Author: Elise Carroll, Conservator
We wanted to introduce a new direction for our Conservation Highlights blog series here at the QAR Lab. So far, we have blogs focused on various aspects of history, material culture, general conservation processes, and our students! This new theme is way for lab members to highlight special projects they are working on, and why they find these projects interesting, challenging, fun, and exciting! As conservators, we spend a lot of time with specific artifacts, and we wanted to share the more personal experiences with the objects themselves with the readers.
To kick off this series, I wanted to write about an artifact I have been working on since 2018. Yes, since 2018! About a month or so after I returned to work at the lab after working in Florida, we had a “cannon day.” Cannon days are days dedicated to working on one or more tasks relating to cannon. Since many processes in treating cannon can be cumbersome, like moving cannon around the lab or dealing with the large equipment needed to work on the object, we reserve a day for all of the staff to be available to assist. Something that is not very difficult for a small object, can become complicated when dealing with a large object!
When I came back, I had not air scribed in about a year. Air scribing, or concretion breakdown, is the process of using a pneumatic device to remove encrustation from an artifact. Just like any skill set, air scribing requires consistent practice to keep up your skill, experience, and confidence. This cannon day was dedicated to the cleaning of one of our largest cannon, C16. C16, the nickname for the 16th cannon found on site, was the single concretion QAR2300.000 and was covered in artifacts (over 500 and counting)! Normally, we have an x-ray to work from, giving us an idea of the contents and structure of a concretion, but cannon are too large, so we remove concretion and artifacts based on observation and general knowledge.
After not having air scribed for so long, I was placed on a part of the cannon that should not have had any artifacts on it and where the surface should be fairly consistent. Oh boy, were we wrong. Within the first few minutes of the session, I stopped because I was removing concretion from the breech (back) end, away from any support rings, and I found our first ever in situ cannon apron! We have found multiple cannon aprons on site, which is not surprising since we have so many cannon, but we had not found an apron attached to a cannon yet! After finding the apron, I spent multiple days working around it to find the edges and safely remove it. The apron was surrounded by organic matter and slightly bent and bunched in areas, making it difficult to delineate the edges. In the end, the apron was the last artifact to be removed. Since its separation from C16 in 2021, I have been working on removing the organic material and concretion from the apron. It is still a work in progress, but it will be amazing to see it clean, being the first artifact I found in concretion after returning to the lab!
Cannon apron being separated from C16. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Cannon apron after being partially cleaned. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.