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The Conservation of Iron Objects and the Iron Lab

April 22nd, 2011

The Conservation of Iron Objects and the Iron Lab

Nicole Silverblatt

The overall process of treating an iron artifact begins with documentation and continues through wet storage (if found in a maritime environment), mechanical cleaning, chemical cleaning, desalination (if found in a salt-water environment), drying, coating, and finally dry storage. The method by which an iron object is conserved is determined by the overall composition of the artifact (whether or not it has been combined with other organic or non-organic materials) and the burial environment (terrestrial, salt water, or fresh water) in which it was been found.  The specific tools and chemicals used for mechanical and chemical cleaning, desalination, and coating vary by object, available funding, and the accessibility of materials.

Between March 24 and April 3, 2011, the Introduction to Conservation class had the opportunity to assist in the conservation of iron artifacts recovered from the Foscue Plantation in Pollocksville, North Carolina. The artifacts for presented for conservation included a variety of iron nails and door hinges retrieved from the plantation burial vault. Each student in the class was responsible for the conservation of between 8 and 10 small nails or a combination of nails and door hinges.

Before

Nails Before Treatment

The students began by recording the condition of each artifact (color, size, composition, and types and placement of deterioration) and then sketched and photographed each artifact. The students then mechanically cleaned the artifacts with pointed bamboo sticks, dental tools, scalpels, toothbrushes, and a pneumatic air scribe to remove the surface corrosion products. Once the artifacts had been mechanically cleaned, they were then chemically cleaned with a non-water solution to remove any remaining loose sediment and prepare the surface of the artifact for coating. The final stage of the treatment was the application of a corrosion inhibitor followed by a coating of renaissance wax to further protect the artifact from future deterioration.

After

Nails After Treatment

(The aforementioned treatment of the Foscue Plantation artifacts represents only one of many treatment options available that may be used in the conservation of iron artifacts.)

General Conservation

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