In Situ Conservation Surveys

By Dr. Jennifer. McKinnon

Dr. Jennifer McKinnon - Conservation Survey PowerPoint Presentation

During the 2009-2010 archeological survey of Saipan's WWII sites, it became apparent that certain sites were being negatively impacted by both natural and cultural factors. These impacts were identified as contributing to an overall loss of archeological and historical context and affecting the structural integrity of the sites and their long-term survival. To address these concerns and create a framework for long-term management and preservation, in situ conservation surveys were planned and took place in 2012.

In situ conservation surveys are different from standard archeological surveys because they include the collection of data related to the natural environment (chemical and physical) that can allow for a better understanding of the destructive forces affecting sites and artifacts. They also record modern cultural impacts that can be used in the management of sites, including restricting access to sites and controls for altering behaviors of visitors. Finally, they can collect specific cultural and historical information including data on material composition of objects (i.e. metal alloys of aircraft). This data is vital to understanding the construction of sites from an archeological or cultural perspective, but also contributes to understanding the longevity of sites with relation to the material composition of metals and organics, how they react to and survive within the environment, and their overall structural integrity.

In situ surveys are critical to regions such as the Pacific because there are limited resources (i.e. funding, staff, and facilities) to conduct recovery and conservation of submerged objects and sites. This means that the conservation and management of the resources must be done in situ. Further, understanding the condition of the resources through in situ surveys is an important step in the management process. An agency cannot manage a site if they have no knowledge of its condition.

In 2012, specialists from the Western Australian Maritime Museum conducted conservation surveys on sites on the maritime heritage trail and on "control" sites not on the trail that can be used for comparison. So now five years on in 2017, we are back to collect another set of conservation data so that we might begin a longitudinal study of the sites over time.

As part of the in situ conservation surveys, conservation scientists collect corrosion parameter measurements and track dissolved oxygen to assess whether the sites are actively corroding and how that relates to the environment in which they are situated. This type of science is crucial for understanding exactly what condition the wrecks are in and how long we might expect them to be around into the future.

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