An incidental meeting with Dr. Jerzy Litwin, the deputy director of the Polish National Maritime Museum, on the train to Paris following the 7th International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, (ISBSA), established the first connection between our institutes. Dr. Litwin claimed that his conservation laboratory in Gdansk would be capable of conserving ropes found in the MaÕagan Mikhael ship, to a high standard while keeping costs reasonable. In March of this year I traveled to Poland to verify Dr. LitwinÕs claims.

We collected eleven samples of rope of varying diameter and in varying states of preservation. These were frozen in water and packed in a cooler filled with dry ice. I personally transported the samples to Poland and they were placed in a refrigeration unit at the Polish conservation laboratory, 36 hours after packing.

The Polish Maritime Museum, based in Gdansk, is an extensive enterprise, employing 300 staff in seven different departments which cover three conservation facilities and six display sites. Each site in itself is a sizeable museum. The Museum boasts rich displays, impressive both in their quality and quantity (I was surprised to find a collection of vessels from all over the world, including sewn ships). Two additional ships serve as a floating museum and a work station for divers. The museum acts as a focal point for undersea research and other marine related educational activities.

The Gdansk laboratories are situated at two different locations within the city. One specializes in the conservation of metals, rope, skins, fabric and waterlogged wood. An advanced conservation system has been recently installed. The second site holds laboratories, a data center and Ôdeep-freezeÕ storage facilities. An additional conservation facility, located in an adjacent city (Tczew), is responsible for large scale wood conservation.

The conservation laboratory is headed by Maria Dyrka, a chemist with twenty years experience in conservation, who has undergone extensive training in Poland and abroad. The results of their attempt to conserve the rope samples should be ready in the near future.

In summary, the conservation laboratories of the Polish Maritime Museum are a large and well equipped enterprise. The numerous staff are knowledgeable and highly experienced. Although large finds are conserved by common methods, the Polish laboratory is well aware of the more modern methods and utilizes them in the conservation of smaller artifacts.

Upon successful completion of this project, we will consider future collaboration, which should prove to be satisfactory both in quality and cost.

As part of my visit, I presented a lecture accompanied by slides on the subject of the MaÕagan Mikhael Ship and, at their request, showed video tapes featuring the boat from the Sea of Galilee. Next year the city of Gdansk will celebrate its 1,000th year and will host the 8th ISBSA. Gdansk is an impressive city and worth visiting. The museum staff, Dr. Litwin and the director of the museum, Andrzej Zbierski, afforded me a warm welcome that went well beyond mere professional courtesy.


As we are currently considering ways in which to reassemble and display the conserved MaÕagan Mikhael ship, I took a one day detour on route to Gdansk, and visited the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. Poul Jensen, head of the Danish National Museum Conservation Laboratories, took me on a professional tour, explaining the manner in which ancient Viking ships found in the Roskilde Fjord, were conserved in the Brede labs and reassembled for exhibition in Roskilde.

The ships were conserved in PEG using the same method adopted by us. My impression was that maintenance problems are a major concern in the exhibition of conserved, waterlogged ships. Restoration is carried out on an iron framework, the beauty of this being that the width of the longitudinal supports is matched to the width of the overlapping planks (Clinker construction). As the planks overlap, the supports are partially hidden. The longitudinal strips are supported by generous cross-ribs of 1.5m width, which rest on supports perpendicular to the floor. The sections of the planks are joined by wooden pegs, inserted upon heating of the wood. The planks themselves are connected by iron reinforcements.

The aid of a local shipwright was enlisted in the reconstruction of the ships. It was recommended that we also consider taking advantage of his expertise.

All iron used in restoration is treated to prevent rusting and the ships themselves receive regular maintenance and seasonal treatments. Cleaning the ships of dust is a major and permanent problem, which I learned should be addressed during the building of our museum. The Danish museum is totally air-conditioned to a temperature of 20ºC and a humidity of 50%. There is an audio-visual room and a display of replicas. The museum is the hub of extensive activity which takes place at three additional institutions. There are vast plans for expansion.

We can learn a lot from Roskilde regarding the reconstruction and exhibition of the MaÕagan Mikhael ship. By utilizing their experience and the experience of others, we can improve our own methods and avoid a repetition of previous mistakes.

Ya'acov Kahanov

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