The Many Uses of X-rays

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MNMS-2002-01-757 BT1
The glass tube which could contain mercury.

Earlier this year we conducted a survey of all the small metal objects waiting to be conserved. We assessed the condition of each, took a photo, and changed solutions. We also slated some objects for x-radiography.

There are three reasons these particular objects were singled out. First is to determine the condition of the object. When artifacts are submerged in seawater they are covered in a cement-like aggregate called concretion. This is a mixture of metal corrosion products, sediment, and sea life, including mollusk and corals. Concretions can be a thin hard shell scattered across a surface or entirely encase a group of objects in an amorphous lump.  By x-raying these concretions we can:

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Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, into the tanks we go. . .

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Out in the tank farm deconcreting copper alloy objects.
Out in the tank farm deconcreting copper alloy objects.

This week the time had come to get back into some of our larger tanks, and so tank farm season began. We were last out in the tank farm in the summer of 2014, how time flies! This summer we will be dry ice blasting all of the wrought iron artifacts that live in tank farm.

We spent this week in Tank 1, which holds copper alloy artifacts. All of the copper alloy objects, mostly pipes, were taken out the tank, examined, weighed (this helps with desalination calculations), given a brief round of flame deconcretion. By the end of week all the artifacts were back in the tank, snug as a bug in a rug, and with a freshly prepared solution.

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Conservator on Deck

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Meet the conservators and collections team!
Meet our conservators and collections team!

This August is a great time to visit the Mariners’ Museum and Park! Not only is admission one dollar, but we also have lots of amazing tours and talks going on throughout the entire museum. Come meet the staff of the Monitor Center and learn more about the history, archaeology, and conservation of the ship. Every weekday from 2-3 pm, one of our staff will be on the observation deck overlooking the wet lab. This is a fantastic chance to ask questions and learn more about what we do in the labs. Check out the museum website for all the information you need to plan your day!

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We need your help!

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Interior of the USS <em>Monitor</em>'s turret showing the gun carriages in situ.
Interior of the USS Monitor’s turret showing the gun carriages in situ.

The Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) is running their Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program again this year. We have nominated the Dahlgren gun carriages. We’ve written quite a bit about the treatment of these composite artifacts in the past (see this post, this post and this postamong others). Being composed of wood, iron, and copper alloy parts renders them one of the most complex objects to conserve in the USS Monitor collection. All of these materials require individual incompatible treatments causing conservators headaches to develop new strategies for their care. Now we need your help to get them onto the top ten Endangered Artifacts list that will promote our conservation efforts. Please go vote at www.vatop10artifacts.org. The public is invited to cast their votes from August 1 to 31. VAM will announce the honorees on September 27th.

We’ll be back with more conservation adventures soon. Now, go vote!

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That’s a wrap!

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Happiness is. . .being done with installing the new anode rig!
Happiness is. . .being done with installing the new anode rig!

Well folks, we have come to the end of our turret season! Two and a half months of hot, humid, intense, occasionally slightly dangerous work culminated in the final tank filling on July 14th.

Throughout the eleven weeks of turret work the whole crew of the USS Monitor Center pulled together to accomplish something great. We removed all 21 of the remaining nutguards and nutguard fragments from the interior of the turret, a feat in and of itself. A few small artifacts were discovered in the concretion behind the nutguards. All together, including the nutguard pieces we accessioned 110 new artifacts. We also installed a brand new anode rig that will make the electrolytic reduction of the turret more efficient and should speed up salt extraction.

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