Friday, 25 September 2015

How do you conserve a whale skeleton?

The use of Stainless Steel has become vital in preserving whale skeletons at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Cleaning and preserving old bones is an intricate, technical task and each treatment must be tailored to the individual bone. Whale bones are especially challenging, as fatty oils slowly seep out over the years. To remove the oily secretions, solutions of ammonia and purified water are brushed onto the bones. When this solution comes into contact with cartilage, this can disintegrate with the alkaline ammonia solution.

As well as damaging the bones, this acidic oil also causes verdigris – the green pigment currently coating the Statue of Liberty – to blossom from the copper wires inside the bones used to support the skeletons. Verdigris can be build up over time when copper reacts with oxygen, and is rapidly accelerated by acids.

This verdigris on the copper wires can cause the supporting wires to weaken and snap. These wires have now been replaced with stainless steel, which is strong and resistant to the environmental conditions of the museum.

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