14th ICOM-CC Wet Organic Archaeological Materials (WOAM) Working Group Conference

From Monday 20th – Friday 24th May 2019 the 14th ICOM-CC Conference on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials took place in Portsmouth, UK (; #woam2019). Experts from all over the world presented their research on decay, conservation, monitoring and documentation of wet organic archaeological finds.

On Monday, conservation scientists and conservators discussed the decay of waterlogged archaeological organic finds, its causes and methods for determination and the possibility of insitu conservation, as well as the potential of new conserving agents, like bio-based polymers. The welcome reception took place on Southsea Castle – a place rich in history. Here, Henry VIII, King of England watched the sinking of his flagship, the Mary Rose (, by the French fleet in 1545.

The conservation of wooden objects was not the only theme of the conference. On Tuesday, the subject of the talks was the conservation of non-wooden objects like leather, fur and textiles. Here, Ingrid Stelzner presented her research in the THEFBO programme: Learning from the Past. This included a survey of the conservation methods for archaeological bast fibres. Here, she presented the Neolithic finds from Hornstaad-Hörnle, Germany, their discovery, conservation and condition today.

On Wednesday findings from the project “Save Oseberg” ( were presented: The Viking finds from Oseberg, Norway, had been treated in the beginning of last century with Alum. Due to the development of acidic compounds, the finds are now very fragile. The aim of the Saving Oseberg project is to prevent and/or stop deterioration of the alum-treated wood objects. Additionally, the removal of acidic compounds with new methodologies on the Mary Rose, the Korean Shinan shipwreck and materials like bio-based chelating agents were presented. The long-term behaviour of several treatments  used on the ship Lyon St. George 4 were revealed, and last of all we heard about composite wood-metal objects by radiation curing or trehalose treatment.

Thanks to the huge approach in research into decay and development of methods and materials for the conservation of waterlogged organic materials, four conservation scientists were awarded for their life-time achievements in the field: Khoi Tran, Conservation Scientist at Arc Nucleart in Grenoble, France, Tara Grant, Conservator at the Canadian Conservation Institute, Poul Jensen, Conservation Scientist at the Nationalmuseum of Denmark and Ian Godfrey, Conservation Scientist at the Western Australian Museum.

In the last century, huge historic shipwrecks, as the Bremen Cog, Vasa, Mary Rose and Arles-Rhone 3 had been discovered and conserved. Thanks to these big international and interdisciplinary approaches, many methods for conservation, like the two-step treatment with polyethylene glycol, have been developed. Nowadays, the incorporation of reactive compounds like sulphur and iron as well as their weight are concerns for their long-term conservation. These projects outline the importance of preventive conservation and monitoring strategies accompanied by conservators.

The conference ended with the last presentation on England´s amazing Tudor warship. “Mary Rose- Larger than life”. Due to marine borers, and tidal currents, only one third of the shipwreck had been preserved. The conservation of the Mary Rose took 35 years and was carried out in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The Gala Dinner was held in the Mary Rose Museum ( beside the impressive shipwreck and its wonderful presentation.

On Friday, the huge conservation facilities and the impressive Mary Rose Museum ( was visited. In the afternoon, we visited Historic England ( at Fort Cumberland, where we saw new finds from the wreck Rooswijk (#Rooswijk174), a Dutch East India Company vessel which sank on the treacherous Goodwin Sands, off Kent, in January 1740. Historic England is characterized by their multidisciplinary make-up: Besides conservation, botany, osteology and archaeometry is located in Fort Cumberland working hand in hand.

It was a wonderful conference with a fantastic and helpful atmosphere, fruitful discussions between theory and practical conservation, all with one aim: To save our cultural heritage and organic archaeological heritage from all over the world without barrier, for our future generations!


- I. Stelzner