Among other endeavors, a mystery object was found within our collection. It is a lengthy, semi-oblong shaped concretion, excavated in 2001 in proximity to the engine room of the Monitor. It has been stored dried for a while, and a recent look at it showed that at least four straps of leather were intertwined within the hard mixture of corrosion products and calcite. In addition to the leather, a couple copper alloy ornate buttons were also identified. A few X-rays were performed in-house last week to attempt a better identification of the object. Unfortunately the thickness of the concretion did not allow for a very clear image. See for yourself:
This past weekend, a few of us from the Monitor Lab got to go on a grand adventure to learn about one of our favorite topics, archaeology! (Conservation of course will always be number one in my heart, but archaeology runs a close second) The Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference(MAAC) was hosted this year in Virginia Beach, and not only were we able to attend, but we were accepted to present in the conference as well.
MAAC kindly allowed staff from the Monitor Lab and some of our colleagues from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, to form a session specifically on Archaeological Conservation. The lectures ranged from the conservation of archaeological objects, to explaining some of the science behind conservation. Kate talked about some of the many makers marks discoveries made through conservation. And below is an images of Hannah, discussing how technology can be used to bring both conservation and archaeology to the public!
This post is taking a break from the ever-excellent conservation efforts to talk about another important facet of the Monitor Center’s job. Don’t get me wrong; we love the artifacts. Not only are they super cool, but they also connect us to the people who served on board the ship. When we recover a spoon, or a button, or even engine components; we are the first people handling and caring for these artifacts since 1862. We are stewards of the crewmember’s stories.
In honor of African American History Month, I want share the stories of the African Americans who served onboard Monitor.
This week I thought it might be fun to look at one of our more unusual types of artifacts that I’ve been treating. We have tons (literally) of iron and copper artifacts in the lab, but for every two pipe flanges bolted together, there is also one gasket keeping things tight. The humble gasket can be found throughout the Monitor’s engine room, sandwiched between the copper piping and iron machinery parts. Its job was to keep the fittings air tight and prevent leaks. Most gaskets are made from layers of rubber and textile pressed together, but we do have gaskets made entirely of rubber and a few that are actually leather.
In addition to the gaskets, rubberized fabric, buttons, and combs have also been recovered. Despite the evidence of wide use aboard the Monitor, modern rubber was a relatively new material in 1862. Natural rubber was used before the 1800’s, but due to its unstable nature, it wasn’t suitable for many applications. Thanks to a number of people experimenting with additives and curing processes, more stable forms of rubber became commercially available. For instance, Charles Goodyear (who’s patent is stamped on the Monitor buttons) is credited with patenting vulcanized rubber which is much harder and durable than natural rubber.
Last weekend I finally went to see the new Star Wars movie, I know it’s been out since December I don’t always go to see movies when they’re brand new… Anyways, it was a good movie and I enjoyed it. But when I came back to work on Tuesday and started cleaning one of the gate valves from one of the Worthington pumps all I can think is how, if you turn it a certain way, it looks like a TIE fighter! It’s a very nice copper alloy valve and it’s going to look great when it’s finished. I’m not the only one making this parallel, you can see for yourself: