After the chest arrived at the MR laboratory, I performed a thorough condition assessment to identify problematic areas on the chest. From this I could provide the conservation team at the Mary Rose Trust with some well-thought-out treatment suggestions. This is something a conservator should always do before starting a conservation treatment, both to assure that the most problematic issues and damaged areas of an object are not overlooked and to better be able to decide on appropriate treatment methods. As the chest had been left to dry without any treatment after excavation, the wooden boards were left both brittle and dry. In addition to problems related to the dry wood, a few other problematic areas were also identified, such as corroding iron nails and active bronze corrosion on the chest’s frontal piece which consists of metal, glass and paper. After all treatment suggestions were approved by the conservation team, I began to conserve the chest.
My first treatment task was to look further into the active corrosion product surrounding half of the metallic frontal piece. At first, I was slightly worried it might have been bronze disease, which is a very damaging corrosion process that would potentially need chemical removal. I started out using a scalpel carefully to figure out if it was mechanically removable. Surprisingly enough, it was possible to remove almost all of it with a scalpel, which indicated it was not bronze disease, which was a relief. To remove any remaining corrosion particles, I cleaned the metal carefully with cotton sticks wet by denatured alcohol (IMS).
After removing as many corroded iron nails as possible, I moved on to cleaning the wooden surfaces of the chest. I used different brushes and a museum vacuum with a soft tip to remove surface deposits from dust and the burial environment. After surface cleaning the entire chest, I had to remove some dust that had gathered on and around the frontal piece, again using cotton sticks and IMS. As the surface cleaning was completed at this point, I figured it was time to add the protective coating for the metal surrounding the frontal piece. I used a smooth, flat brush with Paraloid B-48 (15% in acetone) to coat the bronze, which will hopefully prevent any further corrosion.
As the wooden chest had been left to dry without any treatment, I had to consolidate loose fragments and the more unsteady areas of the wooden panels. Smaller fragments and loose areas were consolidated by using ButvarÂ® B-98 (5% in IMS). I found that this low concentration of ButvarÂ® B-98 was not strong enough to adhere bigger wooden fragments back to the chest. Sadly, this work came to an end at this point, as the worldwide pandemic escalated, and the Mary Rose Trust closed. When we return, I will complete the finishing touches, such as finding another way to adhere bigger fragments back to chest and adding something that will hold the chest together more steadily. I look forward to completing this and returning the newly conserved chest back to the Diving Museum.