The Conservation Facilities of the Elaine Recanati Laboratories for Marine Research

The Elaine Recanati Marine Research Laboratory for the conservation of waterlogged wood and organic materials was established by the late Professor Yaacov Kahanov, who directed the conservation, research and reconstruction of the 400 BCE Ma‘agan Mikhael ship.

Timbers from shipwrecks are invariably waterlogged, meaning that the wood has decayed, and any void spaces within the wood cells are totally filled with sea water. Wood sometimes also suffers from bacterial degradation: it is very soft and fragile, to the extent that it is liable to collapse under its own weight unless kept completely immersed in water. Hence, these delicate finds require very careful handling at all stages. Such was the state of preservation of the waterlogged timbers of the Ma‘agan Mikhael and the 6th century CE Dor 2001/1 shipwrecks, which have been conserved in the Laboratory.

The first stage of the conservation process of these timbers was desalination to an acceptable level (100 ppm) of chlorides. This was followed by a two-stage process of completely displacing the water in the degraded wood cells by solid polyethylene glycol (PEG). The timbers were first impregnated with low molecular weight liquid PEG 400, followed by the heavier PEG 3350. This stabilized the wood, preventing significant shrinkage, cracking and warping, and restored some of the strength the timbers had lost over the centuries buried in the marine environment.

Other finds are also treated in the Laboratory. Small artefacts of organic materials, such as wooden rigging elements, ropes, and leather flasks, are conserved by freeze-drying.

For further information please contact Prof. Deborah Cvikel or Jonathan J. Gottlieb

The final phase of the conservation of the Dor 2001/1 shipwreck. Photo by D. Cvikel
The final phase of the conservation of the Dor 2001/1 shipwreck. Photo by D. Cvikel