Connecting materials science and engineering with archaeological conservation

Paul Mardikian, Dr. Stephanie Crette, Dr. Michael Drews, Nestor Gonzalez, Johanna Rivero, and Claire Tindal


Innovative thought and scientific exploration are two of the most important tenets embodied by artifact conservation. At the same time, our profession requires extreme caution when implementing new products, techniques, and protocols on non-renewable cultural materials. It is now well accepted that a subtle blending of materials science and conservation may facilitate and establish a negotiation between these two potentially conflicting philosophies. Particularly in the field of archaeological conservation, one has very little hope to make significant progress without the support of a materials science component. It was this reality, as well as the vast conservation challenges presented by the H.L. Hunley Project, that prompted the formation of Clemson Conservation Center in South Carolina. The stabilization of compromised metals and waterlogged organic materials, especially those subjected to wet marine environments for long periods of time, are two common difficulties faced by professionals in the discipline. Several techniques adapted from other applications – one for metals and the other for organics – have been evaluated and successfully applied to the stabilization of archaeological artifacts. These techniques, employing tunable and environmentally responsible solvents, have not only produced stable artifacts thus far, but have also trimmed treatment times down to only a fraction of their previous values. This session will discuss both the subcritical treatment of iron and supercritical treatment of waterlogged cork, as well as the invaluable collaborative process that has greatly contributed to their development.