A Somewhat Pleasant Surprise

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Firearms played an important role in maritime history. By way of illustration, matchlock weapons were used by European invaders to terrorize New World populations. The matchlock featured a slowmatch (gunpowder infused rope) clamped in a lever construction (the lock) which was brought into contact with gunpowder by pulling a trigger. The technology behind the firearm and gunpowder were beyond the means of indigenous peoples throughout the Age of Discovery and helped the Europeans establish near domination on the colonial battlefields.

The Mariners’ Museum and Park did not hold an example of an Age of Discovery matchlock in the Museum Collection until 2008. In 2007, I received permission to seek out a suitable firearm to add to the Museum’s holdings.   Read more

Coal is cool: archaeological implications of Monitor’s cannon boring project

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The archaeological conservators boring one of the two Dahlgren guns. 

The Conservation team recently bored USS Monitor’s 2 XI-inch Dahlgren cannons. This was a huge step in the objects’ treatment. It came from a need, but also required the right expertise, a TON of planning, donor funding, and specially crafted parts to make it happen. This task was completed for absolutely no archaeological reason. It needed to happen to conserve the artifacts and, therefore, it happened, but that doesn’t mean that archaeological interpretation didn’t benefit from the project.

So, here is my tale of why coal is cool…

To accomplish “archaeological investigation” of the concretions which came out of the guns’ bores, we set up a screening station at which the screeners – me, and the poor fools I tricked into helping me (our CEO Howard, our intern Christy, and our volunteer Heidi) – broke up the concretion into smaller bits of concretion until it fit through the screen and we could say with fair certainty that there were no artifacts left inside. This is a standard archaeological practice called sifting. What is maybe unique about our situation, is that since everything belongs to NOAA, we don’t get rid of the dirt and rock after its sifted, we bury it and save it in case there are techniques that it will be useful for in the future. No, I won’t tell you where we bury it. Actually, even I don’t know where, so I couldn’t tell you if I wanted to.   Read more

Oh, the places we go – a deep dive into an air compressor!

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One of our diving air compressors, this one is from 1942 according to the date stamped on the front.

On my team, Collections Management, we tend to move objects around fairly regularly and always with great care. Most of the collection is fairly small and manageable, or maybe requires an extra set of hands like with our ship models. Some of the heavier objects we keep on dollies or pallets so we can move them more easily. But, we have a sizable portion of the collection that requires heavy machinery like a forklift, which in turn requires teamwork from staff members who are qualified to use it. I can move heavy objects but there is a limit when it comes to anchors, boats, and cannons!

The week before the museum temporarily closed due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), we needed to move several large objects so we could rearrange some of our shelving. I was amazed at how many staff members offered to help! We had people from conservation, exhibit design, buildings and grounds, facilities, and three of our volunteers who all came together. Through their amazing team spirit, we moved everything safely and now have better access to some of the objects to get a better view of them and catalog them more thoroughly. The objects we moved included two diving air compressors, ship’s bells, engineering gauges, a range finder, and a large ship’s wheel.   Read more