Sometimes the Simplest Solutions are the Best Solutions: Re-Conserving the Lake Phelps Canoes

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June 8, 2021 at 10 am Pacific / 12 pm Central / 1 pm Eastern

Tim Smith, Lake Phelps Canoe Conservator at Queen Anne’s Revenge Lab with North Carolina’s Office of State Archaeology

Join Tim Smith to learn about the Native American dugout canoes discovered in Lake Phelps and the conservation methods and treatments used to preserve them. Located in North Carolina’s Pettigrew State Park, Lake Phelps is North Carolina’s second largest natural lake and remains a beautiful mystery. Formed on a vast peninsula lying between the Albemarle Sound and the Pamlico River, the lake is believed to be more than 38,000 years old. This massive lake and surrounding big-tree forests offer a more than 10,000-year glimpse into the relation of human cultures and nature. Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of relics, but the most fascinating discovery is a collection of 30 dugout canoes buried in the lake. These canoes date as far back as 2400 B.C.

Most of the 30 canoes were reburied to protect them from deterioration, but four were recovered in 1986. Learn how these canoes were treated with sugar as a bulking agent to prevent serious damage upon drying. However, after many years of being stored in uncontrolled conditions, some of these canoes became unstable with sugar leaching to the surface and crystallizing, causing major concerns for their long-term preservation. Discover how a graduate of East Carolina’s Anthropology Program researched and devised a method for treating this problem that has proven effective at dissolving the sugar back into the canoes. Using the Lake Phelps canoes as a case study, listen as Tim discusses the advantages and disadvantages of treating waterlogged archaeological wood with sugar, as he reviews their history, treatment, and retreatment.

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