This on-line conservation manual has attempted to present the current state of conservation of archaeological material from marine environments. Various procedures, chemicals, and types of equipment have been discussed, but many more were not. There are many minor variations, optional steps, and 'tricks' that are learned and used by different conservators. Time and space has not allowed for a thorough discussion of each known technique and the variations within the different techniques; it is necessary, therefore, for the conservator to consult the original published sources for each topic. Individuals interested in archaeological conservation should consult the referenced sources and a trained conservator before attempting the procedures described herein.

The preservation of antiquities should produce objects that are chemically stable with an aesthetically acceptable appearance. All treatments should be reversible in the event that the object should require additional preservation. Simply because an object has been successfully conserved does not mean it will not deteriorate in the future. Artifact stability can be ensured only if the object is stored or displayed under optimum conditions. Metal artifacts, as well as those made of organic or siliceous material, can become chemically unstable from a myriad of causes and, therefore, require periodic inspection and evaluation, as well as possible re-treatment. At our present stage of knowledge, perhaps it is most realistic to say that the objective of archaeological conservation is to delay re-treatment as long as possible through proper storage and to make any necessary re-treatment simple and brief. It is obvious that the conservation laboratory can play a major role in archaeology if the project objective is to produce the maximum amount of archaeological data from the excavation of waterlogged and underwater sites.

During the course of this discussion a clear idea of the facilities required, the treatments available, chemicals used, and various insights on conservation have been presented. This should be helpful in evaluating any conservation proposal or for assistance in establishing conservation facilities designed to conserve the vast array of material found on marine sites. Estimating the costs involved is more complicated. With a knowledge of what equipment and materials are needed, however, it is simply a matter of determining the variety of treatments to be performed and the level or volume of artifact treatment expected of the laboratory.

All of the treatments discussed in this manual are used to conserve material from marine sites. With most treatments, it is not a question of which treatment is preferred or which treatment is better than another. The fact is that each treatment discussed would be the preferred means of treatment for a particular artifact. For this reason, a conservation laboratory must have a conservator who is familiar with the various treatments, who knows in which situations particular treatments are the most appropriate, and who has the facilities, equipment, and chemicals to carry out the treatments.


Copyright 2000 by Donny L. Hamilton, Conservation Research Laboratory, Texas A&M University.

The contents of this site - text, images, and data - are intended for personal information only. Downloading of information or graphic images contained herein for private use is not discouraged; however, written permission from the Nautical Archaeology Program is required for the publication of any material. Any use of this material should credit the Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University. For additional details, contact Donny L. Hamilton (