Northeast Historical Archaeology


Invented in the mid-19th century, cellulose nitrate is commonly regarded as the earliest synthetic polymer or plastic. As increasing numbers of historical sites dating from the mid-1800s are excavated, cellulose nitrate objects are more frequently found in archaeological assemblages. The inherent instability of cellulose nitrate makes proper handling, storage, and display conditions vital to the longevity of recovered objects. In this paper, the composition, manufacture, and means of identifying cellulose nitrate are summarized. The processes of degradation and means of slowing those processes are elaborated, as well.