Tag Archives: Conservation

Updates from the Lab

While our beautiful new Maritime Archaeology and Education Center (MAEC) was being built, conservation was disassembled and all artifacts were put into a state of monitored wet storage. Taking those items out of storage and getting conservation back on track has been a slow and detailed process. This process requires an inventory and condition analysis of all items, as well as setting up each area of conservation in order for treatments to begin.

Though we are not quite running at 100% yet, we have made great leaps and bounds. Part of our inventory includes new items recovered from our current shipwreck, Anniversary.  Since everything was essentially put straight into a holding pattern, we are just now starting to analyze the items we recovered last summer. In fact, dredge spoil from the site is still being sorted and new items are being discovered daily.

One of our biggest challenges is to discern what items, if any, are contained within the concretions we recover. Conservation is expensive, so we must focus on items that can answer certain research questions, like the time period or the nationality of the vessel. One way for us to do this is through X-ray analysis. While x-rays won’t show 100% of what is contained within a concretion, they do show us a lot visually and help us narrow our conservation focus.

X-rays allow us to look into concretions without damaging the items inside. This particular X-ray shows a padlock.

Due to the generosity of Doctors Eric Searcy, DMV and John Yselonia, DMV at Antigua Veterinary Practice, we can now begin to take our own x-rays! They donated their previous machine for us to use in our MAEC building, and we have just begun to analyze last summer’s concretions.

Over 25 brass tacks were found using our new X-ray machine!

Our very first in-house X-ray proved to be exiting for more reasons than just being our first X-ray.  Inside the concretion are more than 25 brass furniture tacks, something we have not encountered on our previous wreck sites, and an iron padlock. We are uncertain if either of these items will help us better date or identify this wreck, but it is always exciting to reveal what history has left us.

Contributed by Director of Archeological Conservation Starr Cox, edited by Social Media Specialist Daniel Lee

Unique research, conservation and visitor lab space opens at St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

Museum opens new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center as part of the progress of the Maritime Heritage Park

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – On Thursday, September 28th the Museum celebrated a project twenty years in the making with the opening of a new building that houses an education and exhibit space as well as conservation labs, research library, an x-ray room and offices. Over one hundred people including elected officials, the Museum’s Board of Trustees, Museum members and longtime supporters attended the celebration.

“I began working on the restoration of the Keepers’ House through my involvement in the Junior Service League in the early ‘80s so it is truly a dream come true to see the archaeology and education center open,” said Judy Burnett Albright, a longtime volunteer, board member and now Trustee Emeritus. “Here, we are saving history, teaching children and providing new opportunities to locals and visitors to learn about our shared connection to the ocean all while we keep the light shining. I couldn’t be prouder to be a small part of this exciting project that is making a difference in our community!”

The new facility is unique to northeast Florida and has many notable features. Keeping the visitor in mind in the design process, the set-up of the lab spaces provide a walk-thru viewing room with a TV to help zoom in on an important detailed process that may be occurring. There is also a section of a ship’s portholes below the viewing window for a children’s view into the labs. The entire process of conservation from start to finish is on show here and staff anticipates people growing attached to a particular object undergoing conservation efforts and making repeat return trips to check on the status of an important object.

The new exhibition, Legends of the Light, is installed partially in the new building’s education space and partially in the Lighthouse tower. As one climbs the 219 steps to the top, information-packed but still fun and playful interpretive panels dot the landings as the visitor ascends. For those who cannot or choose not to climb the tower, there are plenty of hands-on activities and visuals for children and adults alike in the new building’s exhibit portion, including a Lighthouse tower playhouse and a fourth-order Fresnel lens.
“We’ve had such an outpouring of support from the community on this project,” said Kathy Fleming, Executive Director. “This new building with its lab spaces and new exhibition space is a very tangible addition to our Museum. I think that helped make it a more exciting project to get behind. We’re so thankful to those who’ve helped us along the way as we celebrate this accomplishment together because in the end, every person, every dollar and every hour donated helped us get to this point.”

Although all Museum members were invited to the event due to each member having some involvement in the fundraising process, there were some extremely generous donors recognized both at the event and with naming plaques within the new building including The Lastinger Family Foundation, Charles G. Cox, Gerald and Janet Carlisle, Judy Burnett Albright, Joe and Margaret Finnegan, Junior Service League of St. Augustine, Dr. Ron Dixon and PGA Tour, Inc.


A pivotal navigation tool and unique landmark of St. Augustine for over 140 years, the St. Augustine Light Station is host to centuries of history in the Nation’s Oldest PortSM. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) non-profit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest PortSM as symbolized by our working lighthouse. We are the parent organization to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

2016 Field School Conservation Work

Summer is winding down and the 2016 Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) field school has successfully concluded. This year we had 12 students from across the country come to the Lighthouse. They came to learn about underwater archaeology, enhance their diving skills and help excavate our new Anniversary Wreck site. They also were able to learn about the important work that goes on post-field school, such as public outreach and conservation.

With such a large class of students, it was difficult to have them all out on the water and diving every day. To help ease congestion on the boats, the students were divided into three groups. Each group would then rotate through different responsibilities involved with the boat, diving or back on land at the Lighthouse.

Diving ops boat Empire Defender. Photo by Michael Resko.
Diving ops boat Empire Defender. Photo by Michael Resko.

While the field school students were here at the Lighthouse, they shadowed the supervisors and volunteers to learn the behind-the-scenes tour. This way the students were also able to learn about the history of the Lighthouse grounds and the boatworks while engaging the public. Continue reading

Continuing Conservation: The Beat Goes On!

In the previous blogs, I have discussed the varied and lengthy conservation techniques of Storm Wreck pieces.

Typically, these methods start from the moment a site is discovered and an artifact is disturbed. Once the immediate environment and surroundings have changed, an artifact will start going through new corrosion changes. Students and/or LAMP divers have to treat objects very carefully underwater while they are dredging and carrying them up to the surface.

Once on the boat they are documented to show the condition immediately after excavation and numbered. Back on shore, they are then taken to be x-rayed and identified. Next is the long process of removing the concretion and the chlorides from the artifact. This is the phase most people think of when broaching the subject of conservation. It is also what visitors can expect to see when touring the Lighthouse grounds and coming over to the conservation area. The final active conservation step is to rinse and coat the artifact with a sealant so that it is stable and may be exposed to the environment.

However, the conservation process is not done. The artifacts on display in the new Wrecked! exhibit all went through one form or another of the aforementioned steps, but still have more work to be done on them. Even though they have been treated and are in the museum, they require monitoring and care from the conservation and collections staff.

Once an artifact is sealed and ready to go, they need to have final documentation such as measurements, photos and treatment methods written down. These notes, as well as any other relevant information, are added to our database and the State of Florida’s using a program called PastPerfect. Once they are catalogued with the state, the conservation staff hands the artifacts to the Lighthouse Collections department. Collections will then coordinate on what objects stay with the Lighthouse Museum and what are sent to Tallahassee to be added to the state’s assemblage.


Artifact card
Artifact card

For the artifacts that remain, collections and conservation staff carefully installed them in the Wrecked! exhibit. From here, they need regular check-ups to make sure the conservation worked properly and that no new threats to the objects’ stability have popped up. Continue reading

Wrecked! Uncover the Secrets Behind Artifact Conservation

From now until our Wrecked! Exhibition Grand Opening on May 5th, we will be sharing weekly videos with insights on the new exhibit every Tuesday on Periscope, followed by a re-cap blog post and video every Wednesday. Follow along as we unveil this exciting new exhibit at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum!

How do you restore an artifact that’s been on the ocean floor for over 200 years?

From the moment we began excavating the 1782 British loyalist shipwreck off St. Augustine’s coast in 2010, our team of archaeological conservators faced the monumental task of cleaning up all of the recovered artifacts.

Over the six field seasons spent diving on this wreck, now the subject of our new Wrecked! exhibition, more than 600 artifacts were recovered. Each one requires careful attention, from removing the outer crust to removing all of the salt soaked into the artifacts, this critical and tedious process means the difference between saving history and destroying it.

In this week’s video, take an inside look at Wrecked! with two of our conservators — Director of Archaeological Conservation Starr Cox and Assistant Archaeological Conservator Andrew Thomson — as they share what some of the exhibit artifacts looked like before conservation and some insights into the process of saving these one-of-a-kind pieces.

Video Highlights:

  • 0:31 – See what a concreted artifact looks like when it’s first recovered.
  • 1:25 – How are different types of materials treated in conservation?
  • 2:39 – What did the cannon look like when it was first recovered?
  • 3:25 – How do you conserve a shipwreck cannon?
  • 5:35 – What special item was found inside a cauldron that gave us insight into life on board the ship?
  • 6:14 – What clue was part of the concretion surrounding the ship’s bell?
  • 7:28 – What did each of our conservators enjoy the most about working on this exhibit?