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Conserving Waterlogged Rope: A Review of Traditional Methods and Experimental Research with Polyethylene Glycol

Jennifer R. McCaskill
Dissertation: May 2009
Chair: Smith
Nautical Archaeology Program

The excavation of Sieur de la Salle's ship, La Belle, yielded a large amount of waterlogged rope requiring conservation. A history of hemp and rope manufacture is reviewed to assist in the identification of the materials and rope-work recovered from the La Belle, as well as to assist in selecting an appropriate conservation treatment. A summary of several methods used to conserve cordage is presented. Time has shown that not all of these treatment methods have remained viable options, and that continued study and experimentation are needed so that the conservator has the tools to develop an appropriate conservation plan for each artifact. The majority of La Belle's cordage was conserved using the passivation polymers method developed by Dr. C. Wayne Smith and Dr. Donny L. Hamilton, both of Texas A&M University, in conjunction with Dow Corning Corporation, Midland, Michigan. An experiment applying knowledge gleaned from the passivation polymers process to polyethylene glycol (PEG) impregnation was conducted in an attempt to stabilize the PEG within the rope. The results were good; the rope retained some flexibility and appears stable with a slightly darker color than with silicone oil.

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