Due to uncertainty around changing COVID regulations and the potential impact of sickness within our teams; NMRN may be required to adjust opening hours or close sites at short notice. Whilst all efforts will be made to avoid this and to contact ticket holders ahead of visits we do ask you to check our Facebook and Twitter accounts for details of closures. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your understanding. 

Pre-booking is advised, and visitors must wear masks for their safety and the safety of others, unless exempt.

HMS Caroline remains temporarily closed. Find The Latest COVID-19 Updates Here.
 

 

Excavating Wrecks - Part 3

Excavating wrecks - Should we, shouldn’t we?

Part 3 – A tank of water big enough to hold a wreck

What does conservation mean?

Archaeological excavation leads to historic objects going through a process of conservation.

What does conservation actually mean? The popular perception might be, the conservation of a natural landscape, or the restoration of a family heirloom like those we see on the BBC’s ‘Repair Shop’.

Archaeologists and Museums understand conservation to be an umbrella term meaning a range of things from stabilising an object so that it does not decay any more, to restoration or rebuilding an object to understand it better and to display it for the public.

Lifting objects from the seabed to the surface exposes those objects to oxygen. Rotting will start again in organic materials as the bacteria, still present on the objects, begin to function.

The objects also start to dry out and crack as salt crystals start to form, this is also true for many metals raised from the sea bed. This is why it is so important to make sure that everything you raise from a wreck is properly treated and stabilised.

The conservation process for objects that were once on the seabed usually starts with soaking them in fresh water or other chemicals to extract the sea salt.

What happens if your object is big? Does the conservation lab have a tank big enough to soak a whole ship or aircraft?

Conservation also takes time, it is expected to take four years to conserve HMS Invincible’s wooden cutwater (that’s the bit of the ship right at the front that cuts the water-). Conservation is therefore a costly business.

Making sure you have the equipment and the funds to conserve whatever you raise from the seabed is really important before you begin any of the archaeology. In the blog image you can see a tank big enough to conserve a ship’s cutwater!

Fairey Barracuda

The Fairey Barracuda project cannot really be termed the restoration of a single original aircraft as such. The curator leading this project likes to describe it as a re-build or reconstruction.

The team doing this work are using the remains of six different Barracudas to feed into the rebuild of this one aircraft.

It sounds drastic, and the result will not be a complete original from one single provenance. However, the combination of both components and information the team will get from going through this process is invaluable and could not have achieved from just one aircraft.

Already they have been able to understand the wartime aircraft factory production process for Barracudas, right down to discovering and preserving pencil drawings and doodles made by individuals building different parts on the factory production line.

The finished result will be a complete and accurate example of a Barracuda as is possible to achieve, using as many original components as possible, and retaining as much of the originality of the components as possible.

This is the essence of good archaeology and good restoration, conservation and preservation practices.

Ethics

Considering that conservation can be a very complex, expensive, and time-consuming process and that objects lifted from the sea bed urgently need stabilising; should archaeologists always think twice before raising an object from a wreck site?

The ethics behind wrecks is complicated and subjective and makes for a thought provoking topic. It's one we're constantly debating and carefully considering to ensure the fine balance between not losing important history and not unneccesarily disturbing wrecks.

Now you have some insight to some of the initial questions we ask ourselves when it comes to excavating wrecks. It's not always as easy as it first appears!

Read Part 1 – Two wrecks, both alike in dignity.

Read Part 2 – To excavate, or not to excavate?

 

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