Texas Heritage, Volume 18, Number 4, Fall 2000 Page: 24
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Right: The hull of the Belle in situ before it was
dismantled and sent to the Conservation Research
Laboratory in College Station. Below: The Belle is raised
out of the specially constructed vat so that conservators
can continue with the ship's reassembly. All images on
these two pages, courtesy of the Conservation Research
ferent modular components of the hull can
be removed, shipped to the museum where
the hull is to be displayed, and reassembled
with a minimum of difficulty. Once in the
museum, the public wants an unobstructed
view of the ship. To accommodate this, a
support system that incorporated carbon
fiber was designed, allowing the ship to be
as free-standing as possible, with a minimum
number of support stanchions once
on display. The support system for the Belle
will be one of the most highly engineered
designs ever developed for the conservation
and display of a ship's hull.
It is anticipated that the reassembly of
the Belle will be completed in early 2001;
after that, the conservation of the timbers
using polyethylene glycol will start, and
that is expected to take three to five years.
A vast array of interesting artifacts have
been recovered from the Belle, among
which are a group known collectively as
"composite artifacts." These pieces are so
named because they are comprised of disparate
materials that more often than not
cannot be disassembled into their compo
nent parts. Most, if not
all shipwreck sites, contain
artifacts, and the Belle is no exception.
Some of the more distinctive pieces in this
category are numerous types of polearms
with pointed iron blades attached to long
For the conservation of artifacts composed
of both wood and an iron blade, when
the blade is covered with a thick layer of
marine encrustation, it is necessary to x-ray
the object to determine how much metal
remains and how to best treat it. Not only
is a polearm an excellent example of an iron/
wood composite artifact, but it illustrates the
important role that radiographs and epoxy
casting play in conservation.
When a metal object encounters salt
water, a layer of encrustation begins to form
on its surfaces almost immediately.
As this layer becomes
thicker with time, it creates a
perfect impression and mold of
the original metal surface,
which has since corroded. A radiograph
of the encrustation can
reveal how much metal, if any,
remains. Where sound metal
still exists, it will be shown on a
radiograph as a solid white
patch, since x-rays cannot
readily penetrate through this surface. In
contrast, in those areas where the metal
has completely corroded, a gray shadow will
be revealed, outlining the form of the lost
material. In the case of a polearm taken
from the Belle, all that remained of the iron
blade was a hollow space, filled with a loose
slush. When this slush was removed, a
natural mold of the blade was revealed.
This mold was filled with epoxy resin, creating
a perfect cast of the original object.
CONSERVATION OF THE
Skeletal material recovered from an
excavation always attracts attention and
Two skull replicas, including a resin cast
of the brain in the cranium, were made.
The facial reconstruction is on page 25.
HERITAGE * 24 * FALL 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Volume 18, Number 4, Fall 2000, periodical, Autumn 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45391/m1/24/: accessed May 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.