CONSERVERS FIND CLUES TO PAST AT LOCAL HOSPITAL
MFMHS Conservators find clues to the past at the local
MFMHS Conservator Monica Brook has been making several trips to Lower Keys Medical Center lately. Now, before you start sending in flowers and get well cards, you should know that she isn't sick or injured;
she is just dedicated to her job. Over the years the Radiology Department at Lower Keys Medical Center has graciously provided the Society with an invaluable service, x-raying our concreted artifacts. The only thing that these X-ray techs get in return for all their hard work
is a well deserved break from X-raying tourists who may have misread the handling
characteristics of a rental moped.
X-ray of Sword Hilt
X-raying artifacts is often one of the first steps in the conservation
process. When shipwreck artifacts come into our conservation lab they usually come bearing the growth
indicative of a life spent hundreds of years in seawater. Metal objects deteriorating on the ocean floor create a very attractive home for living
organisms like soft and hard corals, which adhere to the
artifact, getting a foothold to begin their life. Over time these living organisms die off leaving evidence of their life in the form of calcium carbonate, which mixes with sand, shells and
other marine life. As the life
cycle continues, this growing encrustation plays host to
more and more living organisms, which are increasingly attracted to the constantly
X-ray of Spike
Although the coral concretion that encases these artifacts may be difficult to remove, and may conceal the intricate details of the objects, it also helps to
insulate the artifact from the destructive forces that are
present on the ocean floor. Concretion also aids the conservator in that it creates
an exact mold of the artifact much like a plaster cast. In the event that the metal inside the concretion has completely oxidized
and turned to gel, the conservator can fill the hollowed-out
concretion with a casting compound and get an exact replica of the artifact.
X-ray of Crossbow
This coral concretion not only obscures the true identity of the
artifact, but also the condition, and this is where the x-ray comes into play. Before
conservators start chipping away at the concretion with air scribes and dental picks they want to know what they have sitting in the irregularly shaped mass in front of them and in its state of preservation. Having an
x-ray available for review before and during the concretion removal process allows our
conservation staff to take greater care in exposing these
delicate objects. Without an x-ray to guide the conservator, pieces of the artifact could be irreparably
damaged in this step of the conservation process.
Another benefit to having an x-ray of an artifact is that it allows our artists to make detailed
technical drawings of complex objects - for example the
interior of a lock or the firing mechanism of a firearm. These
drawings afford us a better understanding of the technology of past seafaring
cultures that could have otherwise been lost forever.
X-rays have proved to be so useful to our conservation staff that we are now looking to set up our own x-ray machine in our lab. Having our own
machine would allow us to x-ray everything prior to conservation, where currently (since we don't want to abuse the generosity
of the hospital) x-rays are reserved for only those artifacts that really have us stumped, or look incredibly intricate.
How, might you ask, do we identify concreted artifacts that we cannot x-ray? We stare at them, consult with each other, debate, and finally guess. More often than not we're right;
sometimes we're--- less than right.
We have just started the search for an x-ray machine that may be in need of a good home. Certainly
we are not looking for a million dollar, state-of-the-art machine like the one at the hospital, but we're hoping to
find one small enough to fit in our lab and safe enough to keep us from glowing in the dark.
Lynda Vigneault and Conservator, Monica Brook
X-rays provide the Society with a better look at the objects in our
collection, and a better understanding of the people who used them. We'd like to thank everybody at the Lower Keys Medical Center Radiology Department for all their hard work in helping us to meet our mission of research and education. We'd especially like to thank radiology tech
Lynda Vigneault for always greeting our staff with a smile and sending us off with a hand-full of x-rays.
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