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Summer 2010 Internship: Turkey

October 1st, 2010

Summer 2010 Internship: Institute of Nautical Archaeology’s Bodrum Research Center, Turkey

Nicole Wittig


In southwestern Turkey located on the Aegean Sea, is Bodrum.  The city literally vibrates to techno beats form local clubs and restaurants, while wooden yachts called gullets anchor in the harbor waiting to take European tourists on an island hopping adventure.  Amidst all of this summertime European tourism culture stands the castle of St. Peter, a 15th century relic.  Within the castle walls is the museum of underwater archaeology, displaying artifacts from some of the most memorable underwater archaeological sites.  Glassware from Serce Liman and amphoras  from Cape Gelidonya are not only artifacts from Byzantine culture but also from the birth of the underwater archaeology discipline.

But my work takes place half a mile outside of the city center on a sparse hillside.  This is where the Institute of Nautical Archaeology’s (INA) research facility sits perched above the peninsula.  I am here to complete a conservation internship in fulfillment of department requirements for the conservation track.  The program’s track in conservation of waterlogged artifacts requires two courses, introduction to and advanced conservation, an internship in an exterior lab, as well as dedicating 40% of your thesis to the topic of conservation.  I spent four weeks in INA’s conservation lab gaining practical conservation skills.

The INA’s lab is a repository for artifacts and finds from field excavations in Turkey.  Strewn throughout the lab are ceramic sherds from several underwater Turkish sites.  Currently the remains of amphoras, or storage vessels, from Pabuç Burun are being reconstructed in the lab.  The process is painstaking to say the least as thousands of sherds are refitted into their original form.   However, my task is not to piece back together amphoras but to recreate an artifact from dust.  I am working with concretions from the Boz Burun wreck excavated in the late 1990s.  These concretions are calcium deposits which form around solid objects.   The iron deteriorates until only a black residue remains trapped in the concretion.  By X-raying the formless concretions, you can detect whether or not an object existed.  An artifact, or the ghost of the artifact will appear as a void or space on the x-ray.  Sometimes this space is so well defined you can actually guess at what the artifact once was.

Once all proper documentation is done then the concretion is ready to be cast.  The cavity left behind by the deteriorated iron is cleaned, paying close attention not to damage the original surface.  Then an epoxy is added very slowly.  If added to quickly, air bubbles form weakening the cast.  After casting, the concretion must dry for at least 24 hours.  After drying, an airscribe removes the concretion to reveal the cast of the artifact within.  Airscribing is by far the dirtiest part of the process and must be done with the utmost care not to damage the epoxy cast below the concretion.  The final step is to clean the cast of airscribe dust and conduct the proper post-documentation, including photos and notes.  Casting is a fantastic exercise to save artifacts otherwise lost.  During my internship I cast ship’s fasteners that may seem mundane but could potentially add a wealth of data to ideas about Byzantine ship construction.

 Adding Epoxy

Figure 1: Adding epoxy to the cleaned concretions.

 Epoxy Setting

Figure 2: Epoxy setting within the prepared concretion.

Removing Concretion

Figure 3: Mechanically cleaning concretions from ceramics.

General Conservation

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