An active aid-to-navigation was first established on Anastasia Island in the 16th century. Travel was by sea, and St. Augustine’s port was notoriously treacherous for hundreds of years. Today, the Museum conservation laboratory supports underwater research in nearby waters. Museum scientists in the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) work in association with college students, volunteers and community partners to study our underwater past.
Back in the laboratory, specialized, highly trained conservators save objects from a dynamic and harsh, underwater world. Artifacts lost on shipwreck sites typically undergo chemical changes while under the sea. The salts absorbed may cause other chemical reactions, such as corrosion. Conservation involves many stages and artifacts may require years of specialized care. Many artifacts are recovered from a State of Florida designated maritime reserve located just off our coast. These objects belong to the people of Florida, and they represent a worldwide maritime heritage. Artifacts in our laboratory help archaeologists understand who was aboard a ship; from which nation, colony or city the vessel traveled; and why the passengers journeyed to or lived near the ancient city.
At the Museum, we believe information is the real treasure. We share the stories of our discoveries in Nation’s Oldest Port Educational Programs at daily demonstrations, Smithsonian lectures and monthly members’ events. Please join us. You can make a difference and help save our maritime past.
World War I Time Capsule Project
The conservation lab extended its expertise when Memorial Park Association in Jacksonville, FL located and recovered a buried time capsule dedicated to Floridians who fell in World War I. The time capsule had been buried since 1924 in Jacksonville’s waterfront park. Based on historical records, the time capsule contained a scroll with over 1,200 individual names listed. Recent research conducted by Dr. R.B. Rosenbergy of Clayton State University indicated that more than 1,600 men and women of Florida gave their lives in World War I. The purpose of uncovering the time capsule was to recover the scroll and compare the list of names to this research and ultimately find a way to properly honor all Floridian’s who have fallen.
During the planning stages of this project, it was feared that there could be severe water damage if the box was compromised during flooding of the park. Memorial Park Association reached out to our conservation lab to aid in the preservation process. Additionally, retired paper conservator Ann Seibert volunteered to help the association conserve the scroll. While the paper from the time capsule has been stabilized and is no longer at the lab, treatment on the two boxes that housed the scroll continues. The exterior copper box is currently being cleaned of concrete, and the inner lead box is being cleaned of corrosion. The two boxes protected the scroll until Hurricane Irma flooded Memorial Park and compromised the integrity of the boxes.
Storm Wreck Conservation
This site represents a Revolutionary War period shipwreck excavated by Museum archaeologists from 2009 – 2014. Excavations on the wreck recovered hundreds of artifacts. The process to preserve these artifacts can take years after excavation to complete, with each artifact going through several conservation stages in order to be preserved. As part of the early stages, we utilize x-ray analysis to gain a clearer picture of an artifact that typically has severe corrosion formed into what is called a concretion. Other stages of conservation involve precise physical cleaning as well as chemical treatment in order to remove all salt ions that will cause the artifact to deteriorate when exposed to air. To date, the lab has preserved numerous artifacts from large cannons to small buttons. These artifacts represent not only what people were bringing with them to St. Augustine, but also relate to the ship itself. Some of the fascinating artifacts that are currently a focus in the lab include a British sea service pistol, a door lock, a cobbler’s hammer and even a lice comb.