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

What have you been up to back there?

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One of our more bent stanchions after dry ice cleaning

We have a fantastic corps of volunteers here at the museum. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know some of them, particularly the Navigators, who greet visitors, offer tours, and make sure guests find their way to all of the exhibits. Whenever I see them, they never fail to ask how the conservation of the Monitor is going, or if we’ve discovered anything new, or sometimes more generally: what have you been up to back there lately?

So here’s what we’ve been up to lately. . .   Read more

A short time ago, in a laboratory quite nearby . . .

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Last weekend I finally went to see the new Star Wars movie, I know it’s been out since December I don’t always go to see movies when they’re brand new… Anyways, it was a good movie and I enjoyed it. But when I came back to work on Tuesday and started cleaning one of the gate valves from one of the Worthington pumps all I can think is how, if you turn it a certain way, it looks like a TIE fighter! It’s a very nice copper alloy valve and it’s going to look great when it’s finished. I’m not the only one making this parallel, you can see for yourself:

    Read more

Discovery in the lab!

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I believe it has been said before on this blog and I have no doubt that it will be said again. Conservation is not a career for those who desire instant gratification in the work place. Treatment times tend to be long, especially for marine archaeological material where desalination is perhaps the most important process. That being said, every now and then there are days where discovery and success happen in an instant. Last week I was lucky enough to have one of those days.

I’m currently working on a copper alloy bicock valve that was removed from the front of the condenser.   Read more

News from the Tank Farm

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Turret stanchions waiting for their turned to be cleaned.

Work has been progressing nicely out in the Tank Farm. After a week in Tank 1 with the copper alloy artifacts, we refilled the tank with fresh solution, covered it back up with a tarp and moved into Tank 6. Tank 6 and 5 (which we were into this week) hold wrought iron artifacts. They all received a through cleaned via dry ice blasting, which is rapidly becoming one of my new favorite things.

One of the most exciting things about dry ice blasting these artifacts is that removing concretion often reveals previously hidden features. This has been the case for two artifacts in the last two weeks. The first was one of the stanchions off of the turret.   Read more