Shipwreck Cannons update

By The History Detectives Team
10 September 2008
Category: Viewer Mailbag

Bill Goddard wrote in for additional information on the Shipwreck Cannons story. The History Detectives contacted Chris Havel in Salem, Oregon, Communications officer for the Office of the Director, Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept. Here's his reply:

1. What additional study has been done? When will they remove the 'concretions' to see what is really under there?

No additional work has been done on the cannon, but we are nearly ready to send them to a professional conservator to have the concretions removed. Several firms will likely bid on the work (bids close in mid-September, and we'll work with a local team of historians to select the contractor). Only a few organizations have the right kind of marine archaeology expertise. The conservation process itself can take years. As we are doing now, the conservator will start by soaking the artifacts in tubs of fresh water to draw the ocean salt out. When salt, iron and oxygen mix, the iron corrodes very quickly (which is why these are still intact, even after all that time buried on the ocean shore ... not much oxygen beneath 10-20 feet of sand and salt water!)

After the sodium levels drop, the concretions will be carefully removed. It's delicate work; the conservator must be careful to preserve surface details, such as foundry marks, that could reveal much of the cannons' history. After the concretions are removed, the metal is typically coated to protect it from further corrosion.

The work is being funded by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and donations gathered the the Oregon State Parks Trust. We at the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department protect the state's natural wonders and historic places, and serve more than 40 million visitors from every corner of the globe every year. Hundreds dropped by Nehalem Bay State Park to see the cannon this summer; we'll miss the cannon while they take their own vacation to "have some work done."

2. Apparently, two objects were found on the beach that day. What has been done with the one you didn't investigate?

The other object was found much closer to the ocean, and was more heavily coated in concretions. It, too, will be sent to the conservators along with the first cannon. They will both receive the same conservation treatment. The wooden bases appear to be intact on both pieces; we hope they, too, will survive the conservation process.

Ultimately, both cannon and their wood bases will come back to the north Oregon coast to be put on display so everyone will have a chance to feel the same thrill of discovery that struck at Arch Cape in February.

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