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  Program 26 Bureau of Archaeological Research
      Have you ever wondered what happens to all the artifacts that archaeologists unearth in Florida?

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

The State of Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research, or BAR, in Tallahassee has a wonderful conservation lab and collections facility. This is where the artifacts found on public property go to be preserved and protected.

This facility has nearly 475,000 artifacts, most recovered from Florida state-owned or public-managed land and water.

These collections are all significant to Florida’s past and include objects that date back to some of the oldest cultures in Florida some 12,000 years ago. For example, there’s a rare spear thrower made by an ancient Native American out of mammoth bone. A more recent item is a 1950s coke bottle from the homestead of famous author Marjorie Rawlings.

Not only does the Bureau of Archaeological Research store and protect these wonderful artifacts, but it makes them available for researchers to study and for visitors to enjoy at the Museum of Florida History and at museums across the state.

  Program 27 BAR Conservation
      Before artifacts are displayed they must go through the rigorous and-time-consuming process of conservation.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this Unearthing Florida…

Since 1972 the conservation facility at Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research has used state of the art procedures to protect the hundreds of thousands of artifacts made from metal, bone, leather, and other materials that are priceless pieces of Florida’s heritage.

While artifacts made out of stone, pottery, glass, and gold are pretty stable, those made of other materials such as wood or textiles can need a great deal of care to keep them from rapidly disintegrating after archaeologists unearth them.

But, the decision on whether to move forward with the tedious process of conserving these valuable non-renewable resources often involves several considerations.

For example, Dr. Dave Dickel and his team at the bureau first need to judge whether an artifact is stable as it is, is too degraded, or whether conservation might actually damage it.

Ultimately, the goal of conservation is to preserve the remains of our heritage for future generations to study and to enjoy.

  Program 28 BAR Metal Conservation
      While shipwreck artifacts made of gold need almost no conservation, metals made of iron that are found underwater need quite a bit of attention to prevent rapid deterioration.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

Underwater archaeologists often find iron artifacts at shipwreck sites that can range from tiny fasteners to huge anchors. Once these iron artifacts are taken out of the water, conservation efforts must begin swiftly.

The first step is to mechanically remove any minerals that have formed on the object –possibly over hundreds of years-- with an air scribe, hammer and chisel, or scalpel.

The next is to remove the salts from the iron artifact by soaking it in a solution of sodium hydroxide. Conservators will then soak the object in plain water to remove any excess solution. Once completely dry, tannic acid is applied to the surface of the metal.

Not only does this give the iron its familiar black color, it also inhibits further corrosion and protects the metal from the environment.

  Program 29 Wood Conservation
      Almost every culture in the world has a huge amount of artifacts made of wood, which deteriorates rapidly. So, when they are found, they have to be stabilized quickly and carefully.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

The Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research Conservation Lab handles most of the preservation in the state. For waterlogged wood artifacts, like the hundreds of dugout canoes discovered throughout the state, the first step is to dry them out. However, this process must be done gradually or it could cause irreparable “cracking” or “warping” of the wood. To prevent this, water in wood cells must be replaced with a water soluble wax. Soaking the wood can take months and even years. After the cells are full of wax, the wood is very slowly dried by either being wrapped in plastic or freeze-drying.

For wood artifacts found on land- and already dry, conservators need only examine them for cracking, loose material, or pests. After these conditions are dealt with, the artifacts are kept in a safe, dry environment.

  Program 30 Battle of Natural Bridge
      One of the largest Civil War battles on Florida’s soil occurred at a place called Natural Bridge.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

The Battle of Natural Bridge ensued in March 1865 on the banks of the St. Marks River south of Tallahassee. Heavy fighting broke out after Union soldiers attempted to cross the area, where the river flows underground and forms a natural land bridge.

Confederate troops blocked their path and eventually won the battle. Consequently, Tallahassee remained the only capital in the South, east of the Mississippi, not to fall into Federal hands during the hostilities.

Not surprisingly, an archaeological survey in 2010 resulted in the discovery of several different types of ammunition from the battle.

One item found was a flattened musket ball. The backside of this artifact reveals to archaeologists that it probably was tumbling in flight when it hit something somewhat backwards and likely was crushed upon impact.

The musket ball, and other artifacts from the Natural Bridge battlefield site are now housed inside the Bureau of Archaeological Research in Tallahassee.

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