Visit our Conservation Lab for a behind-the-scenes tour. Offered twice a day, Monday through Friday. Purchase in combination with an admission ticket and save!
The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society operates a two thousand square
foot conservation laboratory that specializes in conserving underwater archaeological
artifacts. This means all the artifacts that are either recovered from our
archaeological expeditions or are donated are conserved on premises.
Currently our collection contains approximately 100,000 artifacts and consists of
a variety of inorganic and organic materials such as gold and silver bars
and coins; precious jewels; various metals; glassware and ceramics; ivory
as well as some organic artifacts such as wood, seeds, insect fragments,
bones, and leather. The objects range from cannons, cross bows and other
weaponry, to tools, ship's rigging, hardware, navigational instruments,
personal items, galley utensils, shackles, trade goods and coin chests.
When you enter the
conservation lab you will notice numerous large
tanks that contain hundreds of coral encrusted artifacts
immersed in fresh water. Artifacts recovered from wet environments must be kept
wet until they are stabilized because exposure to oxygen will alter their
physical and chemical state.
Each material type requires a specific treatment to become stable, and treatment
may vary between a few hours to several years depending on the material
type. Our conservation staff, volunteers, and interns conserve between 150
and 200 artifacts each year. After our artifacts have been successfully
conserved they go on display in our galleries and traveling exhibits, or
they are placed in our storage facilities and are available for scholarly
What is conservation?
Conservation is the process of stabilizing and protecting cultural property
from further deterioration. This involves the use of specialized treatments
and includes analysis, documentation, and long-term care. Conservators conduct
specialized treatments to physically and chemically stabilize the artifacts
to stop and prevent further deterioration. These treatments may be as simple
as desalination (removing soluble salts) in water baths, or more complex
involving chloride removal by electrolytic reduction. Treatments may take
as little as a few hours or as long as several years. To retain the object’s
integrity and diagnostic features, conservators take great care to protect
and maintain the object’s original structure and appearance. It is not the
goal of the conservator to restore the object to its original condition,
but rather to preserve the object in its present condition and to stop further
Conservation also involves maintaining the artifact’s condition after
treatment has been completed. Conservators monitor and adjust
environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and light in the galleries and storage facilities
to maintain an optimal environment to help sustain the artifacts condition
and increase its longevity.