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What a Splinter of Wood Reveals about a Figurehead

Press release of the university of Bremen/ 18 August 2018 Stefanie Möller

The MAPEX Center for Materials and Processes of the University of Bremen is participating in the “Der Zahn der Gezeiten – Maritime Schätze unter der Lupe” exhibition at the German Maritime Museum (DSM) in Bremerhaven for the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018. The opening is on August 19, 2018.

The German Maritime Museum (DSM) – Leibniz Institute for Maritime History in Bremerhaven has designed a special exhibition for the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018. The exhibition aims to raise awareness of the preservation of cultural heritage and maritime history in the European context and therefore focuses on questions of conservation and restoration of exhibits. On display are maritime exhibits, some of which are unique in Europe, including a fragment of a traditional coastal fishing boat, a figurehead, and a skeleton of a sperm whale.

Material Analysis Deciphers Individual History of Exhibits

Materials such as wood, metal, and textiles play a decisive role in conservation and restoration work. In addition to historical and restorative expertise, materials science is also important for researching and securing museum exhibits. For example, MAPEX scientists were able to determine the type of pine used thanks to microscopic analysis of a small fragment of the “Carla” figurehead. From the type of wood decomposition they can also conclude that the figure must have been under water for a long time – it probably sank and was salvaged as a relic. These two findings provide valuable information for further conservation and reconstructing the history of the exhibit. “The aim of such a material-science study of historical objects of cultural value is always to find out about their history and to develop solutions for long-term preservation for future generations,” says Dr. Hanna Lührs of MAPEX. She coordinated the scientific cooperation with the German Maritime Museum.

Successful Interdisciplinary Research Alliance

For the scientists at MAPEX, the collaboration with a museum was an enriching experience, explains Professor Lucio Colombi Ciacchi, spokesperson from MAPEX. “One of the particular challenges was to find out – together with all those involved and their different specialist approaches – what the most sensible approach in this specific museum context is, particularly if an object can only be preserved through more major interventions, yet its original materiality and appearance should be changed as little as possible. Here, the knowledge and perspectives of our scientists and museum experts have complemented each other perfectly.” The cooperation between MAPEX and the DSM is part of a long-term research cooperation with the aim of material characterization and digital recording of the museum collection.

Additional Information:


Dr. Hanna Lührs and Professor Lucio Colombi Ciacchi
MAPEX Center for Materials and Processes
University of Bremen
Tel.: +49-421-2186-4580 or +49-421-2186-4570
E-mail: oder

Link for the original press release from the University of Bremen

von links nach rechts: Carolin Hilker-Möll, Prof. Dr. Lucio Colombi Ciacchi, Prof. Dr. Sunhild Klein-gärtner, Niels Hollmeier, Prof. Dr. Stefan Brüggerhoff
Updated by: MAPEX