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Conservation of iron

Evidence-based Condition-Monitoring Strategy for Preservation of Heritage Iron

 AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Large Grants programme

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.

The project is a partnership between the Department of Archaeology and Conservation at Cardiff University and the University of Manchester School of Materials.

Conservation of iron project staff. Left to right: Dr Melanie Rimmer and David Watkinson.

The Cardiff team, consisting of David Watkinson as principal investigator and Melanie Rimmer as post-doctoral research associate will quantify the post-excavation corrosion rate of archaeological iron objects as a function of their chloride content and atmospheric moisture. These corrosion rates will be linked to the physical integrity of the objects and hence their lifespan as a heritage resource. The goal is to produce a corrosion scale that can be used to predict the rate of corrosion for chloride-infested archaeological iron objects in specified environments. This will provide preservation timescales for management structuring and resource allocation to define best practice for the preservation of archaeological iron.

At Manchester, a PhD studentship under the supervision of Professor Stuart Lyon will develop the use of pre-corroded electrical resistance sensors for detecting iron corrosion rates in low humidity. The corrosion these record within an environment will be scaled to archaeological iron corrosion using data from Cardiff. Since the sensors cumulatively record corrosion, it will be possible to predict how archaeological objects would have corroded in those same conditions. This provides a remote sensing tool for cumulatively monitoring the aggressiveness of an environment to chloride infested archaeological iron.

The final phase of the project transfers the research into the workplace. We are fortunate to have a range of project partners from the commercial and museum sectors who will trial the resistance sensors and corrosion scale in a range of storage and display environments.

The outcome of the project will be, for the first time, a quantitative understanding of object lifespan and a methodology for monitoring storage environments for iron. This will introduce evidence-based decision-making into the process of preserving archaeological iron, with a potential to transform management practice and maximize available resources, and will represent a significant step forward in the development of policy for the preservation of archaeological and other unstable heritage iron.

Please follow the links below to find out more about the project: