Archaeological Conservation Using Polymers: Practical Applications for Organic Artifact Stabilization

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Texas A&M University Press, 2003 - Architecture - 129 pages
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Over the years, archaeologists have developed a number of techniques for conserving historical artifacts for future generations. Along with these techniques, researchers have developed a series of ethical principles for treating materials in a way that allows them to be not only observed and analyzed for the present, but also in re-studied in the future. Conservation techniques used up to now, however, have provided artifacts only a limited lifespan, and in some cases they do not work well with water-logged materials. Within the past few years, archaeological chemistry and concerns of longevity testing have become central issues in the development of conservation treatment strategies. This problem became particularly acute when members of the Texas A&M Nautical Archaeology Program were called on to conserve artifacts from La Belle, the sunken ship of La Salle excavated in the 1990s off the coast of Texas by the Texas Historical Commission. "Entombed in the mud that sealed it from decay for over three centuries," C. Wayne Smith writes in his introduction, "the waterlogged hull and hundreds of thousands of fragile artifacts, including brain matter in the skull of one unfortunate sailor, would have been a futile conservation effort without new preservation technologies." Working with Dow Corning Corporation, Texas A&M’s Archaeological Preservation Research Lab (APRL), and the Conservation Research Lab (CRL), Smith and his colleagues in A&M’s Nautical Archaeology Program set out to develop a series of chemistries and techniques that would provide successful and affordable treatment strategies for organic materials. In this ground-breaking description of the processes and materials that were developed, Smith explains these techniques in ways that will allow museums and historical societies to conserve more stable artifacts for traveling exhibits and interactive displays and will allow researchers to conserve new discoveries without sacrificing important information. Beyond the advantages offered by polymer replacement (Passivation Polymer) technologies, Smith considers a concept seldom addressed in conservation: artistry. Variance in equipment, relative humidity, laboratory layout, intended results, and level of expertise all affect researchers’ ability to obtain consistent and aesthetically correct samples and require a willingness to explore treatment parameters and combinations of polymers. Smith prescribes an effective layout for day-to-day conservation of small organic artifacts and then examines some of the mechanical techniques used to process various organic materials from marine and land sites. He concludes with an exploration of new tools and technologies that can help conservators devise more effective conservation strategies, including CT scans and Computer Aided Design images and stereolithography. All archaeologists, conservators, and museologists working with perishable artifacts will benefit from the careful explication of these new processes, and those wishing to incorporate some or all of them will find the step-by-step instructions for doing so.
 

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Contents

Laboratory Setup
7
Small Necessities in the Laboratory
8
Chemicals
9
Baseline Mechanisms
13
Mass Spectrographic Analysis of OutGases Created from the Dehydration of Archaeological Wood Samples
17
The Challenge of Conserving Waterlogged Wood
21
Degradation and Shrinkage
22
Waterlogged Wooden Buttons with and without Associated Thread
26
Suggestions for Treating Leather between Sheets of Glass
72
Composite Artifacts
74
Cordage and Textiles
81
Silicone Treatment Strategies
82
Incorporating the Use of Nonpolar Suspension Mediums and Elements of the Frankfurter Method into Traditional Silicone Treatment Strategies
83
Preservation of Waterlogged Canvas from Port Royal
90
Glass Conservation
93
conservat1on Devitrification
96

DrySite ArtifactsDry and Desiccated Wood
28
Reprocessing and Stabilization of PEGTreated Wood
30
Tongue Depressor Experiment
31
Retreatment of Two PEGTreated Sabots
40
Retreatment of PEGTreated Waterlogged Wood
43
Treatment of Waterlogged Wood Using Hydrolyzable Multifunctional Alkoxysilane Polymers
45
Archaeological Leather
60
Cleaning
62
PEGAirDrying Treatments
63
FreezeDrying PEGTreated Artifacts
64
PEG and Other Polymers
65
Passivation Polymer Processes
66
Passivation Polymer Treatment for Desiccated Leather
69
An Effective Treatment for Dry Leather
70
Reconstruction
98
Preservation of SeventeenthCentury Glass Using Polymers
100
Preserving Waterlogged Glass and Cork
108
Basic Structural Differences
112
Equipment Setup for Very Fragile Bone and Ivory
113
Consolidating Friable Bone
114
Ivory from TanturaB Excavations in Israel
115
Waterlogged Tusks from Western Australia
116
Expanding the Conservation Tool Kit
119
Computerized Tomography and the Stereolithographic Process
120
New ToolsNew Directions in Research
121
Notes
125
Index
127
Copyright

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About the author (2003)

C. Wayne Smith is an assistant professor in the Nautical Archaeology Program, an Institute of Nautical Archaeology Fellow, and director of the Archaeological Preservation Research Laboratory (APRL) at Texas A&M University, where he had previously received his Ph.D. To date, he and his co-researchers have been awarded three patents for this work with polyethylene glycol and silicone oils.

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