By Keith Norbury

As a rule, reefer containers transport goods like meat, fish, and vegetables — with shelf lives measured in weeks or months. Star Cool refrigerated containers from Maersk, however, were deployed recently to carry cargoes that are centuries old. The containers — made by Maersk Container Industry, a manufacturing unit of A.P. Moller – Maersk Group — are being deployed to relocate artifacts from an archaeological site in Lübeck, Germany, according to a March 26 news release. During housing construction at a UNESCO heritage site in the city, a wooden storage cellar dating from 1180 was discovered, the news release said. Cereals and hops stored in the cellar are believed to have been used to make beer in medieval times.

Conserving the cellar artifacts requires great care. Exposing them to changes in humidity and temperature could hasten their decomposition.

That’s where the Star Cool containers come in. “Star Cool was chosen because of its extremely precise temperature and atmospheric control. Such precision is a must if you want to preserve sensitive cultural assets like wet organic structures,” the news release quoted conservator Maruchi Yoshida, who is associated with the Fraunhofer-Institute for Building Physics and Leibniz-Gemeinschaft, a multidisciplinary association of German research centres. Mr. Yoshida, who is managing the reefer container project, said one of its aims is to create a business plan that will enable a company to deploy reefers and conservation services on short notice in the event of an archaeological discovery. “Such a company would benefit both urban developers and cultural heritage care offices, but above all the society to whom the cultural heritage belongs.”