The application of subcritical fluids for the stabilization of marine archaeological iron

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Drews, M. J.; González-Pereyra, N. G.; Mardikian, P.; de Viviés, P.;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 58, Number 4, p.314-325 (2013)


The long-term stabilization of marine archaeological iron, whether cast or wrought, continues to challenge conservators responsible for treatment of this material. Results and observations obtained from past treatments highlight the daunting, prolonged, and laborious efforts required to desalinate large and complex ferrous artifacts recovered from the ocean. In general, the higher an artifact's chloride level, the less stable it is. Consequently, any stabilization treatment must involve the removal of as much Cl−1 as possible without affecting the integrity of the corroded artifact. This problem is particularly acute with corroding cast iron objects that have formed thick, fragile, and highly unstable corrosion layers. Over the course of the twentieth century, conservators have used a variety of techniques in an attempt to mitigate the negative effects of chloride ions on iron artifacts and prevent disintegration. In spite of early promise, each of these stabilization techniques has significant disadvantages, particularly with regard to treatment efficiency, duration of treatment, and/or unacceptable risks to the artifact during treatment. For these reasons, conservators and conservation scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, South Carolina, decided to look at the possibility of using subcritical fluids to stabilize archaeological iron. This paper compares the efficiency and effectiveness of traditional stabilization techniques (i.e. alkaline soaking and cathodic polarization) to subcritical fluids on wrought iron rivets and metal shavings from the H.L. Hunley submarine as well as Civil War era cast iron artillery shells recovered from a marine environment.