Dr Melanie Rimmer

Research Associate

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

+44 (0)29 2087 6873
5.46, John Percival Building

Research interests

  • Corrosion and conservation of archaeological iron
  • Analytical techniques in conservation science
  • Management strategies for heritage preservation
  • In situ preservation of materials
  • Use of data and statistics in conservation science

Current research project

Conservation of iron

This 3-year £365,000 interdisciplinary project is funded by the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Large Grants programme. Its main aim is to define and measure the variables which influence the corrosion rate of archaeological and historic iron artefacts, and develop methods of measuring the corrosive potential of storage and display environments. This is the first large-scale study to measure the corrosion rate of archaeological iron in real-time.

Learn more about the conversation of iron project

Education and qualifications

  • 2007-2010 - PhD, Cardiff University
  • 2006-2007 - MSc Geoarchaeology, University of Reading
  • 2003-2006 - BSc Natural Science, University of Durham

Career overview

  • 2010-2013 - Research Associate, Cardiff University

Honours and awards

  • 2007-2010 - Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Award
  • 2006-2007 - Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Masters studentship

Speaking engagements

  • 'Quantifying Chloride Distributions in Archaeological Iron' (with poster), CHARISMA Joint Users Meeting, OCW-RCE, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 29th November 2012
  • 'Measurement matters! Quantifying corrosion and damage for archaeological iron', Conservation Research Seminar, Department of Archaeology and Conservation, Cardiff University, Cardiff, 15th November 2012
  • 'Evidence-based condition-monitoring strategy for preservation of heritage iron project', Conservation Science for Historic House Collections, 4th annual English Heritage, National Trust, Historic Royal Palaces joint research seminar,Hampton Court Palace, London, 2nd November 2012
  • 'Conserving iron: what science can do for us', Conservation Research Seminar, Department of Archaeology and Conservation, Cardiff University, Cardiff, 17th November 2011
  • 'Reassessing deoxygenated alkaline treatments for archaeological iron objects: effectiveness and risks', Research Seminar, Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, The British Museum, London, 6th December 2010
  • 'Residues from alkaline sulphite treatment and their potential effect on the corrosion of archaeological iron', Metal 2010 conference, Charleston, South Carolina USA, 11th October 2010
  • 'The effectiveness of chloride removal from archaeological iron using alkaline deoxygenated treatments', Archaeological Iron Conservation Colloquium, Stuttgart, 25th June 2010
  • 'The conservation of archaeological iron: developing new approaches to old methods', Postgraduate Research Day, School of History and Archaeology, Cardiff, 19th May 2010
  •  'Re-evaluating the treatment of archaeological iron using deoxygenated alkaline solutions', ICON CF10 – Conservation in Focus, Cardiff, 26th March 2010
  • 'Developing and Testing a Model for the Treatment and Storage of Archaeological Iron; Or: A Tale of Two Cities', AHRC Regional Event, 'Partnership and Collaborative Working', Bristol, 5th November 2009
  •  'Desalination of archaeological iron with deoxygenated alkaline solutions: early results', ICON Archaeology group conference, 'Archaeological Iron: Reflection and Outlook', London, 11th September 2009
  • 'Location, Location, Location: Its effects on the Collaborative Doctoral Award', London CDA network meeting, The British Museum, London, 10th June 2009


Evidence-Based Condition-Monitoring Strategy for Preservation of Heritage Iron (AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Large Research Grant)

From archaeological iron through to ships, iron is a ubiquitous heritage metal. Iron objects are susceptible to contamination by corrosion-accelerating chloride ions from burial or marine contexts, leading to rapid corrosion during storage and display and the eventual destruction of the object. Desiccation below 15% relative humidity (RH) or de-oxygenation can stop corrosion, but mechanical desiccation is energy-hungry and expensive, while passive use of desiccants to control small spaces is difficult to maintain long-term. There is currently no established understanding of the relationships between chloride content, corrosion rate, RH and object lifespan, leading to considerable uncertainty regarding the most effective strategy for maintaining iron in a world of limited resources.

This research will identify and test new ideas for managing the preservation of iron via the concept of 'corrosion control' rather than 'corrosion prevention'. Experimental work will quantitatively examine long-term corrosion rates of up to 300 samples of archaeological iron and relate to relative humidity, chloride content and physical condition of the samples. These results will underpin subsequent field-testing of heritage iron objects, the development of corrosion sensors and improved management guidelines for the preservation of chloride-contaminated iron.

Investigating the treatment of chloride-infested archaeological iron objects (PhD research)

Archaeological iron objects become infested with chloride ions during burial. Controlling chloride-induced corrosion requires <15% relative humidity (RH); this is difficult to achieve and maintain in practice. This leads to iron objects remaining at significant risk of corrosion when storage mechanisms fail.

This AHRC-funded doctoral award (No. 2007/136517), in collaboration with The British Museum, investigated the effectiveness of chloride removal from archaeological iron using alkaline deoxygenated desalination treatments, and evaluated the benefits and associated risks. A large programme of experimental work was carried out using quantitative techniques to measure chloride extraction, alongside an evaluation of long-term corrosion behaviour, risks from treatment residues and damage to information-carrying corrosion layers during treatment. The data will aid decision-making in the conservation and management of large museum collections of archaeological iron.

The Geoarchaeology of Silbury Hill, Wiltshire: an analysis of buried soil materials and organic preservation (MSc dissertation research)

Silbury Hill, the large Neolithic mound near Avebury in Wiltshire, displays a high degree of preservation of organic remains in the buried soil and central portion of the mound. Excavations at the mound in 2007 by English Heritage provided a unique opportunity to study the soil materials, alteration processes and preservation conditions through a range of analytical techniques. A combination of soil analysis, elemental profiling with portable X-ray fluorescence and thin-section micromorphology was used to study the buried soil and compare it to modern soil profiles in the surrounding area. Alteration processes including the compression of the soil profile and the movement of iron and manganese under the mound were studied and their possible contribution to organic preservation identified. The research was able to answer questions about the origin, alteration and preservation of the buried soil and organic materials under Silbury Hill as part of the wider programme of study of this unique monument.

Further information about the English Heritage project to study and conserve Silbury Hill