"I looked straight at it, and I said, 'It's a classic old English admiralty anchor,'" Jobling said. He added that the anchor would have been the right size for the HMS Chatham, though he cautioned against making any conclusions about the object just yet.
"Is it 100-percent HMS Chatham? That's difficult to say, but there are no smoking guns yet that say it's not," Jobling said.
It will likely take more than a year to strip the anchor of all the concretion, orange-colored rust, barnacles and mussels covering up any possible markings on its original iron surface, said Jobling.
"Iron in its happiest state is rust," Jobling told Live Science, and iron rusts much more quickly when salt is present.
For the next several months, Jobling and his team of graduate students in the nautical archaeology program will keep the anchor in a T-shaped steel tank to slowly coax the salt out of the iron artifact. The setup is essentially an electrolytic cell. In this case, the steel tank is the anode (or the positively charged electrode), and the anchor, propped up on special plastic pads, is the cathode (the negatively charged terminal). Jobling said he will put sodium hydroxide in the water and apply a direct-current power supply that will flow into the anchor, removing salt from the iron and dropping it into the water.
Once that solution reaches equilibrium, no more salt will come out of the anchor, and the liquid will need to be changed, Jobling said. There will likely be four or five change-outs over a period of a year and a half, and during each tank cleaning, the conservators will take the opportunity to tap away at the anchor with hammers and chisels to remove its crusty coating.
After the anchor is fully cleaned and given a protective coating, it will be sent back to Washington, where the salvors hope to find a local museum or other gallery that will permanently display the object.
"Our goal is definitely to keep it in the Northwest," Grimm said in a statement.
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