Much of the damage found in cultural and artistic objects is not chemical in nature but results from mechanical responses to stimuli such as changes in temperature, relative humidity, impact, and vibration. Analytical tools of engineering mechanics are available that allow us both to diagnose existing problems as well as to predict the effects of future potential hazardous conditions for many objects. A systematic approach of applying engineering principles to cultural objects requires two fundamental steps: 1, determining the mechanical properties of the constitutive material found in objects, and 2, developing analytical procedures that determine the overall effect of the individual material responses to various stimuli on the object as a whole. The individual material properties are typically defined as the yield and ultimate strengths, the elastic modulus, and the strains to yield and failure.
For the vast proportion of cultural objects, the materials are organic, and their mechanical properties are dramatically altered by environmental factors such as changes in temperature and relative humidity.
One of the most successful analytical techniques is Finite Element Analysis (FEA) using the digital computer. This method will allow one to numerically model an object, to mathematically induce environmental changes as well as determine the mechanical effects of these changes on the object modeled.