beforehand.  Angelyn Bass Rivera discussed site management for the Laetoli Hominid Trackway in Northern Tanzania, Maya wall paintings in San Bartolo Guatemala, and the Frijoles Canyon Cavates in Bandolier National Monument, New Mexico.  Tourism to see these sites is a powerful factor that conservation is trying to balance with methods like masonry support of tunnels in Guatemala that double as barriers to close access but still allow photographs, or solar powered environmental monitors.  Rae Beaubien talked about interfacing with archaeologists…how they can be empowered to do certain activities like block lifting, but it is helpful to have an understanding beforehand about the parameters of “fragile.”  She also discussed how we might better position ourselves as part of the research team in grants they write, and how we can help them meet the stewardship goals in the AIA code.  There was also discussion about being vigilant about not enhancing the market value of the material that is being excavated.  Rae has been asked by the Department of Homeland Security to help “authenticate” things that may be trafficked illicitly, but of course the term “authenticate” is tricky ethically for those of us in the museum world.  Resources museum have in conservation expertise, however, is helpful for law enforcement.  There are problems these days with illicit archaeological material coming into the US through Canada, and problems are compounded by the fact the US has not signed some of the conventions that would require objects to be sent back to source countries.   Eric Nordgren highlighted some of the issues faced in conservation of maritime material.  Cast iron, for example, is notorious for being permanently weakened by the corrosion process known as “graphitization” and may require considerable care and support after treatment.  Sometimes it cannot support its own weight anymore.  Treatment of maritime artifacts is often part of a shipwreck recovery, and the project can be really big…20 years is not uncommon…and it is crucial that someone is devoted to seeing it through to the end.  There is a lot of well-intentioned public interest in the field, and this needs to be leveraged ethically to help preserve the resources.  It is not ethical to recover material that cannot be cared for, including post treatment storage and display.  I asked later about the divide between conservators trained in AIC ethics and those trained in the Texas A&M and Eastern Carolina University programs.  Erik (and others I spoke to at the conference) felt that the culture is changing with the new generation, and the old divide is gradually disappearing.  Nancy Odegaard discussed some of the delicate aspects of human remains.  She was never seeking to do this kind of work, but has been pulled into it by circumstance.  Early in her education, conservators used to be asked to do reconstruction for measurements and other such intervention.  Now conservators are contacted more often for issues involving condition, documentation, expertise about preventing contamination, or preservation of associated material.  Did you know that Hollinger Metal Edge  now sells a partitioned archival human remains box?  Catalog number HBR-1 sells for $27.50 each. 

In another case, the Kennewick Man, she was asked to monitor any change in condition with study of the remains.  With 300-400 pieces, the solution was to design a custom box with individual cavities for the pieces and to monitor the debris and soiling between study sessions.  Part of the discussions in the Q&A was about interfacing with State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs).  On a state-by-state basis, there has been some success in building those connections.  Virginia and Maryland, for example, and things are really going in a good direction here in Alaska thanks to Judy Bittner and Dave McMahan.  Apparently on the national level, the agency that coordinates SHPOs has not been terribly responsive to overtures from the AIC.  Looks like for the time being, going state-by-state will get the most momentum. 

Thanks, Kremer Pigmente, for sponsoring the OSG/ADG Joint Luncheon!

After lunch, Donna Strahan gave a talk, “Beyond the Field Lab: Emergency Conservation in the Granicus River Valley of Northwestern Turkey.”  Donna works in the conservation lab at the Bronze Age site of Troy (a German excavation) and they are often called upon to help with emergency treatment of looted tombs in the wider geographic area.  In order to still cover the bases at Troy, they’ve begun rotating teams of conservators to help with these incidents as they arise.  In one case, a drippy stain on the exterior of an alabaster vessel turned out to be swipe marks from ribbons dipped in murex purple pigment from mollusks as part of a funerary ceremony.  Details of a sarcophagus, including a chiseled off damnatio memoriae distinct from the looter’s tool marks (from Wikipedia: Damnatio memoriae is the Latin phrase literally meaning “condemnation of memory” in the sense of a judgment that a person must not be remembered. It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State.  The result is to erase someone from history.”)  There seems to be thread running through some of these archaeological talks that conservators are valued as much for their interpretive and research skills as their bench skills.

Next was “Recovering Painted Organic Objects from Ancient Mesoamerica: Strategic Considerations in the Field and Lab.” by Rae Beaubien.  She’s dealt with many deposits that are confused through collapse, decay, and seismic disturbance.  Examining the fragments as well as ethnohistoric information and the persistence of traditional techniques in contemporary art gives an idea of the materials used and their properties.  For example, sometimes an organic substrate is painted on both sides (a bowl, perhaps) or there can be impressions of the lost organic material remaining in the stucco ground.  “Articulated lifting” is one technique that joins groups of fragments before lifting.  Selective use of methylcellulose/ Japanese tissue versus B-72 allows flexibility in the reversing of one adhesive and not the other in the lab.  Mylar sheets can help separate layers in the deposit as well as prevent seeping of adhesive where it is not desired.  Block lifting can buy time and keep fragments in the original position, but decisions need to made as to which adhesives are used how, and whether it should be dealt with top-down or bottom-up.

I was very eager to hear Emily Williams’ talk, “Deep Storage, Reburial as a Conservation Tool.”  There was some discussion of this at the 2010 WOAM conference regarding underwater material, and it seems that work in Marstrand, Sweden might be part of the vanguard, actually.  This reminded me of the curation crisis discussed at the 2011 Alaska Anthropological Association meeting…36 CFR 79 establishes standards for archaeological repositories, but there is not enough space for everything that gets excavated.  At Colonial Williamsburg, there are 60 million artifacts, and another million or so is excavated each year.  Only half the historic area has been excavated so far.  Emily’s  section was recently given some 50 pallets of excavated architectural material that plugged up 45% of their new storage growth space.  They opted for reburial of non-diagnostic pieces in the cellar of a current excavation on the Colonial Williamsburg property.  They divided the crates by site (used the old pine boxes but would have preferred to use HDPE crates), divided the material into brick/ stone less than 4”/ stone greater than 4”, bagged the material and labeled it with Tyvek tags and both Sharpie and pencil, filled around the crates with engineering sand and then backfilled the cellar.  The needs of this poorly documented architectural collection was out of balance with the needs of the collections as a whole.  I liked the quote about their approach, “holisitic rather than particularistic.”  In order to do this kind of reburial, access to undeveloped and protected land is necessary.

Suzanne Davis and Claudia Chemello gave some great data on the business end of things in “Get Your Fieldwork for Nothing and Your Sherds for Free: Compensation for Archaeological Field Conservation.”  The results of a survey!  66% of this data involves folks doing fieldwork outside the US, mostly the ancient Mediterranean and near East.  Salary data was optional in order to get more responses, and there were 116 usable responses that were analyzed from conservators who had done fieldwork in the past 10 years.  Less than half gave salary info.  Among the more interesting tidbits: 78% had a graduate degree, but 44% had been working in conservation for 5 years or less.  68% were on site for 1-2 months at a time.  All respondents had done terrestrial sites, only 13% had experience with underwater sites.  Most of the work done involved artifact processing, documentation, training, and consultation.  Almost a quarter, however, wrote no final report.  82% who gave salary data were paid a salary separate from travel and lodging.  That salary amount, however, varied a lot…from $58 per week to $8000 per week!  On average the typical figure was about $1000 per week.  69% reported they worked at reduced rates or volunteered.   Satisfaction rate was only about 41%.  Data does not reveal how many field conservators there are out there, and at this point AIC does not collect that information, either.  It is interesting that since the majority of conservators who do fieldwork have been in the profession less than 5 years, they cannot be listed on AIC’s Find-A-Conservator service.

Susanne Grieve, a pivotal person in the world between conservators and archaeologists, presented “Archaeologists and Avocational Conservators: Compromising Principles or Increasing Awareness?”  For me, this talk was HOTLY anticipated.  I’ve been treading these delicate waters in Alaska myself.  As I write this, there are bits of wood and historic sailcloth in PEG in collaborative treatments between non-conservators and the Alaska State Museum.  Suzanne described an avocational underwater club in Namibia along the Skeleton Coast who are passionate about preserving the heritage from the diamond mining era at very remote sites.  They were using outdated techniques and commercial products.  Suzanne provided guidance on the ethics of conservation and attempted to channel the huge pride they have in preserving their heritage into constructive activities, but described her concerns in trying to prevent harm from coming to the artifacts without encouraging aggressive interventive treatments in a place where access to conservation literature and supplies is scarce.

Noon on Thursday was the Archaeological Discussion Group business session, well attended by at least 25 people.  The group, founded at the 1998 Arlington Virginia AIC meeting, is trying to refine its mission statement and goals.  Someone told me Jeff Maish also led an AIC archaeological discussion group of some kind back in the late 1980’s?  That was before my time in the profession.  Wonder what happed that time around?  A lot of the focus right now is on outreach.  The Archaeological Discussion Group  now has a page on the AIC website.   Have you seen the FAQ they wrote about conservation for the SHA website?  It’s really good!  There is a Facebook page, too, but it’s a little bit sleepy.  There has been sporadic intense work on a “position paper” about unprovenanced material.  Vanessa Muros told us about Day of Archaeology July 29, an opportunity for anyone involved in archaeology to post to a weblog .  On another front, the ADG is working on having “booth swaps” between archaeological organizations and AIC.  Kent Severson worked hard to get an AIA booth swap.  More insights on the care of newly excavated material: archaeologists at Old World sites have limited time to do research on artifacts before they go into storage in national repositories and are harder to access.  This influences the decision to have conservators on site in order to process and assemble artifacts for study in a limited timeframe.  Also, many countries will not issue a permit without a conservator on board.  In the US, a conservator is more likely to be on board if they can contribute to the research goals and any planned publications.  Another angle is the repository contracts, which stipulate how artifacts have to be delivered in order to be accepted.  Check out the silica gel conditioning gadget Rachael Perkins Arenstein brought to the meeting! has a cool little unit for conditioning silica gel. Rachael Perkins Arenstein did a demo at the Archaeological Discussion Group.  The one she shows in the following photos can condition about 3kg of silica gel to a specific RH in about 36 hours.  There is also a bigger trunk-sized version.  I guess the bucket-sized unit costs a few hundred dollars, but as Rachael said, “that may well be the price of sanity.”


AIC 2011 in Philadelphia: Mütter Museum Visit

June 14, 2011

I had long heard of this museum, devoted to a 19th century medical teaching collection of models, skeletons, fluid specimens and the like.  The abundant advertisements in Philly bill it as “Disturbingly Informative.”  I am fascinated by anatomy, bones, art, the history of science…always been attracted to the unusual. As an undergrad I considered medical illustration as a career.  But this place struck me all wrong.  On a collections care level, things were dusty and most of the LED HOBO dataloggers seemed to have dead batteries.  Exhibit design had a vaguely Vincent Price feel to it, with a wide mishmash of label styles, some including gothic font.  Dark wood, polished brass and red/black color schemes predominate.  I listened to some of the descriptions of forensic skeletal examination that could be dialed up on a cell phone, and thought those were quite good.  But the professionalism of the recordings was at odds with the overall tone of the museum.  It has a Coney Island freakshow feel to it, pandering to the titillating and weird, in a word: tawdry.  In general, I don’t mind tawdry.  Kitsch.  Camp.  Quirky.  I’ve got several tattoos, including my wedding ring.  One of my favorite bands is called “My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult.”  If it were just the gruesome medical instruments and the detailed wax models of tissue diseases, this approach would not bother me.  But it seems at least half of the collection is comprised of human remains.  Skeletons, skulls, desiccated flayed children, babies in jars, preserved body parts, etc.  Most of these people suffered considerably during their lives.  Few consented directly to having their remains exhibited.  Some labels describe prices paid for human remains.  There is an extensive skull collection, and I saw one label describing a bone as removed from a grave in Hawaii.  There is a lack of dignity in the interpretation of these remains.  Culturally, intellectually, and personally I found the interpretation disappointing.  My museum career as a conservator of ethnographic and archaeological objects involves a heightened awareness of the sensitivity of human remains, particularly issues surrounding the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.  I am aware that many cultures, ethnic groups, and religions would consider any display of their human remains offensive.  Most likely, some of those individuals are represented among the human remains on exhibit.  Intellectually, I was disappointed that the exhibitions seemed directed at my visceral response to the collections and not my intellectual curiosity.  Historical context, anatomy, and advances in medicine and forensics were not given the center stage that could legitimize the existence of such a museum.  This museum is part of the College of Physicians, founded in 1787 as the oldest professional medical organization in the United States.  It has a better story to tell than the one the current exhibition style is delivering.  On a personal level, it was a little mortifying to think of my child in a jar, or how my grandmother would have felt having her breast on exhibit.  For myself, I would be fine with having my own remains on exhibition.  I would not even mind being in the Mütter Museum.  I don’t have a sense that my own body is sacred.  But out of respect for the inherent dignity of those deceased human beings in the Mütter Museum collection whose remains are on display, I wish the museum’s interpretive mission were more aligned with the mission of the College of Physicians:

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia advances the cause of health, and upholds the ideals and heritage of medicine.

The specific mission of the Mutter Museum is to collect, preserve and interpret medical collections in order to engender curiosity and knowledge about the body and health; to increase understanding of medicine in its cultural context.

A search of the internet revealed a major factor behind the interpretive tone of the museum: Gretchen Worden.  She joined the staff in 1975 with a BA in physical anthropology, spending her entire career there.  She became the director in 1988, and took visitation of a quiet 5000 per year to an impressive 60,000.  She was much beloved in many quarters, and passed away in 2004.

AIC 2011 in Philadelphia: General Sessions

June 14, 2011

From karaoke night the eve before at "Yakitori Boy." I have photos and video of conservators doing karaoke. You know who you are...

The theme of the meeting this year was Ethos, Logos, Pathos: Ethical Principles and Critical Thinking in Conservation.  Barbara Applebaum kicked off the talks with “Conservation in the Twenty-First Century: Will a Twentieth Century Code of Ethics Suffice?”  I agreed with her that yes, it will.  I think the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice are among the best things ever to come out of AIC.  Lori Trusheim’s paper in the Objects Session a few days later illustrated that…she used those core AIC documents extensively in navigating treatment decisions in private practice.  I myself relied on those documents heavily when I was (briefly) in private practice, and I refer to them several times a year when educating the public and my constituents.  AIC’s written code is the most explicit of all the conservation organizations (did you know that back in the day IIC refused to ratify the original document?) and ours is the only one with commentaries.  I think of the commentaries as rather like the “rationale” section of a treatment report.  Barbara also suggested that after a decade or so of AIC being focused on internal affairs like certification, we ought to shift our view toward the outside world.  We ought to celebrate the 50 years of training programs and accomplishments.  We ought to be more people-centric, too.   Interestingly, when she said we should push for courses about examination in art history training programs and complained that art history has a problem of being taught from photographs alone there was spontaneous and vocal support from the crowd…

The AIC continues a happy trend of including non-conservators as general session speakers in philosophy professors James Janowski’s “Restoring the Spirit and the Spirit of Restoration: Dresden’s Frauenkirche as Model for Bamiyan’s Buddhas.”  Huge stone statues of Buddha, including on 50m high, were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.  The UN declared it a World Heritage Site in 2003.  There are now just empty niches where the 6th century sculptures stood.  The fragments of the interior sandstone are mostly available for reconstruction, but the outer layers of clay that made the surface and clothing were largely pulverized.  However, images and information about the statues exist, making reconstruction to an astounding 1.6cm accuracy possible.  Each sculpture would cost at least $30 million to reconstruct, but Professor Janowski compared that to the cost of a Formula One racing car, and apparently there is international support for rebuilding as well as an overwhelming majority of Afghans who want to see restoration.  There is a dilemma about the power of the site as it is with the empty niches, and also the question of whether or not there is enough stability in the region to prevent destruction from happening again.  The iconic Dresden Protestant church the Frauenkirche was used as an analogy.  Destroyed in WWII, it was a ruin and memorial to some 30,000 who died.  After the Berlin Wall came down, there was momentum to have it restored.  In 1993 they began to sort the pieces, in 2003 it was rebuilt (45% of the original stones were exactly placed) and in 2005 the church was reconsecrated. 

Textile conservator Deborah Bede’s talk, “Legacies from the Past: Previous Repairs”  included some fascinating historical repairs on flags, including the “Fowler-Ritchie Method” where Mrs. Fowler and her daughter Mrs. Ritchie would place a linen backing behind a textile such as a flag, then a silk net over the top and stitch them together with rows of buttonhole stitches over the entire flag, in essence creating a secondary net.  The examples Deborah showed looked quite acceptable.  There were also less successful historical treatments, such as Thomas Welter’s method of adhering the textile between layers of brown silk crepeline with ethyl acetate, stitching on a machine with nylon monofilament, washing out the adhesive, and then ironing.  Hmmm…not so good.  Contamination from the treatment would also make dye analysis tricky.  Here are some of the aspects Deborah considers before making treatment decisions on textiles: original maker’s repairs, repairs during the item’s useful life, historic repairs, desired interpretive state, cost, potential damage in removing old repairs, the aesthetic look, retreatability, potential for future analysis, time, and priority in the collection as a whole.

Gabrielle Beentjes of the National Archives of the Netherlands gave a presentation, “Digitizing Archives: Does it Keep or Destroy the Originals?”  We all know that digitizing archival collections can aid greatly with access and help preserve the original with less handling.  In this way digitization is a preservation activity.  Often, archival materials may be unbound to meet the needs of digitization technology.  However, there may be some situations that ought to give us pause.  Gabrielle has a flow chart for decision-making, as the value of the appearance of archival documents is not well researched.  Original binding, original stitching, and the original archival order and information about ways that people archived in the past may be destroyed by digitization requirements.  She used the archives of the Dutch East India Company as an example.  Another caution: will the digital records be accessible in 50 years?

At any conference, there are talks you miss and wish you could’ve attended.  Here are the top ones I’d like to track down later on the AIC blog :

“The Off-Grid Museum” by Dr Poul Klenz Larsen from the National Museum of Denmark and Tim Padfield, who has written great stuff on museum climates.

“Evaluation of Cleaners for Removal of Crude Oil from Historic Structures”  by Payal Vora at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The January 12, 2010 Earthquake in Haiti: Building a Conservation Foundation from the Ground Up.” By Stephanie Hornbeck, Chief Conservator of the Smithsonian Institution Haiti Cultural Recovery Project.

“Comparative Study of Commercially Available Rust Converters” by Jason Church, Anna Muto and Mary F. Striegel of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

“A Comparison of the Use of Sodium Metabisulfate and Sodium Dithionite for Removing Rust Stains from Paper” by Seth Irwin, who did this research during his many months traveling around Alaska doing paper conservation and preservation training.

AIC 2011 in Philadelphia: Objects, Textiles, and Wood

June 14, 2011

Majestic-looking shot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Vinod Daniel kicked off the non-archaeological OSG sessions with “Tangible vs Intangible Collections: The Journey of Two Objects”, co-authored by Dion Peita.  The Australian Museum dates back to 1827, containing some 60,000 Pacific collections among its 110,000 artifacts, one million archaeological objects and 13 million Natural History items.  He described artifacts that are allowed to be used in ceremonies and the kinds of programs that connect cultures to their heritage.  They have a Visiting Elders program, where access is open to touching and feeling the artifacts as well.  Artifacts were described as, “Handprints of the ancestors that continue to live, just as ancestors continue to live through their descendants.”  The museum is keen to connect with Diaspora kids whose ancestors are from the Pacific Islands, as these kids suffer cultural disconnection and are disproportionately in trouble more than other social groups.  Could increased access to artifacts in the storage areas help with that?  They are aiming for virtual access online for all that material, and have images and video on a monitor in a suitcase that is sent around to schools.  Vinod Daniel was candid about the investments required to really connect to these crucial constituencies.  The top of the list was developing people-to-people relationships with repeated in person visits, which requires time, genuine interest, and institutional frameworks in place such as memorandums of understanding with administrators and politicians as well as budget commitments.  On the collections care end of things, museum folks need to be willing to give a very high degree of access, including physical handling, use in ceremonies, and being willing to let go of complete control over the individual artifact.

Alaska’s own Chuna McIntyre presented a paper, “The Impact of Access: Partnerships in Preservation” describing his work with co-authors Kelly McHugh, Ainslie Harrison and Landis Smith to do right by Yup’ik artifacts included in the Arctic Studies Center exhibition in Anchorage.  Chuna is Central Yup’ik from the village of Eyk and teaches language at Stanford.  Ainslie introduced the project, which involves the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center, and how consultations with experts like Chuna aimed to preserve knowledge, restore artifacts, and develop partnerships in decision-making.  Chuna described an experience in high school, looking at museum artifacts:  “I was always on this side of the glass.  I could never get beyond the glass to get to our objects…”  Being able to see them from the back, from all sides, gives the object a chance to tell its full story.  He did some restorations for a Yup’ik mask exhibition years ago, and used computer graphics to virtually do restoration as well.  He called it helping the mask “get back its proper attire.”  In treating a dance fan in the Thaw Collection in Cooperstown, he described the old repairs as static… “Dance fans are designed to move in space with you when you are dancing.  They come back to life when you give them back proper plumage and attire.”  In visiting ancient sites like Angkor Watt and Machu Picchu, he noticed how those monuments were actively restored, and described the Yup’ik artifacts as “our monuments to our worldview as Yup’iks….we are all in this together, this endeavor of bringing back what we feel is important for us and for future generations.”  He described some of the treatment solutions that had been implemented as collaborative decisions.  In a separate conversation with Kelly McHugh, she intimated to me how as a conservator she’d found it confusing which elements of a mask or fan were important to restore, and which ones might be less necessary.  Chuna and Kelly had discussed this, and the analogy of a car had come up…you can still drive a car with chipped paint, but if there’s no carburetor you’re not going anywhere.  I loved this description!  I have no idea what a carburetor looks like or even what it does in a car.  Likewise, I don’t understand the parts of a Yup’ik mask…I don’t know what makes it “go.”  Chuna wrapped up with a thank you song in Yup’ik that he learned from his grandmother…the meaning of which he described, “when we grow and we acquire accoutrements of responsibility we are to be thoughtful for all of these.”      

“When You Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk: Collections Access at the UBC Museum of Anthropology During the Renewal Project” was presented by Shabnam Honorbakhsh and co- authored by Heidi Swierenga and Maurau Toutloff.    The University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver has some 38,000 objects, most of which were placed on visible storage in the 1970’s with the intent of 100% visual access.  In the spring of 2004, there was a renewal project, and the museum did considerable behind-the-scenes work as well as continued to consider collection access as an ever-evolving philosophy.  The hands-on work included survey, barcode assignment, digitization, testing for pesticides, mount making, packing, moving and finally installation.  It sounded like consultation with Native researchers was suggesting that 4 views was the average number of images needed to really see an artifact.  The collection can be searched online at MOACAT  Also check out how their collections section on their website starts off with some cool downloadable reference documents.  I’m definitely right-clicking on some of those!  There is also an exciting joint collaborative project to facilitate collaborative study of Northwest Coast artifacts called the Reciprocal Research Network.  Chilkat weaver William White (Tsimshian) was quoted: “One of the things that is very important to me is accessibility for my people to come into the museum and be treated with respect and honor.”  There was also an example of a bronze statue of Vishnu in the collection who was resanctified for worship by the Vancouver Hindu community.  The video of the ritual renewal involved water, honey, oil, milk, fruit and other substances being applied to the statue.  Afterwards, it was cleaned, dried, and treated in a desiccation chamber.  Marian Kaminitz of the National Museum of the American Indian mentioned after the talk that museums have a societal opportunity to enhance advancement of indigenous societies from a colonialist time to a regeneration time.  It seemed to me like there was a more intense focus on the human, social, and interpersonal aspects of our profession and responsibilities at this meeting.

OK, no crying over spilled milk. Can I cry over the scarcity of scrapple in Alaska? I HEART scrapple!

I jumped out after the break to catch some wooden artifacts talks, including Susanne Grieve’s “Preserving Wooden Materials in Isolated Environments: Considerations and Challenges.”  Did you know Suzanne is certified to dive down to 165 feet?  I do so enjoy the little intros to our colleagues before the presentations!  Suzanne used her experience in both Antarctica (Shackleton’s hut) and the coastal desert of Namib-Nauklift Park in Namibia to describe damage to exposed wood.  Indigenous wildlife cause damage, especially through droppings and nesting, and there is an added challenge in some of those animals being protected species (like penguins).  Smaller-scale biological damage comes in the form of bacteria, mold and fungi.  She showed a great image of the secondary cell wall being separated from the primary cell wall of the wood by colonies of biological growth in between.  Then there are the abiotic  factors.  (Let’s use this term more in conservation!  I love it!  From Wikipedia: “…abiotic influences may be classified as light or more generally radiation, temperature, water, the chemical surrounding composed of the terrestrial atmospheric gases as well as soil.  The macroscopic climate often influences each of the above. Not to mention pressure and even sound waves if working with marine, or deep underground, biome.”)  Salt from the sea, especially chlorides, is a major factor.  It causes a phenomenon known as “defibration” where the wood fibers visibly pull apart.  Precipitation would usually dilute them, but in places like the desert coast, they build up.  Snow can also be full of salt ions.  Abrasion is also called by windblown particles like salt crystals, sand, and ice crystals.  Softer earlywood cells in the grain pattern are preferentially worn away, leaving the higher surface of the latewood cells.  Suzanne described her work with the Windhoek Underwater Club on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, a self-funded group of avocational historians doing preservation work on remote sites from the German colonial period.  They have been applying linseed oil to certain artifacts abandoned at an old diamond mining site, which has caused darkening of the wood and acceleration of corrosion to metal elements.  The maintenance applications of linseed oil began rather recently, so the impact has not yet been observed.  Linseed oil application elsewhere has had mixed results and is not among the treatments conservators normally select.  But under circumstances such as these (remote, environmentally harsh, in-situ, limited access to conservation-grade materials, little funding) wood preservation is especially challenging.

Christina Bisulca presented “Consolidation of Alum-Treated Wood with Alkoxykilanes” co-authored by Nancy Odegaard, Susan Braovac, and Hartmut Kutzke.  I think I learned more from this talk than any other at the conference.  I had heard about the alum-treated Oseberg Burial Ship materials at the Viking Museum in Oslo during the WOAM conference in 2010 .  They were excavated and treated a century ago (!) with a hot saturated solution of alum.  The ship itself was heartwood oak and not treated with alum, but ornately carved sleds and other artifacts got the treatment and are incredibly fragile today after additional treatments with pins, putties, linseed oil, resins etc.  Sulfuric acid is generated in the alum treatment bath, so the pH of the wood is now around 1 and mostly just lignin remains.  Washing and impregnating with PEG works, but is risky to do with these really delicate objects.  TEOS (tetraethoxysilane) was investigated for this problem because it is low viscosity, non aqueous, chemically inert, acid stable, and polymerizes in situ (two-step hydrolysis condensation that releases ethanol).  It’s been used as a lumber treatment since the 1980’s, often functionalized to give it certain qualities.  Remmer’s product is a one part system with an internal catalyst.  Brand names Funcosil 300 and Funcosil 510.  TEOS does not go into pore spaces, only on the cell wall…evenly distributed and not gap filling over about 15 microns.  So the wood remains porous and there is the possibility of future application of other consolidants.  If I understand correctly, this is a big advantage of TEOS over silicone oil, which does not permit a retreatment with anything besides more silicone oil?  TEOS treatment forms a silica network, and multiple applications deposit more silica.  At about 7X, the surface gets rather darkened, perhaps from solvent effects bringing soiling to the surface?  Neat TEOS has less of the darkening issue.  You could consolidate the wood with TEOS as a kind of pre-consolidant and then wash in water to reduce the alum in the wood.  Even after 7 applications, you can still pull out alum.  The challenges to the TEOS method seem to be that the wood has to be really really dry, because water content can cause the TEOS to polymerize on the surface.  Also, silica is rather brittle.  The conservation world has been slow to embrace TEOS outside of architectural applications, but I do think there may be certain circumstances where it may be a good solution to tricky problems.        

Jeweler and metalsmith Joan Pracher presented “Beautiful Brass, A Fresh Look at Historic Furniture Hardware.”  Do you remember when conservator Paul Messier started collecting up examples of old photo printing out papers?  That collection ended up being a treasure trove and Paul’s work on it greatly expanded understanding of things like dating paper and the importance of the “baryta layer” and gave him lots of great samples to study.  Having a reference collection is just really cool!  So it is with the collection of brass furniture hardware that Joan has been collecting since about 2004.  She also has a collection of the metalworking tools used to make such hardware, and she understands where all the tool marks come from. Drops, plates, bales, casters…such an amazing collection.  Knowing the tool marks, typical shapes, and maker’s marks contributes significantly toward attribution and dating.  Not to mention these little utilitarian furniture parts are like little artworks in themselves, and display considerable craftsmanship.  Maybe you should start a little reference collection of some esoteric little aspect of something that captivates you?  What if we all had little specialized reference collections??

I jumped back to the Objects Specialty Group in the afternoon, catching Christel Pesme’s talk on “The Care and Display of Homogen Infiltration für Kontzertflügel (Joseph Beuys, 1966) Between 1976 and 1992 at the Centre Georges Pompidou.”  This reminded me that contemporary art and indigenous art share this important aspect of consultation to determine artist intent and cultural purpose that ought to be documented in the files to guide the conservation treatments for years to come.  In this case, the artwork was a performance piece and the artifacts involved a piano wrapped in felt with red crosses loosely attached and additional pieces like wax earplugs.  The treatment history included a range of consultations and lack thereof with the artist during his life.  The treatments were also influenced by the ideological/ political issues inherent in the museum’s mission. 

Lori Trusheim presented, “Balancing Ethics and Restoration in the Conservation Treatment of an 18th Century Sewing Box with Tortoiseshell Veneer.”  This treatment had a lot of backing-and-forthing between the kind of less-interventive stabilization objects conservators are most comfortable with and the needs of the owner with a sentimental artifact in a home setting.  The aspects of tortoiseshell manufacture were also riveting.  Understanding material and technology is key to a treatment like this, and Lori really did her homework.  For example, forming of tortoiseshell was often done by rendering the shell pliable in boiling salted water and applying direct heat in press molds.  Heat breaks the disulphide bonds in the keratin structure, but cooling allows them to reform and makes the material rigid again.  White ground between the tortoiseshell and wooden box was water soluble.  Mother-of-pearl inlays were mechanically fit into precut voids, taking advantage of the thermoplastic quality of the heated tortoiseshell.  Missing elements led to investigation of replacement materials to mimic tortoiseshell, which is part of the 1970 Endangered Species Act.  Epoxy, bulked acrylic, wax?  Furniture conservator Donald Williams is working with “tordon shell” which is a crosslinked imitation collagen, and Lori began to think of the box as a miniature piece of furniture.  With the less-interventive method, the owner lived with it for a while but wanted more.  The final solution hasn’t been hammered out yet, but the factors Lori is pondering for a more aggressive treatment  include: opacity or loss of translucency, heating during removal, possible presence of salts, original shell health of the tortoise, brittleness, and darkening.  Lori is taking some inspiration from a Korean Proverb: “A turtle travels only when it sticks its neck out…”

Tony Sigel, one of my all-time favorite conservation personalities…ooh, here is an opportunity to introduce a new phrase!  “Professional Crush.”  This term was mentioned to me in reference to J.P. Brown of the Field Museum…and I declare both Tony and J.P. as “Professional Crush-worthy.”  Tony is on some of the listserves I subscribe to, and anytime his name appears I read the post, no matter how far off Alaskan interests the subject might appear.  OK enough gushing….Tony presented “Deconstructing Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Modello for the Fountain of the Moor. Really.”  Tony’s hands-on skills and creativity are killer, and it is always a treat to hear him take us step-by-step through his decision-making, discoveries, and solutions.  Tony is a Bernini sculpture expert, and was working on a terracotta model (for a fountain sculpture) for an exhibition he’s co-curating.  There are some 50 or so known Bernini terracotta models.  This one had soiling, alteration, repairs, even soluble nylon!  He had a great slide listing his main treatment concepts: progressive cleaning in graduated steps to avoid a piebald look, providing protection in the form of masking certain areas and providing bracing where needed during treatment, re-use of dowels/ fills/joins when appropriate, restoration of restorations where he was correcting previous work, mimicry of original tools and processes to give an authentic look, limiting the number of treatment materials to the fewest number of the most stable/ reversible/well-studied/best understood materials to reduce future interactions (according to the “Book of Koob.”)   He showed a little video of laser cleaning where you could really hear the moth-wing like flapping sound of the laser at work during the cleaning phase.  He had a technique for holding a can of DustOff upside down to get the frozen propellant to come out and stiffen a plasticine fill so he could remove it without distortion.  Mesh nylon screening was used to mimic the look of brushmarks in wet clay when the Plasticine proved too stiff.  Is there any doubt that Tony Sigel is the MacGyver of the conservation world?  Really!

My awesome co-author. Hi Hon!

Lauren Horelick and I wrapped up the OSG talks on Friday with the presentation of “The Alaska Fur ID Project: A Virtual Resource for Material Identification”  Its reviewed on the AIC blog (thanks, Ainslie!) but you can just go dive in at

I had ducked out of the OSG session earlier to hear Kathryn Jakes discuss the “Uses of the Fiber Reference Image Library.”  FRIL as it is known is quite complementary to the reference material Lauren and I are trying to present in the Alaska Fur ID Project.  FRIL is run out of Ohio State University.  The concept began back in 2003 intending to have some 20 international participants but evolved over time with funding issues and other factors.  NCPTT was the biggest supporter.  The site has mainly plant and synthetic fibers used in textiles, and seems strongly tied to costume and fashion collections.  They are connecting this to another project, Fashion2Fiber which will include fabric structures.  There is a distinct focus as well on how to do outreach and engagement with the website.  Some of the aspects highlighted during the talk included photomicrographs of brightfield and darkfield, sign of elongation, Herzog tests, images of historic cottons, and images of degradation features such as oxalic acid crystals in bast fibers.  Images are watermarked but image can be viewed and downloaded without the watermark if permission is given.  There have been requests to add in a section on feather ID, info on stitching threads, and information about materials that may have been used by restorers or conservators.

From the Philadephia Museum of Art gift shop...



September 22, 2010


Folks from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program were in Juneau September 14-16, 2010 offering a training.  Participants who completed all three days received credit through the Nautical Archaeology Society International (Part I Certificate in Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology.) These amazingly talented folks were brought to Alaska through the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, and also presented a course in Anchorage.  I first heard about this at the May 2010 Alaska Anthropological Association (aaa) Conference in Fairbanks from State Archaeologist Dave McMahan.  At the 2010 aaa, there was a roundtable discussion about the possibility of establishing an Alaska Maritime Society.  This is still in the planning stages.  This NAS training was aimed at recreational divers, land managers, resource enforcement officers, archaeologists and historians.  As a conservator, I personally found this useful for several reasons:    

  • Better understanding the process of underwater archaeology 
  • Legislation and jurisdiction of government agencies regarding underwater heritage
  • The challenges of hands-on survey techniques
  • The development of objects conservation for underwater heritage (there ought to be a whole separate blog posting!)
  • The opportunity to chat and network with the other participants in the class, who were a very knowledgeable and competent bunch.

DAY ONE: Intro to Workshop and Alaska Maritime Heritage and Alaska State Preservation Legislation    

Dave McMahan (State Archaeologist, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Office of History and Archaeology.)     

Alaska has more coastline than all the other states put together, and at least 3000 shipwrecks, according to the US Minerals Management database put together by Mike Burwell.  Yet the first official archaeological survey of our underwater heritage was the 1989 National Park Service Kiska Harbor Survey.     

Permitted archaeological work since then has included:     

2003 Kad’yak via NOAA and NSF grants     

2004 SS Portland as a show on History Detectives.  Dr. John Jensen documented it.     

2005 Dr. Jason Rogers work on the Eliza Anderson in Dutch Harbor     

2006 baseline on Lynn Canal wrecks including the Clara Nevada, Sophia, Kathleen, Islander, and the Griffson.     

2007 Clara Nevada     

2008 Torrent     

Googling these wrecks will bring up more info on each project.     

Some of the important statues in Alaska law include:     

AS 41.35.020 involving title to historic, prehistoric, and archaeological resources      

AS 41.35.080 Permits     

 There are over 30,000 sites in the state’s database.  They each have a code that begins with 49 (for the 49th state) and then a three-letter code that relates to the quadrangle on the map (other states have counties) and then the site within that quadrangle.  For example, 49-SIT-02 is the one for Castle Hill in Sitka.  In a nutshell, however, they key point is that all land belongs to someone,  and in Alaska it often it belongs to the government, meaning the resources on it belong to more than just one person.  “Finders Keepers” doesn’t cut it these days.  You have to know whose land something is on.     

DAY ONE: Intro to Maritime Heritage and Archaeology     

Dr. Hans Van Tilburg (Maritime Heritage Coordinator/ Unit Diving Supervisor, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Pacific Islands Region)     

As a field, underwater archaeology goes back to the 1960’s.  The programs at Texas A&M University and East Carolina University were some of the most important in establishing the practices and standards.  George Bass is considered the father of the field, and Peter Throckmorton is another important pioneer.  The Cape Gelidonya Wreck was the first full excavation entirely on the seabed, done in 1960.  Soon after were the Vasa in Sweden, the Mary Rose in England, and the H.L. Hunley in the United States.  Underwater aviation wreck sites are also considered maritime heritage.      

Archaeology = the systematic extraction and interpretation of sites to learn about past human behavior.”     

“Nautical” tends to refer mostly to ships.  “Maritime” is used as a broader term , but still implies seafaring.     

The term “cultural landscape” is popular these days to describe the entire context of a site…for example the derelict buildings on shore that helped the Torrent survivors are part of the story of the wreck.  Keeping the material culture connected to the site context gives a much richer interpretation.  Musket balls alone tell us one thing, but huge numbers of musket balls on a 1822 whaling vessel in Hawaii?  A whole different ballgame.      

The Nautical Archaeology Society was founded in England with a mission to bring in recreational divers to maritime archaeology.  The NAS training is offered in North America by Parks Canada, the National Parks Service, and Mexico’s National Institute of Archaeology and History.  NOAA is also involved through its National Marine Sanctuaries Program.  There are 13 sanctuaries and one marine national monument in the national system, and perhaps 10 archaeologists.      

DAY ONE: Ship Construction     

Hans Van Tilburg     

OK, this is not in Juneau, it is in Roskilde Denmark where they build replica Viking Ships. Wish these guys could have been there to explain what I was looking at!!

 Ship as both a technical and a social document.  Could a ship be perhaps the most complex social artifact ever created?  Among maritime ethnographers, Basil Greenhill’s name looms large.  Ships are often described by their mast and sail arrangement, but this does not often survive underwater.  So the ships’ construction is the main focus.  Hull first (clinker) or frame-first (carvel) construction?  Overall shape of the boat?  Elements like keel, keelson, floors, futtocks, stanchions, space between the framesets, scarf joints, fasteners, mast steps… certain inventions are very useful as well, such as wire rope rigging and the round Scotch boiler.  Looks like this is where a good nautical library comes in handy.      

McCarthy, Michael. (2005)  Ships’ Fastenings: From Sewn Boat to Steamship.  Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series.     

Curryer, Betty Nelson. (1999) Anchors: The Illustrated History. Chatham Publishing, London.     

Steffy, J. Richard.  (1994) Wooden Ship Building and the Interpretation of Shipwrecks.  Texas A&M Press, College Station TX     

Muckelroy, Keith (1978) Maritime Archaeology Cambridge University Press  (especially about site formation process.)     

It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s or so that you see much in the way of blueprints, but before that you do see some specifications in insurance records and those can be a good resource in trying to identify a wreck.     

DAY ONE: Maritime Heritage and Resource Management  Tane Casserley (National Marine Heritage Coordinator/ Unit Diving Supervisor, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries)  Discussion of the work done at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan.  Wow.  Seriously, wow.     

Tane also gave a review of some of the basic requirements for the National Register of Historic Places     

Project Designs and Strategies: Case Study Session     

Hans Van Tilburg     

Most university training follows the AAUS (American Association of Underwater Science) in requirements for diving.  AAUS supersedes others, so there are reciprocity agreements in place for allowing divers on certain sites, for example, allowing students and NOAA divers to work together.  There are various templates for project design, including those from the Secretary of the Interior,  NAS , NOAA/ONMS, and UNESCO Convention Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001 Annex.)  The United States did not sign it, but NOAA has accepted the annex as informal guidelines.  Most project design includes: objectives, methodology, logistics, resources and ultimate product.  For a site to be on the National Register, the integrity of the wreck and the significance is important.  National Register Bulletin #20 is helpful.     

36 CFR 79  on curation of collections is also important.      

DAY ONE: Federal Preservation Legislation     

Hans Van Tilburg     

Handbook contains ship construction illustrations and copies of historic preservation acts

 Law of the Sea Convention (1982) didn’t have a lot on underwater heritage, but it was addressed later by the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of underwater Cultural Heritage.  The two most important aspects for us to remember:     

  1. In Situ preservation is the preferred option.  That is, leave it alone and don’t bring it to the surface.    
  2. Commercial exploitation and artifact trade is fundamentally incompatible with preservation.   


Admiralty Law (Salvage Law) is intended for recovering goods to put them back into the stream of commerce, and not a historical preservation mandate.      

Antiquities Act of 1906  established the National Monuments program     

National Historic Preservation Act  did several key things:     

  • Created the National Register, which is the barometer of historical significance for a site   
  • List of national landmarks   
  • Created the State Historic Preservation Officer programs   
  • Responsible for the creation of the Cultural Resource Management field   
  • Section 106: consider the effects of actions on historic properties   
  • Section 110 Must inventory historic properties   


Archaeological Resources Protection Act (1979) Covers Federal lands     

Abandoned Shipwreck Act (1987)  Gives the state title to wrecks over 50 years old and prohibits Admiralty law claims, but some of the terminology is controversial.     

Sunken Military Craft Act (2005) unified existing laws to allow US to control its own sunken military aircraft worldwide and afford the same rights to the wrecks of aircraft from other countries.     

National Marine Sanctuaries Act (1972)  

Archaeological resources belong to the American public, and should not be collected by individuals or sold for private gain.  It is usually not in the government’s interest to pursue people trying to do the right thing with what has already been taken from a site.  Michigan, for example, has an ongoing amnesty program for people to return artifacts to appropriate repositories, such as museums.  Putting it back in the ocean is the wrong choice, as it will re-activate deterioration.     

DAY ONE: Issues in Conservation     

Wayne Lusardi (Maritime Archaeologist, Thunder Bay National marine Sanctuary, Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries.)     

Wayne Lusardi with wrecked Bristol Bay Double Ender, Juneau AK

In the 1960’s SCUBA diving really took off and the possibilities of accessing sites was really opened up.  This was the period that artifacts really started to come up in large numbers.  There are certain horror stories about wrecks found in that period that are now destroyed or have suffered significant loss.  The USS Cairo (pronounced (KAY-ro) and the Alvin Clark are two examples.  When the Alvin Clark was brought up, tourists could walk the deck and touch the rigging.  In 1994, it was bulldozed into a landfill.  If an artifact is removed from a wreck, consider the information that may be lost.  Was a liquor bottle part of the cargo hold?  Found in the galley?  Found next to the driver’s seat?  Artifacts can be very crucial parts of a story.  Sometimes divers move artifacts in order to show them to other divers, or perhaps to hide them from possible looters.  This changes the context as well.  Some problematic issues can include live ordnance or human remains.  In Michigan, for example, it is illegal to take photographs or videos of human remains.  In Wisconsin, the presence of human remains makes the whole wreck site considered a graveyard.  In Alaska, human remains are part of criminal law and it is a felony to disturb them.  A permit is required to remove them and there is a legal requirement to report finding them.      

Marine artifacts are notoriously challenging to conserve.  Putting artifacts from salt water into fresh water too quickly can cause damage.  Deteriorated wood cells collapse and cause cracking and distortion when water is removed.  Failing to remove chlorides and other soluble salts from the material can also cause it to corrode or self-destruct as it dries out.  Many metals require electrolysis to remove the salts, but this often requires the object to be taken apart.  The process requires a knowledge of chemistry, a well-ventilated space and potentially years to undertake the treatment.  An iron cannon might take 10 years to treat successfully.  Stain removal is also tricky, and can involve loss of scientific data.  Wood and organics are especially challenging and often require impregnation before they can be dried successfully.      

DAY ONE:Wrecks as Reefs     

Brenda Altmeier (Program Specialist, NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Upper Region Office)     

After increasing numbers of artificial reefs with questionable stability and materials were created in Florida, the Federal and State governments developed policies to manage artificial reefs.  By1985 the National Artificial Reefs Plan  was in place.  Today reef sites and materials are carefully chosen to enhance the existing bottom habitat, increase local fish populations, and are in locations that won’t threaten natural habitat. The National Artificial Reef Plan designated the Secretaries of Commerce and the Army with lead responsibilities to encourage, regulate, and monitor development of artificial reefs in the navigable waters and waters overlying the outer continental shelf of the United States. This information can be located NOAA Technical Memorandum, NMFS OF-6, 1985. 

The Florida Keys NOAA Marine Sanctuary was established in 1990, with 2900 square nautical miles .  There are 2.5 million visitors a year, and 70% of them enter the sanctuary. A third of the 70,000 year-round residents own boats.  Considerable amount of education and training is done here:Heritage Awareness Seminars, Shipwreck Trail, Mooring Buoy Programs, and a Professional Research Diving Course through the Florida Keys Community College to meet the requirements of a NOAA certified Scientific Diver.  

In Florida, you need a permit to even search for shipwrecks.  Within the state of Florida’s jurisdictional boundary (3 nautical miles) unless authorized by a permit, it is a violation of State Statute 267.13(1)(a) to conduct archaeological field investigations ie; archaeological surveys in State waters. 

In the evening, there were public talks given at the Juneau Douglas City Museum.  Tane Casserly (NOAA Underwater Archaeologist/ National Marine heritage Coordinator) presented “Heavy Metal on the High Seas: Archaeological Research and Recovery on the USS Monitor.”  There was also a lecture by Dr. John Jensen (Professor of Maritime Studies, Sea Education Association/ Adjunct Professor in History and Nautical Archaeology, University of Rhode Island.)  He presented, “Shipwreck Landscapes from Juneau to St. Michael.”  I was very sorry indeed to miss these evening talks.  (in addition to my life as a conservator, I’m also a mommy.)     

DAY TWO: Underwater Mapping: Fundamental Principles and Techniques (2D) Offsets, and Trilateration     

Wayne Lusardi     

George Bass took terrestrial archaeology techniques and brought them underwater.   Need to standardize your units.  Choices are to use metric system, imperial standard (quarter-inch, eighth-inch etc) or feet and tenths, which is what the NOAA folks are using.  (ie 8.4 feet)  This is in part because most ships found in the US were not built using the metric system, and shipbuilding standards are very important when determining the identity of a wreck.  Different mapping techniques include:     

  • Grid, which is difficult to set up and control underwater, and usually only used for complicated work or work over several field seasons.  However, a small grid is sometimes offset and used in an area that is artifact dense.  Grids are double-strung to reduce “parallax” error (getting an incorrect reading from an angle instead of straight-on)   
  • Radial survey will measure from a fixed object to various points, reporting in feet and degrees.   
  • Baseline: Fixed on both ends, it is usually a tape measure or an incremented line of some kind through the long axis of a site.  Accurate and precise, adaptable to various sites, low tech, but time and labor intensive to collect the data points.  You can have more than one baseline on a complicated wreck.  Remember what side of the baseline you are on when gathering measurements!  The baseline needs to have its location established firmly, so there might be a buoy up at each end where someone on the surface can take a GPS reading.  You cannot do an accurate GPS survey of a shipwreck, since GPS does not work underwater.   
  • Offset:  Shortest point between an object and the baseline.  It will make a perpendicular with the baseline, and if the zero end of your tape measure is on the object, the smallest number on the tape measure where it hits the baseline will be your “offset”.  You get this by swinging your tape measure back and forth till you find the smallest number.  You need to record two numbers, the one on the baseline and the one on your tape measure.  Also be really clear what those numbers are measuring!  This method is only accurate for things that are pretty close to the baseline.  Maybe less than 20 feet or so?  Depends on conditions.  Further away, you use trilateration.   
  • Trilateration: takes info from three or more datum (data = a control point or points from which measurements are made.)  When you measure your object, you need two separate measurements between the object and the baseline.  Where these touch the baseline does not matter, but the two lines must try to make a right angle at the object.  There will be a triangle, formed by these two lines (called “ties”)  with a third line being the baseline itself (the two lines “tie” into the baseline.)  You don’t want an acute or obtuse triangle, you want roughly a right triangle for best accuracy.   
  • Profiles are vertical offsets that can help establish the depth of data.  Vertical offsets and vertical trilateration can be used.   

“Slates” are the clipboards used underwater, usually with waterproof paper attached with electrical tape, a clip to attach it to the diver, a string for the pencil (mechanical ones rust fast, but wooden ones can break or float away).  Must include diver’s name, date, location, site, where they are on the baseline, and where they are recording on the site.     

Step 1: Sketch out the site for general orientation     

Step 2: establish a baseline.  If you must pound in rebar to tie a tape measure to, that may require a permit in some places.     

Step 3: On a wreck, determine the overall length of the ship from bow to stern     

Step 4: Gather measurements on important features and artifacts relative to the baseline.     

Step 5: Data is golden!  Making backups and transferring onto site map ASAP after the survey     

Wayne had a ton of information about things that typically go wrong and how to fix them.  This section of the course was perhaps the most interesting to me, and I was ready to hear it all a second time after I tried my hand at it myself.  I’m sure if I tried it in the water I would be itching for a third repeat of this section of the lecture.  Amazing how things make sense in a classroom, then seem vastly more complicated in real life, and then suddenly seem to make sense all over again once you practice a bit.      

DAY TWO: Area Search/Survey Methods and Position Fixing     

Tane Casserley     

How do they find these sites?  Let me count the ways:     

  • Aerial: photos, satellites, Google Earth.   Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) which shoots a laser  from an airplane and gets 3-D features, depending on depth and clarity of the water.   
  • Magnetometer: Picks up ferrous metal well, but due to the earth’s magnetosphere, you have to tell the software exactly where you are on earth.    
  • Sonar: Relies on sound.  There is side-scan sonar, 100-600kHz which has a blind spot, or 900kHz which has better resolution but you cannot see as far.  There’s also multibeam sonar, but the software is really complex.  Sub-bottom profilers are a used at low frequencies to look under the sediment.  Most common are the side-scan sonar techniques used together with a magnetometer on a towline behind a boat.   
  • ROV/AUV:  Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) are like floating eyeballs with a tether.  Turns are huge and time-consuming because of the length of the tether, and currents can be challenging.  An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) can turn on a dime and needs no tether, can just be programmed to go run a grid.  These are very expensive, however, and sometimes they are lost.   
  • Divers/Swimmers: In a Towed Visual Search, person holds onto a board and is towed through the water by a boat.  Safety protocols must be followed.  Swim line search, jackstay, snagline, circle, and grid are other human-powered searches.  Underwater metal detectors are sometimes used, although these often need a permit.   

DAY TWO: Site Types and Environments, and Dating Archaeological Material     

Tane Casserley     

Site types might include: intact wrecks, broken wrecks, flattened wrecks, scatter wrecks, submarines, aircraft, coastal sites, or submerged land sites.     

Dating comes in two varieties: Relative (order in which events occur, ie stratigraphy) and Absolute (provides a date)  Various kinds of dating discussed included site formation processes, maps, historical sources, coins, dendrochronology, C14, and typology.      

DAY TWO: Dry Practical Session      

For this part of the course, we went outside to a patio area outside the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute, the NOAA research facility near Juneau where the training was being held.  There, the instructors set up a baseline and a few chairs and objects.  We paired up in teams and were assigned areas to map, such as “the starboard side from 40-60 feet on the baseline.”  We had a couple of hours to work, and set off with our slates and tape measures.  Partway through, Tane told us we could no longer speak out loud, and had to now communicate as if we were underwater.  An experienced diver can take 400-500 measurements in an hour long dive.  A wreck can often be surveyed successfully in a week by a team of 6 people, making a couple of dives per day per person.  On dry land my first time trying this, I think my partner and I got less than 20 measurements in an hour!      

DAY TWO: Drawing Up Session     

Then we came back in to see how the measurements would look mapped out, and if our areas of overlap actually lined up.  Above all, could we get a decent outline of the shape of the “boat?”  Using the drafting tools and figuring out how to plot out the points was a bit of a learning curve for some of us, and the shortcomings of our various data recording techniques immediately became obvious  The discussion was basically repeating many of the points Wayne had hit on in the earlier lecture.     

DAY THREE: Mini-Survey     


We went out Thane Road to a shoreline area where many boats had been abandoned.  One boat on the beach was an old Bristol Bay Double-Ender, and we discussed construction techniques and what could be learned from the wreck, particularly in terms of modification.     

DAY THREE: Field Survey Session     



Then we went further down the beach where there were pilings from an old dock, parts of old piers and docks, and various artifacts on the beach.  We split into teams and spent to rest of the morning practicing survey techniques on the site.      

DAY THREE: Field Session Data Processing     


After lunch we came back to my lab at the Alaska State Museum and plotted out the site on paper, discussing what we had done as well as considerable networking and one-on one discussions with the instructors about everyone’s own personal interests and questions.     

WOAM 2010 in Greenville: Extracurriculars

June 2, 2010

Arrived in the fried-chicken-scented Raleigh airport at 11pm with 100 miles to drive…speed limit is 70 here!  Staying at the dorms on the Eastern Carolina University campus at the crazy good price of $38 per night including breakfast.  I was very lucky to attend this conference thanks to grant funding from the Rasmuson foundation in Alaska (  Personally I really like it when conferences trap attendees at the same location.  From what I can tell, the conference organizers have mainly been Sarah Watkins-Kenney of the North Carolina Dept of Cultural Resources, Emily Williams from Colonial Williamsburg, and Kristiane Straetkvern from the National Museum of Denmark.  Usually, when I come to a conference all the way from Alaska, that seems kind of a long way.  But this conference has more than 80 people from at least 15 different countries, and I am sure the folks coming from Australia had to wake up earlier than I did.  I’ve been told this would be an intimate, open and welcoming group.  I am equal parts thrilled and terrified to be among the people who can actually converse with me about polyethylene glycol.  I hope they will be gentle when I reveal my ignorance, but I am willing to get humiliated a little bit if it would mean getting my facts straight.  There will be some 43 papers and 13 posters in the next four days.  The conference proceedings will be dedicated to Kate Hunter, who passed away in January and is perhaps best known for her masterful work on the Newport Ship project.

 QAR BBQ May 25,2010

Brunswick Stew, Cornbread Sticks, Eastern NC Style BBQ (basted with a vinegar sauce, pepper, a little bit of tomato), coleslaw in a 5-gallon bucket.

 The tour of the QAR was terrific and I could have spent hours there, really.  I am sorry that this is the picture I have for you, it would have been much more spectacular had I been able to get an image of Jim Spriggs dressed up like a pirate, complete with inflatible parrot on his shoulder.

Thursday Evening Dinner Reception

Richard Lawrence gave a talk about the past 40 years of underwater archaeology in North Carolina.  He was the director of Underwater Archaeology for the Department of Cultural Resources for 29 years, and is just about to retire.  North Carolina has some 300 miles of coastline, including features I cannot precisely define like capes, sounds, and shoals and such.  Apparently, Cape Hatteras is a vulnerable point that sticks out into the Atlantic and the northbound Gulf Stream Current goes within 15-20 miles of it, closer than anywhere else in North America.  And that’s also where it meets the Laborador current going south.  Yikes!  There are some 5,000 historical and documented wrecks along the NC coast.  The discovery in 1962 of a civil war blockade runner (the Modern Grace who sunk in 1982) was the first wreck they dealt with, and enthusiasm about the Civil War Centennial helped get the Fort Fisher Preservation Lab built the following year. Leslie Bright, “more of a chef than a chemist”, and armed with Plenderleith did most of the conservation work on the artifacts 1964-1998.  The Underwater Archaeology Law was enacted in 1967 to help put artifacts under state ownership.  For a while there were sport/hobby permits and people were allowed to keep stuff they found if they declared it and it wasn’t deemed especially significant.  In 1972, Gordon Watts became the first underwater archaeologist there.  In 1973, the USS Monitor was found and research on that was ongoing till 1984.  The first national marine sanctuary was established, and NOAA contracted them to manage and do research.  There were UNC field schools from 1974-1979 and ECU field schools 1979-1982.  Gordon Watts and maritime historian Bill Still went on to found the ECU program in 1981, and things moved towards being more program oriented and less project oriented.  Many more wrecks were dealt with, and then there was an interesting tagging program for wrecks, so if they moved around they could still be identified as something that was known.  In the mid 1980’s some 24 very old dugout canoes were found (Middle Woodland Period, more than 4000 years ago) when drought and firefighting activities lowered the water level in Lake Phelps.  This was one of the pre-conference tours for WOAM (I missed it) and apparently it was most enjoyable, even when some conference delegates became a bit, er, waterlogged themselves.  In 1991 the wreck of the USS Huron (from 1877) became the state’s first and only underwater wreck.  The Queen Anne’s Revenge Project (QAR) got going in 1996 and because of the continuing exposure of the wreck, it will be a full recovery.  They are about halfway through, but funding lately has been poor.  The goal is to have everything recovered by 2013, and a museum by 2018, the 300th anniversary.  In September of 2008, the state’s oldest shipwreck was found.  Thought to be from the 1650’s (coin from 1642 and spoons from 1620) it was on the beach and moved around quite a bit before it was hauled further up on shore and there is just no money for it right now.  In hearing all this history, I wondered two things: 1) what info and experience is there in North Carolina that could help with the establishment of a maritime society in Alaska? And 2) there is a name strongly associated with conservation of marine archaeology in North Carolina that is conspicuously absent from the official discussions at the WOAM meeting.

Check out additional posts on the business meeting, specific WOAM personalities, the flavor of WOAM, and Lars Andersen’s advice to me on freeze drying at the AIC’s news blog.

WOAM 2010 in Greenville May 28

June 2, 2010


A New Approach to Excavating and Handling Waterlogged Textiles from the American Civil War Submarine the H.L. Hunley. (peer reviewed)

Johanna Rivera and Philippe de Vivies

The Hunley was the worlds’ first successful submarine, sunk in 1984 and found in 1995.  Over 1,400 artifacts have been recovered steadily since 2005, including textiles and organics (wood, leather, rope, horn).  The inside of the submarine was completely filled with sediment.  All crew were found at their stations.  The talk involved the textiles on Lt George Dixon, removed in 7 block lifts.  The block is placed in a tank and then slowly filled with water.  A syringe filled with water is used to dislodge the sediment.  Sediments are vacuumed off with a siphon hose made of PVC plastic, controlled by pinching with the fingers.  When the need comes to flip it, they fill in gaps with foam, then cover all with a thin plastic film, and then fiberglass (DuraPower Inc Pipe and Hose Repair Kit) and then polyurethane resin.  When firm, then they can slide something underneath and flip, exposing the other side for cleaning.  Four fabrics were found: a fine black or brown wool, a cotton/wool, a red that turned brown with exposure to UV light, and a strange thread that was all that remained of suspenders that were apparently made of natural latex rubber.  Fragments of textile were unfolded underwater, and rounded Mylar patches helped with the manipulation.  One textile was a vest, but its stitches that held in the lining were only on the surface, no longer penetrating through the cloth.  There is an entire AIC presentation on the vest treatment.  Use of a surfactant helped remove dirt from the textile and keep it in solution instead of re-depositing on the textile.  There are five more blocks from Dixon to be dealt with, and another 27 textile blocks from the rest of the ship, a huge undertaking.  Elizabeth Peacock asks about dye analysis, and says its not likely to be madder, for example, as madder dyed textiles are often better preserved than other textiles in the burial environment. 

A Neolithic Shoe from Sipplingen Conservation and Technological Examination

Ingrid Wiesner

The shoe was found in a burned layer, and thought to be 5000 years old.  The material seems to be strips of retted bast fiber, from the lime tree (tilia?)  Comparisons were made to other old shoes that had been treated: Feldtkeller (1989) used PEG 400, and consolidated with Luviskol K30 after and then Bojesen-Koefoed et al (1993) using high molecular weight PEG.  Seems that for this Sipplingen shoe, 8% PEG 1500 followed by freeze drying was the way to go.  Another example about how the conservation field is moving away from the use of low molecular weight PEGs.

Analysis of Plant Fiber Artifacts from a Shipwreck: Application of Material History Methodology

Runying Chen

Dr. Chen had a cool chart that was looking at Observation Data, Complementary Data, Supplementary Data, and then Conclusions along the rows, and then the columns were looking at Material, Construction, Function, Provincial, and Value.  This was Smith’s Material History Methodology from 1985.  Fits nicely with conservation treatment report format, doesn’t it?  Dr. Chen was saying it really helps you to be more disciplined and eliminates pre-conceived notions or bias by using a matrix like this.  There’s a recent article in the Journal of Nautical Archaeology that is a cordage study (French?) and has a new recommended framework for how to describe cordage.  It is tricky to compare cordage if people are not talking about it in the same way.  Louis Bartos is a sail maker and historian who was a useful resource.  Info about the plant fibers can give you an idea about the size of a ship and the kind of sails it has…looking at the angle of twist, type of weave, seam construction, stitching, etc.  I think Dr. Chen felt a little out of place in the context of the other papers, but I thought this was really valuable.  With our noses so deep in the science, it is nice to be reminded of the balance we need to have with the interpretation of our wet organics and not just the preservation of our wet organics.  Conservators are often called upon to help interpret what we are seeing and it is great to be reminded of some of the work that is happening in that area too.  And knowing what people need to look at for interpretation helps guide the aspects of what we need to prioritize for preservation.


Polyethylene Glycol Treatments for Basketry on the Northwest Coast of North America (peer reviewed)

Ellen Carrlee and Dana K. Senge

This was our talk, and I was so glad it was on Friday so I had a chance to ask a lot of people about it before getting up in front of everyone.  Despite feeling a little out of our element, Dana and I were definitely on the right track.  We were trying to come up with a PEG protocol that would work for basketry.  I had two baskets in the lab already treated with 20% PEG 400 and 5% PEG 4000, based on the best knowledge from the late 1990’s, and even though they looked nice, they were too fragile.  So I wanted to see if using high molecular weight PEG would help, maybe without low molecular weight, and maybe at higher concentrations.  I think that panned out, and is in harmony with the current understanding.  Also, my consolidation with Butvar B-98 seems to be something others have found useful.  Maybe 55% PEG 3350 is a good way to deal with very deteriorated spruce root.  And maybe basketry treatment, which has been very challenging for lots of people, might be best approached with a two-step treatment: step one being PEG and step two being consolidation.  I did not get an answer about why my unheated sample treated with 20% PEG 400 and 75 PEG 3350 turned very dark on cycling RH but the heated sample did not get dark.  In all cases of treatment with 75%, that was too high and they were excessively brittle.  at Dana’s work in compiling old basketry treatment info is right on the money as well, as this kind of data is really useful and she was right to start capturing that, too.  We are still missing a bit of the degree of deterioration problem, since Dana and I struggled with what we were seeing under the microscope.  I now have this fantasy that I can attract a grad student in wood anatomy to come from Minnesota and work up spruce root and cedar bark for me.  If we cover those two materials, we’ve covered most of the baskets on the Northwest Coast?  Carlos is keen to try silicone oil on the problem, and maybe I will collaborate with him a bit on that.  I have to think it through, since I am feeling like I have a good direction to go with these treatments using techniques that I am comfortable with in terms of reversibility/retreatability, but the idea that giving over a bit of this material for silicone oil might add to our overall big picture knowledge of various tools in our toolbox…hmmm.  Tara Grant agreed that POLYOX wasn’t that useful, but in order to work with it they found that putting a pool of it on the table and pushing to object into it was a good way to deal with its lousy handling properties.  Kate Singley reports she’s had good luck with Lascaux, although the kinds I tried didn’t work so well for me.  Rope gives a similar problem, and was reported on at the Portland WOAM.  In Denmark, they tried using Paraloid F-10 on brittle rope after it was PEG treated and that worked well for them.  For the consolidation issue, I guess it matters quite a bit whether your consolidant is dealing with the PEG or dealing with the wood.  I suspect that if it is the former, then solvent-based consolidants are going to be good (as I was finding) but for the latter when wood is available for bonding (perhaps if the PEG has been cleaned off the surface) maybe that is when people are getting better results with the water-based consolidants.  And one final revelation, Dana points out that historical spruce root baskets are BRITTLE too!  Chemist Mikkel Christensen from Norway points out to me during one of the breaks that a general rule of thumb is that you can have stability or you can have flexibility but you cannot have both. Don’t miss Dana’s weblog of past basketry treatments and their outcomes at

Assessing the Physical Condition of Waterlogged Archaeological Leather (peer reviewed)

Katerina Malea, Thelxiopi Vogiatzi, David E. Watkinson

To ID the animal species, they used SEM to look at the hair follicle pattern.  To assess degree of deterioration they were looking at amino acid analysis of the collagen.  In examining leather visually, people tend not to agree in how deteriorated they think it is.  pH reflects degree of hydrolytic deterioration.  In the 4.6-7.5 range, with most in 5-7 range.  They were also looking at shrinkage temperature, and how broad the range was from when the first one went to the last one in heating for shrinkage.  Looking at ratio of basic:acidic amino acids?  If the ration is low, does that indicate oxidative deterioration?  I am not quite catching all the science, it is a little above my head on this talk.  Some commentary afterwards cautioned the use of shrinkage temperature as a tool, since it was designed for use on recent leather.  Apparently, there’s been some difficulty using it on archaeological leather because of mineralization?  It behaves unpredictably?  There was a 1997 study that showed a correlation between mineral content and shrinkage temperature.  The plot thickens!!

A Comparative Study of Various Impregnation and Drying Methods for Waterlogged Archaeological Leather

Angela Karsten, Kelly Domoney, Liz Goodman, and Helen Ganiaris

There’s a backlog of leather to be treated in the UK, which is a problem because it is prone to mold growth, analysis cannot be completed until it is dry, and it cannot go into a repository wet.  Usually, leather from anaerobic terrestrial sites is pre treated with glycerol or PEG and then freeze dried.  20% glycerol gave the best results, and EDTA along with it was good and also helped with flexibility.  Using that in conjunction with vacuum freeze drying was the best, and air drying was OK too.  All treatments dried darker and somewhat brittle, although the freeze dried ones were easier to examine without damage.  The ones that went through controlled air drying with a series of salts to control RH had challenges with mold and using the technique was a pain.  If they got some pre-treatment, even 10 years in storage was OK and they didn’t get moldy and good results were still possible.  However, without pre treatment they tended to curl up.  Ian Godfrey reports that in Australia, they found the glycerol treatments caused dessication and brittleness over time.  In the UK, however, it seems that they’ve been using it since the 80’s without that issue, although that’s anecdotal and maybe it needs to be looked into.  Dr Godfrey is keen to assist in the analysis of leather and help distribute the results.  I think this issue of glycerol is really interesting.  Like how the glycerol in the alum treatments for wood seemed to make them much worse?  What is up with glycerol?  I want to understand it better.  Jim Spriggs says they treated leather in York with glycerol and freeze drying since the 1970’s and it does change over time.  The ones in York that came out the best were some weird combo of solvent dehydration and then a solvent soluble oil?  Wow.

Efficiency and Quality in a Batch Treatment: the Conservation of Over A Hundred Leather Shoes and Fragments

Jessica LaFrance

Metal cistern from 1850-1870 contained lots of leather shoes.  Used an ultrasonic dental scaler to clean.  Removed chlorides in tapwater baths, agitated, up to 3 months long.  Iron was removed with either 2% dibasic ammonium citrate as a batch of 50 (immersing them twice) or 5% sodium dithionite in 2% EDA (did I write that down correctly?) used on shoes individually.  The latter worked better, but cost more, took longer to prepare, and required ventilation.  Iron stains might have helped preserve the collagen?  The monitored the color of the solution to know when it was done.  When it was rinsing clear, then they treated the leather with PEG, 20% with 1% Hostacor IT since there were metal attachments and wood inserts inside the shoes.  She reshaped with foam supports and Supercrinx stretchy self-adhering bandages, and freeze dried for 2 weeks.  There was 7-10% shrinkage, and really maybe even a little more than that since they likely shunk a bit in transit.  After freeze drying, used some 2% Klucel G in ethanol where needed, and used Lascaux 50:50 498HV to 360HV applied by brush to sheets of Reemay and reactivated with acetone for tear repair. Susanne Grieve mentioned that the Hunley shoes were preserved with commercial shoe inserts successfully.  She also likes a material called Bibac plastic, which can be shaped with a hairdryer.  Sounds like it has lots of holes in it, so there is less surface area and the leather dries better?  Susanne likes Teflon tape during PEG treatment because organic bandages like traditional roller gauze has gotten moldy or has left marks on the surface of artifacts.  Emily Williams jumps into the issue of how the term “batch treatment” affects the concept of the artifact value to curators and collection managers.  Objects treated individually are perceived as being more precious.  But is it chicken and egg?  Have the curators and collections managers already made that judgment before the batch treating happened?  In the UK at least, with the volume of material and the limits on resources available to deal with it, there is a risk that things might get discarded rather than treated if batch treatment was not an option.  With some 35 years of experience, Elizabeth Peacock wisely says we don’t have to advertise that batch treatment is how it is done!

Conservation of Thule Skin Clothing from the Sannirajaq Site, Nunavut

Tara Grant

For me, this was maybe the most exciting talk of the conference.  Tara does archaeological fieldwork as well as conservation work in the CCI lab.  A 2006-2007 excavation of houses from 100-1400AD brought up boots, belts, fur parkas, bird skin inner parkas, gutskin anoraks, pants etc as well as human remains of 8 individuals.  After consultation, it was determined to rebury the human remains, and the clothing was excavated separately.  There were health problems and strong odors to be dealt with.  The precendent of Christchurch, Spitalfelds, England was useful.  It seem that lead dust, mold, and parasite eggs are a bigger risk than infectious disease.  Anthrax and smallpox can survive, but plague, cholera, typhoid and tuberculosis do not tend to survive in burial.  The site was pre-European contact and there were no domesticated animals.  The Canadian Science Center for Human and Animal Health was also helpful, and determined that with appropriate personal protective equipment, the staff would be OK.  They used a HEPA unit and charcoal filter for odors, mostly from putrescine and cadaverine.  These are water soluble compounds that smell even more in high RH conditions.  Mary Ballard’s work on this was very helpful.  20g/L water of sodium bicarbonate for proteins and sodium carbonate for cellulosics.  The objects she was talking about were mainly a parka with seal fur, caribou fur and birdskins with the feathers still on them.  (Cool tidbit, diving birds have stronger skins!)  There were also boots of defurred seal skin.  Gutskin anorak.  They were dealing with hair loss, slippage, dirt, fat, loose/open seams, rips/holes in the skin.  Some of the loss or damage was from pre-burial, as evidenced by things like a knot tied in the gutskin near a loss.  Tara had really cool slides about gutskin structure.  Summer gut is dried in above-freezing temperatures and is not as flexible as winter tanned gut which is dried at below freezing temperatures.  They were looking at shrinkage temperature, which as between 45 and 63 for the artifacts, and modern seal and cow are 55C and 60C respectively.  There’s a new technique for measuring Ts which is more accurate than the old visual method, so the reference numbers are a little different these days.  So on the anorak, for example… They were using 20g/L of sodium bicarbonate, and is thought to preferentially react with amine rather than protein. 30 minutes, agitate, pH of 8 (a little high for skins) and then sodium dodecyl sulphase 0.5w/v as an anionic detergent to remove fats.  Brush and cavitron cleaning, then a 17 hour rinse with running water to remove detergent.  Repeated detergent and deodorizing, then rinsed for 4 days.  They used 20%v/v PEG 400 for 24 hours, and the rinse, tamp, reshape, freeze at -22C.  Odor removal was only partly successful.  Feathers especially still had some smell, but seams were loosening and feathers were starting to detach so things had to stop.  AT the gut didn’t smell at all, and they were able to use a cold mister and finger pressure to manipulate and then clamp into the desired shape. 

Conservation of Waterlogged Ivory

Ian Godfrey and C. Wayne Smith

This particular talk was dedicated to the late Sophie Lussier, who did some important work on testing materials to use with ivory.  Elephant tusks were found in a 1970’s excavation of a Dutch shipwreck.  Tusks form as a cone-in-cone structure.  Tendency to delaminate.  No relationship between deterioration of ivory and success of treatment options.  Some tusks had been “looted” pre-ban and air dried OK, others did not air dry OK.  Layer of corrosion products on the outer surfaces were iron rich, and then there was an inorganic matrix better preserved at the core.  Calcium would be replaced by iron, and you’d see that lovely blue vivianite.  FTIR was the most helpful tool, it is really good for bone and ivory.   There was collagen in the rich outer layers, but not in the core.  Texture of the ivory was different throughout as well, with some areas as soft as paste and others very hard.  Form 1996-99 they tested Rhoplex AC-235 30% for 4 months, Primal MV-23-LO 30% for 4 months, Gelatine 30% at 30-40C for 4 months, Biodur S-10 with S3 hardener and S6 gas cure (plastination) and finally silicone oil (SFD-10 silicone oil with MTMS crosslinker and the dibutyltindiacetate catalyst.)  The aqueous treatments were all slow dried over 15 months.  The Rhoplex penetrated only 1mm in.  Aqueous stuff didn’t really work so well.  Really, only the plastination and the silicone oil treatments worked.  To do the silicone oil, they bound the tusk so it would not fall into pieces during treatment.  For the plastination, they probably ought to have done it at -30C in acetone, but it was done at room temperature in the hopes it would remain more fluid and penetrate better, and so the results maybe not as good as they could have been.  They embedded the tusk samples in epoxy and polished it down to look in SEM and see where the material went.  There was lots of silicone oil in area with heavy degradation, and then a steady amount in other areas.  By making a mixed sample with non-silicone treated ivory, they were able to prove they were not just smearing silicone around during polishing.  People were wondering after the talk if the silicone oil treatment would inhibit the oxidation of the pyrite.  Looked from this talk like silicone oil might be an appropriate tool for treating this tusk material since there wasn’t really anything else that worked.  At the end of his talk, Ian Godfrey brought down the house with killer images of live “flying” penguins from his work in Antarctica.  Is it an accident his talk was last?  Or was he intentionally chosen as the closer?

Check out additional posts on the business meeting, specific WOAM personalities, the flavor of WOAM, and Lars Andersen’s advice to me on freeze drying at the AIC’s news blog.