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The Odyssey conservator assesses the condition of a 17th century Spanish olive jar
Conservation begins as soon as an artifact is brought to the surface
The Archaeologist inspects the condition of the bronze bell recovered from the SS Republic wreck site
A spoon recovered from the SS Republic wreck site exhibits metal corrosion
An iron recovered from the wreck of the SS Republic after conservation

Conservation and Documentation

Shipwreck finds represent a diversity of objects made up of a variety of materials both organic and inorganic, including metals, ceramics, glass, leather and more—of cultural, historical, archaeological and educational value. 

Artifacts recovered from the ocean are generally impregnated with corrosive salts that can be very damaging to the object. In particular, a saltwater environment accelerates the corrosion processes of many metal artifacts. The salts must be removed and artifacts treated in a timely and judicious manner or they will deteriorate and lose their value as a diagnostic specimen, a museum display object, or a collector’s treasured piece. Therefore, the conservation process is essential to maintaining the integrity of the artifacts as important relics of our past, and for what they may contribute to the historical record and offer to the general public through exhibits, private collections and publications.

Every item recovered from a shipwreck site must go through a conservation process, which in some cases may require weeks, months or even years depending on the artifact’s material make-up, the salinity of the water from where it was recovered and the length of time it remained in the saltwater environment.

As soon as the artifacts are brought to the surface, first-aid conservation begins on the deck of the recovery vessel in the ship’s conservation lab. Here the artifacts are stabilized to prevent further corrosion and decay and undergo detailed recording, documentation and photography. The artifacts remain in this stable shipboard environment until they can be brought to Odyssey’s fully-equipped land-based conservation facility, where they will receive the attention of Odyssey’s highly-trained conservator and his staff or, in some cases, are sent to a specialized conservation facility. Depending on the artifact’s material and condition, under the direction of the conservator, the conservation team will apply more extensive conservation treatments using specialized chemicals, procedures and tools.

Once conservation is complete, most of the artifacts are stored in our conservation lab in an environmentally-controlled and protective location to prevent future deterioration and decay. Many of the conserved objects are exhibited in Odyssey's traveling exhibit, SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure, and in Odyssey's Virtual Museum, while others are made available for study and display in accredited museums and institutions. Some of the items recovered in multiple quantities are made available to individual private collectors.

Upon recovery and throughout the conservation process, the artifacts are analyzed, researched and documented by our archaeologists and researchers and by other scholars with relevant expertise. On-going artifact condition reports and photography are essential to the conservation program and further support Odyssey's stringent conservation standards. After conservation and study, many of the findings are then published and shared with the general public, as well as with the archaeological, scientific and educational communities. Odyssey has produced books, journal articles, presentations, archaeological and artifact reports and educational curricula. We also provide access to artifacts and relevant materials to other bona fide researchers, scientists, archaeologists, curators and publications—all with the goal to disseminate further knowledge to the broader public while contributing to the current scientific, historical and archeological record.

Odyssey’s artifact preservation and conservation policy emphasizes the following goals:

  • Collecting and preserving marine archaeological material in perpetuity for present and future generations.
  • Preserving the authenticity, original fabric and structure of ancient and historical materials.
  • Preventive conservation to minimize decay and to avoid unnecessary remedial treatments, thus prolonging the life span of artifacts.
  • Conservation and curation in a manner that conforms to established professional practices and is appropriate for each type of artifact. The care of collections includes oversight of daily care, operation and handling, exhibition, conservation and restoration, environmental control, security, condition surveys, documentation, artifact movement, inventory control and storage.
  • Conservation, restoration and maintenance of artifacts by the conservator or by trained and authorized individuals under his/her direction. All conservation examinations and treatments are documented and the records are kept long-term.




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