The preservation of more than 6,000 objects recovered from
the site of the wreckage of the Titanic requires the skills of curators
specialised in a wide variety of materials. Prolonged exposure to the
harsh conditions deep below the waters surface such as reactive
oxygen species, darkness, and extreme pressures changes the integrity
and even the composition of every object. Without effective steps to stabilise
them, many would erode once brought to the surface. For example, after
a long stay under water, cast iron objects handled without caution can
explode when exposed to air. Certain materials, like leather and wood,
are changed so much the long interaction with salts, high pressure, and
glacial temperatures that these extreme conditions become necessary for
them to remain intact.
Combining electrolysis, chemical baths, and intuition, the curators extract
corrosive minerals from each object such as salt and sulphur
in order to prepare them for study and exhibition.
Even as you read this, the Titanic is being slowly eaten away by iron-consuming
microbes. The preservation of objects is the best way to guard the memory
and history of the more that 2,200 passengers and crewmembers. If the
objects are not recovered in the near future, some of the most delicate
among them will disintegrate and be dispersed at the bottom of the ocean.
Object preservation: small miracles
It was unavoidable that the objects in the Titanic would degrade and
decompose on contact with air. Removing them from the dark, icy ocean
would disturb the equilibrium that protected them. So, it was necessary
to establish a new equilibrium, this time in air. And to do that, process
the objects according to their individual characteristics: metal, porcelain,
ivory, leather, paper, etc.
Electricité de France (EDF) Foundation, among other preservation
laboratories, responded to this challenge. For Noël Lacoudre and
his "Object Healers" team, specialists in electrochemistry and
conservators from the EDF laboratory in Saint-Denis, the challenge was
not met easily: at the time, no one had previously processed objects resting
in deep parts of the ocean. During the treatment of more than 1,800 objects
found around the Titanic wreckage, the crew of Ifremers Nautile
was able to perfect an innovative technique that uses electrophoresis
for stabilising leathers and paper.
Here are several images from the book, Les Objets du Titanic, illustrating
the long process that brought objects from the bottom of the sea to the
exhibition display case: Start
the slide show
* Les Objects du Titanic : La Memoire des Abîmes [The Objects
of the Titanic: Memories in Darkness], Jacques Montluçon and Noël
Lacoudre, Hermé JFG: 1989.
A bronze cherub.
Chocolate maker, before and after treatment.
First analysis before preservation.