Patience is a virtue when Conservation is the goal: “The Ozette Village”

February 26th, 2015
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Patience is a virtue when Conservation is the goal: “The Ozette Village”

Lori Kay Gross

          As archaeologists we have all learned the delicate and deliberate methods of excavation, recovery and cataloging of artifacts. Time limitations, Mother Nature and funding often dictate the methods of excavation creating a dilemma between archaeologists and conservators.   The Ozette Village is an example where conservators and archaeologists worked as a team to preserve one of the most extensive collections of artifacts through careful excavation utilizing unusual yet appropriate methods to ensure maximum preservation in a challenging environment.

The Pacific Northwest is rich in archaeological discoveries. Among these discoveries is a particularly interesting archaeological site located on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. This site, nestled on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, represents one of the most important North American archaeological sites. The significance of this site is demonstrated by the large number of artifacts recovered their unprecedented preservation and is often referred to as ‘A North American Pompeii’ (Steury 2008). This site is called ‘The Ozette Village’.

This Makah Indian fishing village, occupied from the Middle Pacific to the Early Modern time, was buried by a mud slide in the mid 1700’s, preserving the site and its artifacts nearly unaltered. In the late 1960’s, during a survey of the entire Pacific Coast of Washington, Ozette was identified as an important site by Richard D. Daugherty when he performed a test trench survey revealing radio carbon dating data correlating to approximately 2,000 years ago. He encountered well preserved artifacts which supported its significance but without funding the excavation did not continue. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s, after a series of storms battered the coast that large portions of this ancient village began to emerge (Kirk 2007). The exposure of well-preserved artifacts reignited the interest in saving this important archaeological find and with the support of the modern day Makah Indians and the Washington Archaeological Research Center excavation began (Steury 2008).

Geological evidence and historical records indicate that the most probable cause of the massive mud slide was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that dislodged a water saturated hill above the village. Although devastating, the composition of the soil contained large amounts of oxygen free clay combined with the water. Excavation findings confirm that these conditions created an up to 10-foot thick clay covering that aided in the preservation of the predominately wooden artifacts. Excavation would require the use of water to continue the careful exposure of the artifacts from the clay and for transportation and final conservation (Daugherty 1977).

Getting the delicate artifacts out of the slide in the first place provided the initial challenge. Most of the wet site was excavated hydraulically. The Ozette archaeologists pumped seawater at various pressures for different stages of excavation. Initial clearing was with high pressure. Once artifacts started to show, lower-pressure garden hoses were used to clean and remove the artifacts. At the end of a nearly eleven year excavation, the artifact inventory exceeded 50,000 items including wooden structural remains, harpoon shafts, hooks, canoe paddles, wooden bowls, whale bones, whetstones, woven baskets and mats (Daugherty 1977).

 

 

Whale Bone Club 2

 

Wood and Whale Bone Fishing Hook

 Photos courtesy of www.makahmuseum.com

 

Many of the artifacts recovered from Ozette are much the same as they were when they were buried. Once they’re exposed to oxygen, however, they begin to get brittle and disintegrate. So everything that came out of the excavation immediately went into a preservative bath of polyethylene glycol which forces the water out, solidifies it and begins the conservation process (Steury 2008).

In reviewing the process and procedures that Richard D. Daugherty followed from his first knowledge of the Ozette village in 1947 through the nearly 40 years of investigation, research and excavation his involvement reveals a very ethical and conscientious archaeologist. Even when faced with this exciting discovery Daugherty knew that disturbing the site before procuring the necessary support could result in artifact decomposition upon exposure.   Although it was certain that this location was rich in artifacts and history his complete evaluation of the site and advanced preparation to ensure the safe and effective recovery was inspiring.

As unique as the Ozette excavation was it also stands apart in that no artifacts from the site left the Makah reservation. Everything discovered is either displayed in the cultural center or stored in a state-of-the-art storage warehouse. The museum is expertly curated and the artifacts are mesmerizing. This is the result of Daugherty’s collaboration with the members of the Makah Nation and his belief that the excavation work should be accessible to the public to participate in the revealing of the collective history of the Ozette Village (Steury 2008).

References

Daugherty, Richard D. The Ozette Archaeological Expedition: A Cooperative Project of Makah Nation, Washington State University, National Park Service, National Science Foundation, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Washington (State): S.n., 1977-. Print.

 

Steury, Tim. “The Home of My Family: Ozette, the Makah’s and Doc Daugherty.” Washington State Magazine (2008): 1-8. Abstract. Print.

 

Kirk, Ruth, and Richard D. Daugherty. Archaeology in Washington. Seattle: University of Washington, 2007. Print.

 

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Warbirds, etc., Part II

February 26th, 2015
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Warbirds, etc., Part II

James Pruitt

            Last blog, I examined the case of two PB2Y Coronado aircraft, and their very different methods of preservation. Both belonged to the US Navy, and the handling of both was legal as defined by the SMCA. Although the restored Coronado at the National Naval Aviation Museum brought up questions about whether it is “right” to erase years of history by restoring an object to like-new condition, the decision to restore it was carefully considered and the restoration expertly completed, and can thus be described as ethical. This post, I will examine the cases of two B-29 Superfortress bombers, and where they fall in the ethical spectrum.

First, however, it is worthwhile discussing restoration as it applies to aircraft. Much like automobiles, restoration of aircraft (especially to flyable condition) is generally undertaken by mechanics as opposed to conservators. A quick internet search for aircraft restoration returns dozens of companies specializing in aircraft repair, maintenance, and restoration. The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) website does not list any conservators with the specialty of “aircraft” (AIC 2015). This leaves the conservation and restoration of aircraft in a gray area—those people who work on aircraft do not seem to be registered with conservation-oriented professional societies (although likely registered with professional societies related to aircraft repair or engineering), and thus may not share the same ethical code we do. This situation is not universal; the United Kingdom-based Institute of Conservation (ICON) Conservation Register lists three companies In the UK that have “professionally qualified conservator-restorers” specializing in aircraft (ICON 2015).

Figure 1_FIFI

Figure 1. B-29 Superfortress FIFI.

Image http://www.airpowersquadron.org/#!b29-schedule/c1yws

            FIFI (Figure 1), the only flying Boeing B-29 Superfortress, is owned and operated by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF, formerly the Confederate Air Force) (CAF Airpower History Tour 2015). The US Air Force, and former Army Air Force, enforces the SMCA quite differently than the US Navy. The USAF declared, “aircraft that crashed before 19 November 1961, and that remain wholly or partially unrecovered, are considered formally abandoned. The AF neither maintains title to, nor has property interest in, these aircraft” (AFI 23-101 2013: 165). This means that groups like the CAF can legally recover or purchase former USAF aircraft. Is the restoration of them ethical, though? FIFI was recovered from the US Navy Proving Ground at China Lake, where it was being used as a missile target (CAF Airpower History Tour 2015). The restoration of this aircraft, and subsequent display through tours and flying shows, certainly brought greater exposure to this rare aircraft. Further, the airshows “allow you to honor the sacrifices of countless men and women who fought and died for our freedoms” (CAF Bombers 2014). This sounds like an honorable, and ethical, cause, and the CAF is chartered as a nonprofit organization (CAF Mission and History 2014). However, they also offer rides in their aircraft at airshows—for a price (ranging from $600 to $1600 for a ride in FIFI). This seems unethical. How can a NPO ethically charge that amount of money to experience something listed as an objective in their charter? Moreover, how is that ethically different than performing conservation work on the Mona Lisa (for which the Louvre Museum charges admission)?

Figure 2_KeeBirdBefore

Figure 2. Kee Bird before recovery efforts, in situ.

Image http://forum.flitetest.com/showthread.php?7046-quot-Kee-Bird-quot-B-29-failed-recovery

            While the case of “rescuing” and restoring FIFI raises ethical concerns about conserving objects that will be used later to raise money, the case of Kee Bird is very different. Kee Bird, another B-29 Superfortress, crash-landed on the Greenland icecap in 1947 after getting lost on a mission (Figure 2). Forgotten to time, a team of mechanics, test pilots, and adventurers set out in 1994 to repair the aircraft in situ to flying condition, fly it out, and later completely restore the plane for a client (PBS Nova 2015). They completely replaced the engines, propellers, and much of the electrical system, making the plane flyable. Then they crashed it (Figure 3). The efforts to recover and restore what would have been the second flyable B-29 in the world resulted in its complete destruction. Ethically, this was a disaster, made more poignant by the fact that it was made by adventurers and warbird hunters. Looking at it in perspective, though, brings up interesting questions. Artifacts are occasionally destroyed by accident on archaeological sites, and not through malice or malpractice by the archaeologists and conservators. Is this different, then? Can all artifacts be successfully recovered, 100% of the time? With great risk comes great reward, but when is the risk of recovering and restoring an artifact greater than the reward?

Ruins of Kee Bird

Figure 3. Kee Bird after recovery efforts.

Image http://forum.flitetest.com/showthread.php?7046-quot-Kee-Bird-quot-B-29-failed-recovery

            These two B-29s highlighted cases that were legal, yet unethical. As conservators, the use of restored items for profit, and the complete destruction of an object through recovery and restoration efforts, seem unacceptable. Are these cases different because those responsible for the restoration were not necessarily conservators but rather mechanics? Is it a difference in fields? Or are they obvious to us because the objects in question, aircraft, are normally outside of the purview of our work; perhaps using examples of artworks, or historical artifacts, would change our viewpoints?

 

References

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

2015 AIC. Find a Conservator. http://www.conservation-us.org/membership/find-a-conservator/results/?specialty=05&travel=True&radius=all. Accessed 3 February 2014.

 

Commemorative Air Force

2014 CAF Bombers. http://commemorativeairforce.org/airplanes/91-caf-aircraft/126-caf-bombers#. Accessed 4 February 2015.

2014 CAF Mission and History. http://www.commemorativeairforce.org/aboutus/history. Accessed 4 February 2015.

2015 CAF Airpower History Tour. http://www.airpowersquadron.org/#!history/c66t. Accessed 4 February 2015.

 

Institute of Conservation

2015 ICON Conservation Register. Find a Conservator. http://www.conservationregister.com/PIcon-SpecialismSearch.asp?UserType=1. Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

PBS Nova

2015 B-29: Frozen in Time. http://novabeta.wgbh.org/wgbh/nova/military/b29-frozen.html. Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

United States Air Force

2013 Air Force Instruction 23-101. http://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_a4_7/publication/afi23-101/afi23-101.pdf. Accessed 3 February 2014.

 

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Why Archaeologists need Conservators and Conservation Training

February 26th, 2015
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Why Archaeologists need Conservators and Conservation Training

Kathryn Parker

When an archaeologist designs a new field project, they juggle multiple needs and requirements: what is the research objective of the project and how will it be achieved, permitting, transportation, number of volunteers/students, number of staff and specialties and which staff members are needed at the field site. The list seems to go on into eternity. Perhaps one of the most overriding issues faced by all projects, whether purely academic in nature or the ubiquitous “Phase 1 survey” in advance of a construction project, is funding. As all projects have limited funding, all principle investigators (commonly referred to as PIs) must weigh the choices they make in terms of its importance:

  • After permitting, what money is left?
  • How much of this should be used to bring various staff members to the field site and which staff members should only be hired on in a laboratory facility?
  • Can more workers be hired or more students brought in order to excavate a larger area or does the project need to stay smaller?
  • How deep should excavation go and what equipment will be used for this?

One issue that many archaeologists likely consider but may quickly place at the “bottom” of their priorities is the hiring of a conservator. While no archaeologist wants their artifacts to degrade, go unrepaired, or even uncleaned, there are many aspects that they may think make a conservator out of their reach.

The main issue is frequently cost, and many PIs may assume that hiring a trained conservator is out of their reach. While as Siguroardottir (2006) notes that some countries require that a conservator be, at minimum, consulted with, this is not the case in around the world. As a result, many archaeologists must train themselves “on the fly,” when they make a remarkable find, or alternatively call a conservator in a frenzy of excitement and worry. To add to this, few archaeologists receive training in even basic conservation principles. Of twenty-two universities in England and Scandinavia contacted by Siguroardottir (2006), four offered courses in collections, and eight in field conservation techniques. Only one offered a full “unit” at the undergraduate level, another at the postgraduate level, and another offered field conservation as part of a unit at the postgraduate level. Many archaeologists begin professional work after their undergraduate degrees are completed, and may still never learn basic conservation if they continue on to postgraduate work, making this lack of training all the more problematic. The expansion of this training will be slow even if professional organizations such as the American Institute for Conservation were to get behind it with full support, though this expansion is obviously needed. Pearson (1980) was calling for this expansion three decades ago as an essential aspect of training for maritime archaeologists. Despite this, expansion of training has obviously not gone at a rate at which would make this training accessible. As such, archaeologists should at least attempt to consult with a conservator about the expected finds of a site so as to know the possible costs involved of conserving important artifacts.

However, as all archaeologists know, something unplanned always occurs in the course fieldwork. If working at a new site, the PI may have an idea of what artifacts will be found, but with no previous excavation they have a range of possible artifacts to expect. If working at previously documented site, the PI may have anywhere from in depth knowledge of previously excavated artifacts to knowledge only of the location of the site and the estimated time period based on limited finds. This abundance or lack of information can make it difficult to determine the significance of site, or just part of a site, and what might be found in the course of the project. Even sites that we think we know all basic information about can throw a curveball. Unexpected finds can range due to the discovery of a midden full of ritual artifacts to a well-preserved wicker basket in waterlogged site. Through discussion with a trained conservator, the archaeologist can discuss the significance of the item, particularly in the manner that Nason (1987) describes. This can help both the archaeologist and conservator to know which objects are most in need of conservation, and which should have priority. While a rare, ritually important goblet may be fascinating and fit into Nason’s (1987) “inherent significance” (49), wherein the object has an inherent value due to its rarity or raw material, a woven basket of a frequently found type may take priority in its need for conservation, particularly if it is in especially good state of preservation or if other examples have decayed past the point that a conservator could preserve the artifact. Through discussion with the conservator, the archaeologist can prioritize items and the conservator can make known which artifacts would need more intensive treatment, even if its significance is not as intellectually stimulating as another. This process can help to prioritize the funds available for the conservation of the artifacts.

Of course, the best option would be to hire a conservator that comes to the field site for the duration of the project. However, due not only to limited funding, but to the limited number of conservators in the world, this is not possible at all times. Though conservation of an object as soon as it is excavated would be the best option, this is not always possible either. As such, as mentioned before, archaeologists should receive basic training in conservation; particularly how to handle artifacts as they are excavated and how to transport them back to the field house, storage site, or lab. This first step is something that could be taught to trained archaeologists in a seminar setting, either face-to-face with hands on examples, or simply a webinar with visual examples. This would help to ensure that archaeologists can properly store their excavated artifacts, rather than watching them degrade due to preventable causes.

Artifacts found during excavation present archaeologists with intellectual, technical, and financial problems. But with a little extra training, archaeologists can be part of the solution to the preservation of cultural heritage.

 

References

Nason, J., 1987. “The Determination of Significance.” In Material Anthropology, pp. 47-51.

 

Siguroardottir, K., 2006. “Challenges in Conserving Archaeological Collections.” In Of the Past, for the Future: Integrating Archaeology and Conservation, Proceedings of the Conservation Theme at the 5th World Archaeological Congress, Washington, D.C., 22-26 June 2003, edited by Neville Agnew and Janet Bridgland. Getty Conservation Institute Symposium Proceedings Series. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute. 220-223

 

Pearson, C. 1980. “Conservation and maritime archaeology.” The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration, 9(2): 147-150.

 

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Conservation Among the Stars: In Situ Extraterrestrial Conservation

February 26th, 2015
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Conservation Among the Stars: In Situ Extraterrestrial Conservation

Ian Hazel

            Space has been famously referred to as the final frontier; the last realm of human exploration. However, while in many ways human forays into space are only in their fledgling form, it is time to begin considering the ramifications that must come from the preservation of early space exploration materials. In some cases, these objects have returned to Earth either under human power or via gravity — the Apollo command modules are an excellent example. They have historical and archaeological relevance, are clear museum pieces, and hold substantial interest for academics and the populace alike. With that in mind, there are considerable resources still in space or on other planets that deserve consideration for conservation (Space Archaeology 2015). Some archaeologists have started to call for this form of conservation, but it is still a burgeoning field of interest (David 2013).

There are currently two possible relevant areas of human-made space artifacts. The first is terrestrial archaeology on other worlds. These sites would include the Apollo lunar landing craft and the Mars rovers. The other artifacts encompass those currently adrift in space, such as the Voyager craft — one of which has likely passed the heliopause and has concordantly left the solar system. Positing that these constructs may someday be reached, they are important artifacts in the most modern form of human exploration, and thus would merit conservation for the future generations of humanity. While there are artifacts that may come from non-human sources and many have advocated for searching for those, that is not the focus of this blog post (Freitas 1983).

It is also important to consider the methodology of conservation for these valuable artifacts. Some are likely to remain in situ, similar to the explorers’ huts in Antarctica. This will allow retention of the historical value of the site while avoiding disrupting the environment that it is in. Some artifacts, however, mostly encompassing the items currently in orbit or floating progressively farther away from Earth, cannot be conserved in situ. If they remain in their current environs, they are on a trajectory toward eventual destruction, probably collision with an object of not-insignificant mass, such as a planet or sun. Thus, any attempt to conserve such objects must involve removing them from their current environment and placing them into a new one. This is unlikely to be a destructive act, but it would require committing significant resources to hauling artifacts back to Earth or some other terrestrial environment for conservation. In some cases, this might require trained conservators to be part of the retrieval crew, which would necessitate their instruction as astronauts. Such training takes years in each field, and would commit considerable resources to be qualified in both areas. The proposition of conserving space resources that are not terrestrial is a ludicrously expensive venture.

Extraterrestrial conservation is certainly cost-prohibitive at this point, and entirely unfeasible as humans have not been on the moon since 1972, nor on any other extraterrestrial body at any point. The issue, however, is almost certain to come up at some point, and is such a difficult task that conservators and archaeologists should begin thinking about what actions to take.

 

References

David, Leonard

2013     Space Archaeologists Call for Preserving Off-Earth Artifacts, Space.com, <http://www.space.com/20743-space-archaeology-artifacts-preservation.html> Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

Freitas, Robert A.

1983     The Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA), The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 36:501-506 <http://www.setv.org/online_mss/seta83.html> Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

Space Archaeology

2015   Space Archaeology, “our future is in ruins,” <http://spacearchaeology.org/> Accessed 3 February 2015.

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Differences and similarities between the AIC’s Code of Ethics and the E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines

February 26th, 2015
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Differences and similarities between the AIC’s Code of Ethics and the E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines

 Chelsea Head

            Conservators around the world have guidelines and codes of ethics to lead them in their professional lives. These documents hold the conservator to certain standards and promote the protection and preservation of historical objects and places. In The United States, the Code of Ethics that conservators follow is outlined by the professionals of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC). In Europe, conservators follow guidelines set up for their profession by the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations (ECCO). These organizations and other professionals in the field, hold conservators to these rules and guidelines. Conservators are mainly judged by their peers and their clients, and it is most beneficial for conservators to stick to the rules of conservation.

In the American Code of Ethics and European Professional Guidelines, there are similarities and differences to the rules that conservators must uphold in their professions. Susan I. Rotroff states in her article that, “No society is an island, however, and often the codes of one set of professionals have important implications for members of another. Such is the case with conservators and archaeologists. Conservators have their own ethical guidelines and standards of practice, but they work within a variety of frameworks, and the standards of those frameworks inevitably have an impact on how effectively conservators can practice their profession” (Rotroff 2001). Conservators hold themselves and others accountable for their professional lives by acting within the guidelines and codes.

One of the differences between the AIC’s Code of Ethics and the E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines is that in the E.C.C.O. guidelines, they point out that in order “to maintain the standards of the profession, the Conservator-Restorer’s professional education and training shall be at the level of a university Master’s degree ( or recognised equivalent ) in conservation-restoration” (ECCO). The AIC never mentions that a conservator has to have professional education and training at a Master’s degree level. Many American conservation specialists are professionally educated, but there are still some conservators who have been self-taught or have apprenticed. Many conservators would not be included in the AIC if there was a rule that stated that conservators had to be formally educated with a Master’s degree.

It is also interesting to note the first rule or guideline listed for conservators for the AIC or E.C.C.O. In the AIC it is stated that, “The conservation professional shall strive to attain the highest possible standards in all aspects of conservation, including, but not limited to, preventive conservation, examination, documentation, treatment, research, and education” (AIC). The first guideline according to the E.C.C.O. is, “The Code of Ethics embodies the principles, obligations and behaviour which every Conservator-Restorer belonging to a member organisation of E.C.C.O. should strive for in the practice of the profession” (ECCO). Both principles enforce the idea that conservators maintain professionalism and that they strive to meet all the standards that are required of them.

Overall, both the AIC and the E.C.C.O. have similar guidelines and codes of ethics that conservators must follow in order to be considered a conservation specialist. The main point is that conservators in America and Europe have to maintain respect for themselves, others, and the objects that they are entrusted to preserve and restore. If conservators do not adhere to these codes of ethics, then they are doing a disservice to our history, our cultures, and historical artifacts that need to be preserved for future generations.

 

References

 

“Code of Ethics,” American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works: 2014.         Accessed February 2, 2015.http://www.conservation-us.org/about-us/core-  documents/      code-of-ethics#.VNFcilfF9Fp

“E.C.C.O. PROFESSIONAL GUIDELINES,”European Confederation of Conservator-    Restorers’ Organisations: 2011. Accessed February 2, 2015. http://www.ecco-        eu.org/ about-e.c.c.o./professional-guidelines.html

Rotroff, Susan I., “Archaeologists on Conservation: How Codes of Archaeological Ethics and       Professional Standards Treat Conservation,” Journal of the American Institute for        Conservation, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 137-146

 

 

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What’s it Worth Part 2: Monetary Value

February 26th, 2015
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What’s it Worth Part 2: Monetary Value

William Fleming

In my last post, I breached the topic of the values placed on objects, and I introduced three main types: monetary, cultural, and personal. As part of a continuing series, I will present each of these values in more detail, and I’d like to begin this week with the monetary value.

When someone asks another person what an object is worth, more often than not they mean the monetary value of the object. While it is certainly true that every object can probably be assigned a monetary value, based on a number of defining factors (which are readily available online), most professional conservators and archaeologists will refuse to place a price tag on an artifact. To do so would be to doom one’s reputation among professional and amateur archaeologists (Hranicky 2014:6). On top of that, the Society for Historical Archaeology, one of the leading professional organizations for archaeologists, definitively states that it is unethical for archaeologists to establish any “commercial” value for archaeological artifacts, or to trade, sell, buy, or barter artifacts as commercial goods (SHA 2007). Any persons who do engage in such activities are appropriately deemed treasure hunters, and regrettably, any artifacts acquired illicitly by such outfits are essentially blacklisted (along with those who acquired them and anyone who attempts to help) from conservation. Despite the stigma, it is still important to understand the monetary value behind an object, as money is typically the driving force of society, and artifacts are the physical manifestation of any given society.

In general, the monetary value of an artifact will be highest immediately after its creation, and will decrease over time until it has outlived its usefulness. However, some artifacts reach a point at which their monetary value begins to increase once again. Generally, this takes several decades or generations, and depends upon several other factors as well. For example, older artifacts that are well preserved are considered to be worth more money, and collectors will be willing to pay greater sums to acquire them. Similarly, as the number of a certain type of artifact decreases over time, the rarity increases, and therefore the value does as well; an artifact can fetch a king’s ransom regardless of its condition if it’s the final known example, or a unique work, such as those of artists.

Fleming Blog 2 image

This one-of-a-kind 18th century Florentine ebony chest, known as the Badminton

Cabinet sold for $36 million in 2004, the most expensive piece of furniture ever auctioned.

Source: Time Magazine

 

Whether an artifact has a distinct price tag or not as far as being an artifact in and of itself is concerned, the monetary value of the artifact must also be considered for one other important reason: conservation. As unfortunate as the reality is, not every artifact can be conserved. Therefore, several criteria must go into the selection of worthy artifacts, and several agencies consider the most “expensive” items worth conserving over those which may hold more cultural or informational value (Appelbaum 1994:185-191). Not only that, but artifacts can sometimes only be acquired through purchase, and afterwards continue to cost money to the conservator due to the necessary routine maintenance. It is tempting, then, to consider it necessary to appraise an artifact so that its conservation worth can be assessed, however it is important to keep in mind that the artifact itself is not being appraised, but the time and effort of the conservator assigned to preserve the artifact.

Monetary value is typically the first and foremost thing that comes to mind when someone wants to know the value of an object, especially to the general public. Trained archaeologists, however, understand that there are more important values in artifacts, and will refrain from placing a price tag on any artifacts brought to them. Next time, I will look at the cultural value of artifacts and how that has an impact on their conservation.

 

References

Appelbaum, B. (1994). Criteria for treatment of collections housed in historic structures. In

Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 33(2):185-191.

 

Hranicky, J. (2014). North American Projectile Points . Bloomington, Indiana. AuthorHouse.

Society for Historical Archaeology. (2007). Ethics statement.

http://www.sha.org/index.php/view/page/ethics

 

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Conservation Challenges for Museums: Tactile displays for the Visually Impaired Patron

February 26th, 2015
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Conservation Challenges for Museums: Tactile displays for the Visually Impaired Patron

Lori K. Gross

 

While visiting museums I’ve often wondered how it would be possible for persons with disabilities, specifically visually impaired individuals to have the same opportunity to ‘experience’ the artifacts that are displayed. For instance, at the Field Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute in Chicago they have elaborate collections of artifacts on display but they are encased in glass surrounded by velvet ropes or labeled ‘Do Not Touch’. For those of us that have the gift of sight these barriers are rarely questioned and it is understood, on some level, that the items displayed are rare, valuable or irreplaceable and their safe keeping is important to ensure that others can enjoy them as well. During my visits I have observed visually impaired patrons accompanied by another person who describes the displayed items, often in great detail, but I have to wonder – is that enough?

While researching this topic I found out I’m not alone. Museums have begun to recognize the need for a more interactive experience for visually impaired patrons. Tactile interactions are becoming more popular at museums in an effort to provide enriched opportunities to these individuals. One of these museums is The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts that has incorporated a guided tour allowing blind patrons to touch a select group of ‘contemporary’ sculptures. Utilizing cotton gloves individuals can experience the art form ‘first hand’ feeling the fine details and recreating its shape in their mind (Plamondon 2014). After reading this article I was glad that there was some effort being made towards tactile displays but it seemed limited to those items that were easily recreated, identified as popular and held little diversity. No ancient artifacts were included, which led me to think – “Are conservators too conservative – is there another way?”

Basic conservation techniques of artifacts recognize that merely touching an artifact can begin a destructive process through the transfer of oils, salts, moisture, bacteria etc. from a human hand. These concerns must be addressed when the conversation turns to tactile displays with ‘ancient’ artifacts. Professional conservators understand that it is a far more complicated process to maintain the vast collections displayed in museums. Lighting, humidity, acidity and even bacteria can damage an object that appears to the lay person as ‘just sitting on a shelf’. Most patrons have no idea of the hours of conservation treatments, techniques and decisions required to merely display the artifact let alone the actual handling. However, if museums and conservators are dedicated to the education and enrichment of every individual then they must overcome these challenges.

The Penn Museum is also taking an important step to address the issue of how to provide vision impaired guests with meaningful experiences in museums, where touching the objects has been traditionally discouraged. The conservators and curators of the museum launched an initiative called the ‘Touch Tour’ a two hour guided and innovative approach to dealing with issues of vision and accessibility in the museum context. A program called Insights into Ancient Egypt” combines education and gallery tours where patrons are invited to explore replicas of smaller ancient Egyptian artifacts and enhance the experience with tactile diagrams and opportunities to smell some of the oils used in mummification: frankincense, myrrh, and cedar oil. The experience evokes a range of senses that are often neglected in museum experiences. In the gallery portion of the tour the patrons experience through touch, ancient artifacts that include Egyptian stone artifacts, including a seated statue of Ramesses II, the Goddess Sekhmet, and two sarcophagus lids.   To mitigate the impact on the artifacts, each participant utilizes hand sanitizers to remove dirt and oils (Alton 2015).

E

“Not many people, either sighted or visually impaired, would ever have the opportunity to place their hands where craftsmen’s hands toiled thousands of years ago” (Alton 2015).

E

 

Museum programs with interactive and tactile approaches will continue to bring new challenges to the professional conservator. However, if our goal is to educate, inspire and enrich the lives of the museum patrons, then it is a challenge that conservators must embrace.

 

 References

Alton, Elizabeth. “Touch Tours: The Penn Museum Offers Hands On Programs for Blind Visitors”. Entertainment Designer, January 3, 2014. http://entertainmentdesigner.com/news/museum-design-news/touch-tours-the-penn-museum-offers-hands-on-programs-for-blind-visitors/#sthash.zCOEPpGa.dpuf

Plamondon, Judith. “Hands on art for blind at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts”. London Free Press, January 11, 2015. http://www.lfpress.com/2015/01/11/hands-on-art-for-blind-at-montreals-museum-of-fine-arts

Image credits: Daily Herald, Stuff.co.nz

 

Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shaving a Beard? How Tourism Hurt the Boy King

February 26th, 2015
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Shaving a Beard? How Tourism Hurt the Boy King

Stephanie Byrd

           Tourism can bring an added economic boost to a country that has a national treasure. However, this can also affect conservation efforts for these national treasures. This is the case with many famous artifacts in Egypt with the latest being the beard of King Tutankhamen. This has not been the first issue between conservation and public display; much of the Egyptian past was exported during the Victorian age and the spread of British colonialism. One of the biggest issues facing conservators is that the process of conservation can take time to do the job properly, which presides over the wants, need, and desire of the public and sometimes the museum for a faster turnaround time.

In a recent cleaning disaster, the beard of King Tutankhamen’s funeral mask was bumped and broken (Cascone 2015). An epoxy was used to reattach the beard to the mask but in doing a fast job, the epoxy was visible between the beard and mask. Part of the mask also had epoxy found dried on the surface and this was scraped off leaving a mark on the mask. There has been conflicting remarks as to whether the epoxy is reversible but there is a larger issue here (Cascone 2015). The issue becomes when public interest scrutinizes the work of conservators and can witness and put pressure on conservator. Conservators feeling pressure to return items for public viewing or working in the view of the public can increase the likelihood of errors and rushed jobs. This shows just how much power the public has over on going conservation projects.

One example of a site that draws a lot of public interest is the tomb of King Tutankhamen, where in 2012, a replica of the tomb had to be made due to the damage seen by tourism. Since first being discovered, humans have done more damage in less than 100 years than thousands of years of forgotten time (Beach 2012). Additions include stairs, handrails, and lights all to show the public what was meant as a sacred tomb. Tombs were meant to be sealed and left in the dark but have become modified to hold modern technology and human traffic, all of which increase the rate of deterioration (Getty 2013). While some of the technology has damaged the artifacts alternatively, some technology is used to monitor the climate of the museums and tombs to help keep a stable environment (Getty 2013). The ongoing issue with the Egyptian artifacts comes down to finding a balance between the need to preserve the past and serve the public who wants to see the artifacts. The making of the replica tomb is a start but acting hastily in repairing the mask shows that the balance is a work in progress. As for now the mask is in a low light display, said to minimize the noticeable damage to the mask (al-Mahmoud 2015), but with the public knowledge of the damage this low light method seems to be a little too late to stop the public from criticizing the museum for a poor repair job.

The hope with this latest, and very public repair job, is that it can show how the public needs to be made aware of the time and energy that are required for a good conservation process. Once something is in a museum it does not place the artifact in a vacuum, and demonstrates that damage from human traffic and cleaning can affect the life of an artifact. The museum is needed to show that the public can trust that the conservation work completed with all artifacts is up to ethical standards, but being honest with the public can be one way to grow a relationship between public and professional groups regarding conservation projects moving forward.

 

References

Al-Mahmoud, Husam. “King Tut’s Death Mask Glued Together in Botched Repair.” Alaraby. January 22, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2015. http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/features/69173f9e-ffe8-488e-bcdf-d9f677fcc53b.

Beach, Alastair. “How Tourism Cursed Tomb of King Tut.” The Independent. November 4, 2012. Accessed February 4, 2015.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/how-tourism-cursed-tomb-of-king-tut-8280603.html.

Cascone, Sarah. “King Tut Damaged in Botched Repair Attempt.” January 22, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2015. http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/01/2http://news.artnet.com/art-world/king-tut-damaged-in-botched-repair-attempt-2294042/beard-of-egypts-king-tut-hastily-glued-back-on-with-epoxy?page=2.

“Conservation and Management of the Tomb of Tutankhamen.” Conservation and Management of the Tomb of Tutankhamen. March 1, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2015. http://www.getty.edu/conservation/our_projects/field_projects/tut/presentation.html.

“Egypt: Preserving King Tut’s Tomb.” : Campbell Datalogger Controls Monitoring of Conditions at Tutankhamen Site. Accessed February 3, 2015.

https://www.campbellsci.com/king-tut-tomb-monitoring.

 

Archaeological Conservation, Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Public Outreach , , , , , , , ,

Public Conservation

February 26th, 2015
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Public Conservation

Amy Dubis

Educating the public about archaeology and conservation has been gaining popularity the last few decades. In particular, public conservation has become a concern due to the lack of regulations about exactly who can conserve artifacts and how conservation is accomplished. Public conservation involves educating others on how to properly care for artifacts so that they are preserved for future generations, as well as how to display artifacts in order to convey their histories. Depending on what types of artifacts are being discussed, the conservation treatments can include ways to prevent decay through stabilization and other preventative measures, all of which ensure artifacts are preserved. Although there are a number of positive and negative aspects of public conservation, informing the public and others in similar fields about how to better protect artifacts has still been a main goal of conservators.

Advantages from teaching communities conservation techniques include creating comradery in the community, encouraging interdisciplinary studies, and helping create globally-accepted standards in the treatment of artifacts. When the public is educated on the conservation processes and treatment of artifacts, a sense of community can develop. This is because the public is sharing knowledge on how to care for artifacts that connect them to their communities. If conservators work together with the public to demonstrate why preserving artifacts is important, there is a higher chance of the public being responsible with the information. Public conservation also encourages interdisciplinary studies. For example, archaeologists who have background knowledge in conservation and history are more aware of the importance of artifact conservation. Sharing treatment methods might carry the risk of being mistreated by archaeologists, but if the information is shared in an academic atmosphere that risk is greatly diminished. As long as conservation methods are taught in a positive learning environment, the benefits of the information far exceed the harm caused by doing so. Sharing information with the public can also help develop artifact treatment standards worldwide. The most obvious example of this can be seen in Egypt, where Egyptians are now starting to conserve their artifacts after years of British archaeologists dominating the archaeology and museum scene (de Guichen 1999).

Including communities in projects where they can learn conservation methods and treatments could also result in a number of disadvantages. One of these disadvantages is that those outside the field of conservation could have difficulty ascertaining the authenticity of an artifact (Jones & Yarrow 2013). Conservators have the knowledge and training to determine if artifacts are authentic or not, while others might only have a portion of that training. This is especially true when non-conservators lack an interdisciplinary background. Even amongst themselves, conservators commonly disagree about the authenticity of particular artifacts (Jones & Yarrow 2013). Another disadvantage of public conservation is deciding which history to tell about an artifact when displaying it to the public (Barker 2010). Until recently, only the more positive histories of artifacts were on display in museums. Artifacts whose histories heavily featured minority groups and women were left in storage or downplayed to a smaller role (Barker 2010). Also, those outside the field of conservation might only want to tell a particular history about an artifact in order to turn public opinion in their favor. Although, using only a portion of information about a subject so that a particular point of view is more dominant is not restricted to conservation.

The decision of whether or not to educate those outside the conservation field will likely never be agreed upon, but there is at least a consensus about the need to conserve artifacts. New conservation treatments continue to be created, as do the interdisciplinary skills of archaeologists and conservators. This interdisciplinary aspect might help lead to an amiable solution about how and how much to educate the public regarding the conservation of artifacts.

 

Works Cited

Barker, Alex W. 2010. Exhibiting Archaeology: Archaeology and Museums. Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 293-308.

de Guichen, Gaël. 1999. Preventive conservation: a mere fad or far-reaching change? Museum International 51.1: 4-6.

Jones, Siân and Thomas Yarrow. 2013. Crafting authenticity: An ethnography of conservation practice. Journal of Material Culture 18.1: 3-26.

Ethics and Theory, General Conservation , , ,

Conservation and Indigenous Peoples

February 26th, 2015
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Conservation and Indigenous Peoples

Kate Thomas

 

The 1991 passing of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act put in motion a way for archaeologists and native peoples to deal with the ownership of native artifacts. This had been a decades long battle, with the disenfranchised Native Americans desiring input into their own history, and archaeologists arguing that this was information for everyone. The politics of being an archaeologist dealing with indigenous groups have been a longstanding debate, but what about being a conservator for indigenous groups? Do conservators offer a side that archaeologists alone cannot?

The major criticism of archaeology by indigenous peoples, at least in the United States, has been that archaeologists tend to view their methodology as the ‘truth’ and ignore the input of Native histories (Deloria Jr. 1969). This, along with Red Power movement and the justified criticisms of the American government’s policy towards Native Americans led to the creation of NAGPRA. This law has allowed for legal proceedings regarding the repatriation of Native artifacts, the most famous of which has been Kennewick Man (Bruning 2006). Although legal battles have been heated, a large section of archaeology’s response is to embrace NAGPRA and attempt to change the archaeological process. This is even truer for the archaeologists who started studying archaeology after the implementation of NAGPRA, as for us it is not a change but rather the norm. An example of this is in Janet Spector’s “What this Awl Means” in which she involves the local community of indigenous peoples in order to better understand awls at a Dakota site in Minnesota (Spector 1993).

NAGPRA, and the debates preceding and proceeding it, is focused mainly on archaeology. However, conservation is a vital portion of this discussion. One of the major portions of NAGPRA is that all federally funded depositories had to inventory and repatriate human and cultural remains to the appropriate federally recognized tribe. Some of these item have already been conserved, could have been in the process of being conserved, or need to be conserved. The other portion of the law is that archaeological excavations must be approved and overseen by a tribal member, often times the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer or THPO. The tribe can then choose to repatriate their cultural items if they so desire. In both instances conservators are not mentioned directly in the law, but can be involved in the process.

If archaeologists can work with indigenous groups to interpret material remains, conservators should have an ethical duty to work with indigenous groups to ensure their cultural heritage is not destroyed. Archaeology has had to change its focus to being advocates for the disenfranchised, and conservators should follow suit. This, however, brings in another set of problems. The major criticisms of the involvement of archaeologists in native heritage has been overriding native input and the disturbance of Native American artifacts. This holds true for conservators as well. At the Arizona State Museum, conservators have been dealing with NAGPRA compliance in relation to their pottery collection. Their methodology has included consulting tribal representatives for every aspect of conservation, from treatments to the artifacts to artifact storage (Moreno et al 2009). This has been an ongoing process, and could provide a model for conservators to work with indigenous peoples towards the conservation of their cultural heritage.

Archaeologists and conservators alike often speak of the power of holding a tangible connection to the past in your own hands. Preventing the destruction of indigenous artifacts is beneficial to the community in this way. Perhaps even more importantly, having tangible historical evidence is an important tool in the battle for public recognition. Too often historical erasure is an important tool in subjugation and disenfranchisement, and conservation holds a unique position to prevent this from happening.

 

 

References

Bruning, Susan B. 2006 Complex Legal Legacies: The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Scientific Study, and Kennewick Man. Society for American Archaeology 71(3): 501-521

Deloria Jr., Vine 1969 Custer Died for Your Sins. New York, New York: MacMillian

Moreno, Teresa Chris White, Alyce Sadongei, and Nancy Odegaard. 2009 Integration of Tribal Consulations to Help Facilitate Conservation and Collections Management at the Arizona State Museum. The SAA Archaeological Record 9(2): 36-40.

Spector, Janet D. 1993 What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press

 

 

 

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“What is eating the Titanic?”

February 11th, 2015
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“What is eating the Titanic?”

James Kinsella

The story of the RMS Titanic is one of the most fascinating yet tragic events of the 20th century.  The RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sunk off the coast of Newfoundland after she struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912 during her maiden voyage.  She remained lost for the next seventy-four years until she was discovered by Dr. Robert Ballard.  This was touted as one of the greatest maritime discoveries of all time.  The discovery of the Titanic also brought about quite a bit of controversy.  The controversy ranged from who owned the wreck, jurisdiction of different nations, and whether or not any part of the wreck should be salvaged.

After the discovery, Dr. Ballard and crew spent time meticulously documenting and recording the wreck.  Once they left they had agreed that this should be a protected site and that no artifact recovery should take place.  In the years following this would become a topic of great debate.  There are many like Dr. Ballard that agree this should be a protected site and that it should remain undisturbed.  They feel that it is a tomb of all that were lost.  Then there are several who feel that there should be a recovery effort on Titanic and the artifacts.  The reason behind this thought is that the ship is deteriorating at an alarming rate and the feel that undertaking a recovery effort will preserve this part of history.

As the development of iron and steam maritime archaeology have emerged so has new areas of research, particularly the development of corrosion science and the understanding of the disintegration process of iron shipwrecks (Green 2004).  With new research, the individuals who want to recover part of the wreck feel that time is running out.  This is due to the fact that the deterioration of Titanic is actually a destructive bacteria that is eating away at it.  There are some that speculate a rust stain is all that will remain of the Titanic in 15 to 20 years, according to new research into the submerged ocean liner wreck (News Discovery 2013).  According to this source the science behind the deterioration is the bacteria which was isolated from rust samples appears to be accelerating the Titanic’s deterioration.  The bacteria are eating the wreck’s metal and leaving behind “rusticles.” The rusticles look like icicles; however are just deposits of rust.  Sooner or later these rusticles will dissolve into a powdery substance leaving behind just a stain of rust.  This was bacteria was analyzed by samples taken from a 1991 expedition to the wreck.  The researchers proposed a name for the bacteria; Halomonas titanicae (Ventosa 1991).

One of the biggest parts of the debate on whether or not to recover parts of Titanic is that in addition to those that feel it is disturbing a gravesite, there are others that feel that people looking to recover wreckage are just looking into it for financial gain.  There has been considerable debate within the maritime archaeological circles over codes of ethics (Green 2004).  The debate centers on whether or not it is appropriate to excavate a site and then sell the collection.

I can respect that there are those who wish Titanic remain as an undisturbed grave site.  I agree with their motives and feel that the site should be left alone.  I do not think that any personal artifacts should be brought up.  This is a grave site and there could be human remains left down there.  On the flip side however, I feel that an effort should be made to recover portions of the ship itself.  I understand that this would be huge undertaking and possibly cost prohibitive but the fact is that in 25 years the wreck will be gone.  All that will be left is rust stain on the ocean floor.  I firmly believe that there is enough science and technology to successfully recover a portion of the wreck and properly conserve it for future generations to enjoy in a museum setting.

 

References

“Titanic Being Eaten by Destructive Bacteria: DNews.” DNews. February 11, 2013. Accessed February 4, 2015. http://news.discovery.com/history/titanic-bacteria-rust-wreck.htm.

Sanchez-Porro, C., Kaur, B., Mann, H., and Ventosa, A. “Halomonas Titanicae Sp. Nov., a Halophilic Bacterium Isolated from the RMS Titanic.” IJSEM. January 8, 2010. Accessed February 4, 2015. http://ijs.sgmjournals.org/content/60/12/2768.short.

Green, J.  2004.  Maritime Archaeology: A Technical Handbook. 2nd ed.

 

General Conservation, Research and Experiments, Science , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Thing of the Past: The Importance of Correct Cleaning Techniques of Tombstones

February 11th, 2015
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A Thing of the Past: The Importance of Correct Cleaning Techniques of Tombstones

Kristi Brantley

           The role of a tombstone is complex. It is a final physical connection to surviving friends and family- a reminder of life and a representation of loss. An important artifact for the historian, the tombstone normally has identifying information inscribed on it.  It can tell us who, what, when or where and sometimes, why.  Its cultural value increases with age.  The use of tombstones to mark grave sites is beginning to diminish, creating urgency for deliberate conservation efforts.  Tombstones should be preserved, not only for the obvious information they provide, but also for their value as a material culture object.

There are primarily two types of cemeteries: perpetual and non-perpetual.  A perpetual cemetery is usually privately owned.  A portion of the money collected for a burial plot goes into a special account that accrues interest.  The interest is used to ensure that the grounds and grave markers will continually be maintained. A non-perpetual cemetery is owned by an individual family, a local municipality, a church, or an organization, such as state and national veteran cemeteries.  They rely on private funds, donations or tax funds to maintain the gravesites and landscape.

The tombstones in the cemeteries are usually made up from one of four kinds of stone: granite, marble, slate and sandstone.  These stones are in direct contact with the ground and absorb some water from the surrounding soil.  The porous nature of the stone allows air to circulate and evaporate the water.  One could say that the tombstone breathes (an eerie thought), as it allows air to pass through it. The nature of the tombstone sets the stage for natural deterioration.

Normal weather occurrences such as rain, snow, ice, or wind impact the stability and inscription details of the tombstone.  Vegetation growing around and on the stone often causes damage.  A common problem is the attachment of lichen, fungi, or algae to the stone. These trap moisture and secrete acids.  Often roots from ferns, ivy, and moss will grow into the stone (particularly on the north side of it), further destabilizing it.  In addition, shifts in the ground from erosion can have a substantial impact on the degeneration of the stone.

There are man-made causes of tombstone deterioration as well.  Erosion problems as a result of poor landscaping can cause a tombstone to fall over or break at the base.  Pollution found in rainwater (i.e. acid rain) can do significant damage to the stone.  Actions such as recording the epitaph through crayon, pencil, or wax rubbings can eventually destroy the stone.  The practice of rubbings has been banned in some states and many others are now requiring a permit. Stones can erode internally, while the outside hardens because of environmental exposure thus giving the impression of a sturdy gravestone. The pressure applied during a rubbing can cause the stone to implode.  Cleaning attempts can also create a dangerous environment for the tombstone.  It is not uncommon to hear of someone using bleach to clean and enhance the stone.  The salt from the bleach is hazardous to the stone and wears away details.

before1wash

after1wash

 

Inappropriate cleaning techniques:  A power washer was used to clean this tombstone.

The top image is before and the bottom image is after.

Notice the reduction in detail in the after photo.

Source: http://www.ctgravestones.com/Conservation/examples_clean.htm

 

There are a few companies that clean gravestones, but it is a job primarily done by ancestors of the deceased.  It is important to use proper techniques when cleaning a tombstone.  Never use household cleaning supplies to clean a tombstone.  The safest way to clean a gravestone is to keep a constant flow of water over the spot to be cleaned, using a hose, and gently scrub the stone with a soft bristle brush. If one has access to it, a D/2 Biological solution can be used.  It can be a time consuming task, but is eventually effective and safe for the preservation of the stone.

correctclean2

correctclean1

 

Appropriate cleaning techniques:  Notice the improvement in the tombstone after it had been gently cleaned with a soft bristle brush and water.

The top image is before and the bottom image is after.

Source:  http://www.ctgravestones.com/Conservation/examples_clean.htm

 

 

 

During the 1970s, many cemeteries, especially perpetual cemeteries, began moving away from using upright tombstones as grave markers and instead began using flat, bronze plates.  These ground-level plates granted more accessibility for grave digging equipment and allowed maintenance upkeep such as grass cutting to be easier and more cost efficient.  As cemetery spaces decrease and maintenance costs increase, the use of tombstones to mark graves will continue to diminish.  It is essential that the public be educated on gravestone conservation techniques and begin employing them because, eventually, tombstones may be a thing of the past.

gravestone

 

Photo by Kristi Brantley.

 

 

References:

Melton Caison, Jr. Location Manager of Johnson Funeral Home; Operation Manager of Rocky Mount Memorial Park, Rocky Mount, N.C., telephone call January 23, 2015

Eddie Finch, Funeral Assistant, Johnson Funeral Home, Rocky Mount, N.C., telephone call January 20, 2015.

Chris May, Funeral Service licensee, operation manager Cornerstone Funeral Home, Nashville, N.C., telephone call January 23, 2015

Chicora Foundation, Incorporated. 2008. http://www.chicora.org/conservation.html

Conneticut Gravestone Network. 2012. http://www.ctgravestones.com/Conservation/conservetopics.htm

Odgers, David. Caring for Historic Graveyard and Cemetery Monuments. 2011.  Digital. https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/caring-historic-graveyard-cemetery-monuments/

 

 

 

General Conservation, Research and Experiments, Science , , , , , , , , , ,

A Cult of Significance

February 11th, 2015
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A Cult of Significance

Ian Hazel

“Why do I [care] about some tertiary flake? It’s some excavation from the seventies that no one [cares] about! It just got stuffed in a box, and no one’s going to use it for research.”  This statement by a graduate student merited a response, but the more it became clear that it required some rebuttal, the less clear the content of that rebuttal became.  Why do we care about preserving seemingly insignificant specks of human culture?  Is there really going to be a gain from cataloguing and filing every last piece of a site?  Is there not a better use of the limited funds allocated to archaeologists and conservators?

While some of these answers are too difficult to address in short form, and have been covered in much more substantive pieces, the one that seems most pertinent is the complicated relationship between what merits preservation, what does not, and how funding should be allocated in order to discover and conserve the most important pieces.  First, the connection between archaeology and conservation must be addressed.  Archaeological conservation could not exist without archaeology first discovering things worth conserving.  Simultaneously, archaeology would be an almost unapproachable field if conservators did not make sure items were preserved for future research or display.  It seems abundantly clear that both fields need each other, and therefore a balance between the two must — by definition — exist.

The balance is most germane in regards to funding allocations between the two.  Archaeologists will almost always find more items than could possibly be conserved, if for no other reason than there is simply no place to store every conserved item.  Therefore, again by necessity, some items must intrinsically not be conserved.  Deciding which ones, however, poses the dilemma.  In archaeology there seems to be a cult of significance that believes each and every item at a site holds grand significance.  However, if investigating a site that has thousands of pottery fragments, many of which are virtually identical, it seems fair to accept that not every shard needs to be conserved.  Posit that the composition of the pottery is consistent, there are existant examples, and the distribution patterns have been recorded.  Why keep a shard of a broken bowl?  Simply because it is old?  When a vase breaks, we repair it if it has significance and discard it if it does not.  Should archaeological conservation not be held to the same policy?  A 1980 study found that the limited funding sources available to archaeology were being used for applied projects only; specific government agencies and clients have an end result in mind, and the funding only exists for that purpose. (Casteel 1980:179)  If projects were less focused on recovery of specific sites and artifacts, more developments of relevant projects could be made.  If greater communication existed between the fields of archaeology and archaeological conservation, more realistic project cost assessments could be made, and goals could be presented more holistically. (Bourque et al 1980:797-798)  In conjunction with the sources for funding, this would create clearer goals for all parties involved in the preservation process.  Perhaps the archaeologists could note the location of tertiary flakes and carefully document them before returning them to the earth.  This would, in turn, free up valuable conservation resources to focus on items of more direct pertinence.

A clear answer cannot be reached on the matter, as each site is different and a universal guideline cannot be enforced.  In lieu of a clear protocol, opening a clear dialogue seems the best way to determine what should be preserved.  This would require much better intercommunication and the breaking down of stigmas surrounding the two fields, but it is the most responsible course for the history of both fields in an environment that produces lamentably limited funding. (Johnson 1993:250-251)

Works Cited

Bourque, Bruce J et al.

1980      Conservation in Archaeology: Moving Toward Closer Cooperation, American Antiquity, 45(4):794-799. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/280149> Accessed 20 January 2015.

 

Casteel, Richard W.

1980      National Science Foundation Funding of Domestic Archaeology in the United States: Where the Money Ain’t, American Aniquity, 45(1):170-180. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/279672> Accessed 20 January 2015.

 

Johnson, Jessica S.

1993      Conservation and Archaeology in Great Britain and the United States: A Comparison, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 32(3):249-269. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3179548> Accessed 20 January 2015

General Conservation

Archaeology and Conservation, An Uphill Battle Against Human Nature

February 11th, 2015
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Archaeology and Conservation, An Uphill Battle Against Human Nature

Will Creech

Anthropologists often face a grave threat to their research and even to their profession at large, from renegade amateurs, history enthusiasts, and rampant treasure hunters.  Treasure hunting in particular has become a problem in the United States where cemeteries and ruins are at the mercy of locals, especially because many of these sites are not properly recognized and protected by state and federal law.  Often, anthropologists and others seeking to protect sites have to rely more on the contents of a site rather than obtaining recognition for the site as a whole.   At the same time, anthropologists are required to back track the claims of some of these amateurs and re-evaluate sites that were partially destroyed and misrepresented or misunderstood.  These two problems are by no means a recent problem only, even during the last hundred years, where supposedly modern scientific methods and responsible science was being done; there have been cases of gross neglect.

 

Creech-FortCraig

(Hanson/Fort Craig): Torn cup left by looter in exposed grave at Fort Craig. Sourced from works cited below.

 

Anthropologist Jeffery R. Hanson’s article in American Antiquity is centered on the cultural interest in treasure hunting and amateur archeology, both of which he claims is causing significant damage to historical sites both discovered and undiscovered.  In the article, Hanson discusses the story of a man nick-named Gravedigger, who was an amateur archeologist and treasure hunter with many ties to the archeological community in the American South West.  From these ties, he acquired tactics, skills, and general information that aided his efforts in pillaging a civil war fort, Fort Craig, its neighboring cemetery, and possibly other sites in the area.

According to Hanson, archeologists at the site discovered enormous amounts of damage and evidence that the site had been pilfered many times over the last five decades.  Archaeologists had to spend a great deal of time and effort, not to restore the site, which was destroyed not just by local treasure hunters in addition to Gravedigger, but to reclaim the remains of soldiers and other artifacts.  There is a National law that Hanson refers to which gives the government authority to relocate the remains of military personnel to national cemeteries regardless of where they are buried.  A number of legal matters still had to be dealt with despite the fact that the government technically owned the land on which the fort and cemetery stood.  Archaeologists excavating the site were able to recover the remains of many soldiers, however the site had been looted of most artifacts, and it was discovered that many graves had been disturbed and their entire contents removed.

Hanson believes this a typical example of how a historical site can be ruined and history lost because of untrained hands in the field that may just be looking for souvenirs.  He argues, quite effectively, for a greater amount of wariness in the archeological community and more stringent laws for the destruction of historical sites.

Creech-DuraEuropos

    (James/DuraEuropos): Overhead of Tunnel under Tower 19 showing features at Dura-­Europos. Sourced from works cited below.

 

A separate article written by Simon James on the pitfalls of early archeology and the excavation of sites led to wrong conclusions and even potential damage to historical sites.  The example used for both of these subjects is a Graeco-Roman fort on the Syrian Euphrates River that was under attack sometime in the year 256 C.E. from the Partho-Sasanian (Persian) Empire.  Around what is known as Tower 19, an excavation began in the late 1920’s by amateur archeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson.  The Persians attempted to bring down the tower from underground and open a hole in the wall to bypass the Roman defenses.  When excavated, du Buisson discovered 21 bodies in a preserved state within a tunnel that had been dug underneath the tower from outside and inside the fort.  Twenty of the bodies were found to be Roman soldiers and servants wearing traditional armor, weapons, and many even had coins in their purses, while the remaining corpse apparently belonged to a single Persian soldier. Du Buisson correctly made the assumption that the Persians had attempted to tunnel under the tower from a nearby temple and that the Romans had discovered their efforts and carved a second tunnel from their side of the tower in order to meet the Persians head on and stop them.

Du Buisson believed that the Roman soldiers were trapped in a cave-in during the battle, but James re-interprets the site based on a re-examination of the tower, the tunnel, and the remains.  Unfortunately, much of the data was lost over the years or not recorded, and some of the site was destroyed by du Buisson’s team.  However, the re-examination found traces of the chemicals bitumen, or pitch, and sulphur in the tunnel around the bodies and noted the odd positions of the corpses.  It seemed from the evidence that the Roman soldiers had fallen on top of each other in a weird pattern that could not be explained by simply concluding that a cave-in was the cause of death.  Instead it became apparent that the corpses had been stacked into a crude wall around the Roman side of the tunnel.  James believes the evidence indicates there was conflict when the Romans met the Persians.  Du Buisson, decided the Romans likely retreated and attempted to collapse the tunnel in response to the Persians, sealing off the tunnel with a wall of Roman bodies.  The absence of Persian bodies suggests they were removed from the tunnel and the Persians attempted to create an explosion that would bring down Tower 19.  James’ believes the single Persian corpse was a soldier who either started the blast or failed to retreat in time before the explosion.

James uses this modern re-examination of evidence from the original evidence collected in 1920 as an example of the potential pitfalls facing early archaeologists, many of whom were untrained and ill-prepared for the complexities of a site like Tower 19.  In the article, James goes further by pointing out where the original team went wrong, not just in their understanding of what happened, but in how they handled the evidence, much of which was destroyed in the haphazard excavation of the fort.  Granted that much of the fort had been destroyed by numerous attacks both by man and by nature, but the treatment of the site and its artifacts was ill-managed to the point of nearly ruining it for other anthropologists who might come later to verify the findings.

 

Creech-Rome

 (Karmon/Rome):  Ruins in central Rome, old sketch. Sourced from works cited below.

 

While the problems anthropologists face with preserving sites and artifacts of importance in this modern age are significant, they pale in comparison to the problems of Renaissance Rome.   Since Christianity came to Rome the Emperors, Popes, nobles, and even the common man have been blamed for the systematic destruction of artifacts, buildings, and significant locations.  In his recently published article, anthropologist and historian David Karmon is attempting to combat the arguments and complaints of historians and other important persons decrying the destruction of Rome at the hands of its leaders and citizens for the last thousand years.  In his arguments he draws comparisons between the historical protests and writings of past important figures with documentation supporting his claims that the leaders of Rome took many actions in an effort to preserve the ancient glory of the city.

Karmon draws attention to the practices from the early reign of the popes in Italy where it is known that countless temples, palaces, and monuments were scavenged for their marble and stone in order to build palaces and churches for the Catholic Church and Roman nobles.  In some cases, so called pagan temples were destroyed outright in order to crush resistance against the Church, though some of these were rebuilt and converted into churches.  However, the most egregious crime was the construction of the Vatican and St. Paul’s Basilica almost entirely from marble and stone taken from the Roman Coliseum and the Forum.  Karmon does not deny these horrendous acts, but argues that very early on the citizens of Rome made known their disgruntled feelings over the ravaging of old Roman glory to the Popes and nobles.  He points to documentation found among surviving documents that suggest the leaders of Rome were well aware of these complaints and took action to preserve as much of the ancient city as possible.

Archaeologists continue fighting the growing demands of human civilization and a lack of interest in preserving historical sites.  More extensive laws might curb the tide of destruction, but at some point laws aimed at conservation can be detrimental to excavations with no certainty of preventing all crimes. It has become a struggle to balance the interests of conservation against human interests, though as Karmon demonstrates, there have long been parties interested in preserving history.  In conclusion, hopefully, despite criminal behavior and human error always being present, society will strive to preserve as much of its history as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

HANSON, JEFFERY R.

2011       “LOOTING OF THE FORT CRAIG CEMETERY: DAMAGE DONE AND LESSONS LEARNED.” American Antiquity 76.3 (2011): 429-445. PRINT.

 

JAMES, SIMON

2011       “STRATAGEMS, COMBAT, AND ‘CHEMICAL WARFARE’ IN THE SIEGE MINES OF DURA-EUROPOS.” American Journal of Archaeology 115.1 (2011): 69-101. PRINT.

 

KARMON, DAVID

2011       “ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE ANXIETY OF LOSS: EFFACING PRESERVATION FROM THE HISTORY OF RENAISSANCE ROME.” American Journal of Archaeology
115. 2 (April 2011): 159-174. PRINT.

 

 

Archaeological Conservation , , ,

Public Conservation

February 4th, 2015

Public Conservation

Kate Thomas

What is public conservation? To answer this we must look at a more discussed relative, public archaeology. Public archaeology is involving the public in the excavation, interpretation, and dispersal of archaeological inquiries. This takes many forms, from public days at national parks and on excavations, to tours around current excavations, to engaging the community at a local town hall, to Congress making laws about material culture, to relying on the public to contact you with sites of interest (McManamon 1991). Public conservation, although requiring far fewer bodies to complete, operates in the same way. It involves getting the public to understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and getting them involved in the conservation of artifacts.  For my own thesis, I believe that both public archaeology and public conservation are and will be integral portions. The artifacts that I am using will be transferred back to the community they came from, to be displayed in the county museum. It will be up to the members of the community to care for these artifacts, and involving them in the process allows them to display these artifacts and their history without a conservator on staff.

The pros and cons of a public conservation are very similar to those of public archaeology. The biggest pro is that the involvement of the community allows us to access more and more artifacts. Archaeologists and conservators cannot be in all places at once, and having the public bring artifacts to our attention makes our jobs slightly easier. The other pro is that the public is inherently interested in what we do. By getting them involved in the care and knowledge of their own history, it improves our work as they have valuable knowledge to add to the conversation. This is especially true in cases of the disenfranchised, as their involvement in their own history should be a necessity.

The most obvious con is that giving the public the knowledge of conservation methods may cause them to completely skip using professionals and do it on their own. Without the help of a professional, they could damage an object or handle it improperly. This con may be mitigated by incorporating lessons about contacting local conservators or universities combined with basic conservation lessons. One could argue that this will also lead to a devaluation of the field if they no longer need professional conservators, but I think this perspective is pessimistic. By educating the public, we are giving them the tools to recognize when they need the help of the professional, and can help the conservator once they become involve. They may also be more likely to heed the advice of a conservator if they have a basic knowledge of conservation.

With so many specialized degrees related to archaeology and conservation, the question becomes why we should even have a public conservation. Beyond the fact that the items we produce are consumed by the public in museums and that the public seems interested in many of the topics related to both these subjects, it is also vital to our survival (Borque et al 1980,796). Pragmatically, there is a question of funding. Earlier this week Senator Rand Paul and Representative Lamar Smith criticized the National Science Foundation for funding projects that the public does not care about, and provided examples involving archaeology and anthropology projects (Altschul and Heller 2015). Based on personal experience, I would disagree that the public is not interested in any of these projects, but the suggestion by our representatives makes it clear that large portions of the public neither understand nor care about the projects that conservation and archaeology can tackle. This directly affects our funding, making our projects more difficult to complete.

Financial reasons, however, are not the only consideration. As an archaeologist, I have instances of relying on the public for my data. A personal example would be my thesis, where I became involved after members of a community found artifacts and reached out to East Carolina University. This is what we want the public to do when they find artifacts, and we need to work with them rather than alienate them from the process. Archaeology took a while to start in America, really not coming into its own until the late 1800’s, and because of this collecting is a popular activity by many people. Although unethical according to a variety of societies in archaeology, these collectors hold important information that archaeologists can still use (Kelley 1963). Do we completely ignore the data they have collected, or do we work with them to parse what data we can? Conservation has to answer the same question. Is it better to refuse to work with the public because they do not have the same level of education or do we work with the public to ensure the preservation of artifacts? Archaeologists need to work with collectors and the public in order to gather data and maintain sites, and so do conservators. A public conservation is the optimal way to do this.

 

 

References

Altschul, Jefffrey H. and Monica Heller. 2015. Research in the Public Interest

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/american-anthropological-association/research-in-the-public-interest_b_6489564.html (accessed 1/19/15)

 

 

Borque, Bruce J, Stephen W. Brooke, Ronald Kley and Kenneth Morris. 1980. Conservation in Archaeology: Moving toward Closer Cooperation. American Antiquity. 45(4):794-799.

 

Kelley, Jane Holden. 1963. Some Thoughts on Amateur Archaeology. American Antiquity. 28(3): 394-396

 

McManamon, Francis P. 1991. The Many Publics of Archaeology. American Antiquity. 56(1): 121-130

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Ethics in Conservation and Archaeology

February 4th, 2015

Ethics in Conservation and Archaeology

Kathryn Parker

 Ethics, a concept of recommending right and wrong, is essential to all fields of study. In the United States, a standardized set of ethics has been published for both conservators and archaeologists by their respective professional bodies (American Institute of Conservation and Society for American Archaeology). While Conservation in the United States began with an archaeologist, few American archaeologists have worked frequently with conservators. As a student of both fields, it is important to understand where the two codes are similar and different.

From the start, there is a difference in the length of both: the Principles of Archaeological Ethics adopted in 1996 by the SAA Executive Board has eight Principals, while the Code of Ethics published by AIC in May 1994, has thirteen codes. However, do these ethics significantly diverge?

In short, the answer is no. The SAA’s first principal, Stewardship, underlies multiple of the AIC’s codes, and the SAA’s Stewardship principle even calls for “long-term conservation and protection of the archaeological record” (Society for American Archaeology 1996). This principle of Stewardship can be seen in II, III, and IV. Code II calls for an “an informed respect for the cultural property, its unique character and significance, and the people or person who created it,” code III calls for conservators to recognize society’s right to the use of the cultural heritage, but for conservators to also advocate for the preservation of cultural property, and code four calls for practice within “personal competence and education” (American Institute for Conservation 1994). The Principle of Stewardship also calls for archaeologists to advocate for the archaeological record, the use of specialized knowledge, and long term preservation.

Principal No. 4 of the SAA Principles of Ethics, and Code IX of AIC’s Code of Ethics. This places an emphasis on educating the public about modern methods of archaeology and conservation, but also staying in contact with the “owners” of the cultural property or heritage, whether that be the general public, the owner a of specific artifact, the owner of a farm which contains an important site, the Native American tribe that can be traced back to the archaeological site, or any other entity. Activities can also extend to “promoting awareness” (American Institute for Conservation 1994).This could be as simple as an educational talk open to the public, to a blog post about conserving a Civil War-era rifle.

The SAA’s Principle No. 6 overlaps with AIC’s Code VII, as both call for documentation of the process undertaken by the professional. However, while the SAA Principles explicitly call for publication of these records in “an accessible form,” the AIC Code does not go this far. AIC’s Code X could be interpreted to also overlap her, as it calls for contribution “to the evolution and growth of the profession…adding to the profession’s written body of knowledge…” (American Institute for Conservation 1994). Additionally, the SAA calls for the publication to be available to “as wide a range of interested publics as possible” (Society for American Archaeology 1996), though how this is to be done and how often it is fully followed through on continues to be hotly debated. The SAA’s Principal No. 7 also overlaps here, as it calls for the recording of the archaeological record, and for other students and professionals of the field to make use of it. This also allows future archaeologists to know what has already occurred at a site, just as documentation of the process undertaken by the conservator is preserved for a future conservator, should the need arise for more preservation of the object.

Both professional organizations also call for education and training of their members, Principle No. 8 and Codes I, IV, X, XI. This calls for the members to assure not only that they have proper, up-to-date education on methods, techniques, and the science of the field. The SAA also explicitly calls for “other support necessary to conduct any program of research,” often interpreted as calling for archaeologists to hire the correct professional for the job (such as a zooarcaheologist, bioarchaeologists, or conservator). While the AIC implies this with multiple statements telling their members to practice within “professional competence,” it does not say to hire someone else.

There are additional Codes put forth by AIC not found in the SAA’s Principles. This is due to the nature of the professions. Conservators must work with many different groups of people in multiple facets, as well as with other conservators. Additionally, conservators do work with dangerous chemicals, and Code XII calls for a minimization of “personal risks and hazards to co-workers, the public, and the environment” (American Institute for Conservation 1994). Code IX also states in very clear language how to conduct professional relationships, something not found in the SAA’s Principles. Code V from the AIC also deals with the realities of conservators being hired by anyone, be they a woman trying to preserve her grandmothers wedding dress to a museum in charge of the preservation of a thousand piece shoe collection. As such, Code V calls for the quality of a conservators work to not change with the amount of resources provided by those who hired the professional.

These published ethics guide both professions today. While extremely similar documents, they both have some ethics that are particular to their profession, especially conservation. Of all the declared codes and principles, it is helpfully to remember that the concept of stewardship can be seen to underlie the majority, if not all, of the ethics. As professionals who work in close contact with cultural heritage it is important to remember this, and to always take this into account when beginning a new research program or conservation process. As Hamilakis (2009) notes, all archaeologists must critical of their own cultures history and how they define “archaeological material” past.

 

 

References

American Institute for Conservation

1992 Code of Ethics. Electronic Document, http://www.conservation-us.org/about-us/core-documents/code-of-ethics#.VL_W3tLF_-s, accessed January 20, 2015.

 

Hamilakis, Yannis

2009 The “War on Terror” and the Military-Arcaheology Complex: Iraq, Ethics, and Neo-Colonism. Arcaehologies 5:1):36-65

 

Society for American Archaeology

1996 Principles of Archaeological Ethics. Electronic Document, http://www.saa.org/AbouttheSociety/PrinciplesofArchaeologicalEthics/tabid/203/Default.aspx, accessed January 20, 2015.

 

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Should Auschwitz-Birkenau be preserved, and can it?

February 4th, 2015

Should Auschwitz-Birkenau be preserved, and can it?

Chelsea Head

            Concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau played a large role in the Final Solution implemented by the Third Reich during World War II. Auschwitz-Birkenau is located in the south of Poland, and was built in the year 1940. With the end of the war in 1945, the Nazis tried to destroy everything that would link them to the horrors of the Second World War, including burning records and buildings in the camps. Despite their destruction, a large portion of the camp is left today, but with over 1 million visitors a year, there has been a considerable amount of damage and decay to the remaining structures[1]. The site has been maintained by the Polish Government as a museum and memorial since 1947, with large efforts to conserve and preserve the site[2].

One of the problems with Auschwitz is that it was never meant to last this long. Yes, the Nazi regime believed that the Third Reich would be long-lasting, but the concentration camps were never meant to last the supposed entire Nazi reign. Concentration camps were vital to the Nazis’ Final Solution and Hitler’s Aryan regime, but they were not built to last.  The type of materials that were used to build Auschwitz are difficult to conserve and preserve for future generations. With the amount of visitors each year, it is demanding to keep up with the amount of decay and deterioration throughout the site. The camp is a large and demanding conservation effort with, “The Auschwitz camp itself covers 50 acres and comprises 46 historical buildings, including two-story red brick barracks, a kitchen, a crematorium and several brick and concrete administration buildings. In addition, Birkenau, a satellite camp about two miles away, sprawls over more than 400 acres and has 30 low-slung brick barracks and 20 wooden structures, railroad tracks and the remains of four gas chambers and crematoria. In total [the staff] monitor 150 buildings and more than 300 ruins at the two sites”.[3]

The amount of Holocaust and Auschwitz survivors is rapidly dwindling, which makes the preservation of the camp a priority of the museum, to preserve the history for younger generations who know nothing of the Holocaust. With the amount of work and money involved in the conservation of the camp, there have been some comments on whether Auschwitz should be left to deteriorate. Architect Eric Kahn believes that the camp should be memorialized in a way that doesn’t continue to rapidly deteriorate the camp, but still brings focus to the event and tragedy that occurred there.[4] By letting Birkenau disintegrate naturally, visitors will have to find new ways to tackle the topic of the Holocaust and the horrors of Auschwitz without seeing the remains of the camp. But, many survivors believe that Auschwitz-Birkenau should continue to be preserved for future generations. Survivors faced many unthinkable horrors in Auschwitz, and the world needs to remember the camp and the tragedy.

The conservators at Auschwitz-Birkenau work on the many buildings and remains of the camp, as well as the substantial amount of objects in the site’s museum, such as shoes, suitcases, kitchenware, eyeglasses, clothing, art, human remains (hair, teeth, etc.), and records.[5] The conservation effort at Auschwitz is one of the largest in the world, with many conservators working to preserve the camp and artifacts. I believe that preserving the camp is the only viable option for the future of Holocaust memorialization. It will take a considerable amount of work, and money, but it is doable with the right type of people and conservation efforts. The memory of the Holocaust needs to be kept alive at Auschwitz-Birkenau for future generations.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

[1]  Ryan E. Smith, “Preserving Auschwitz,” Jewish Journal. 30 January 2013. Accessed 19 January 2015. http://            www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/preserving_auschwitz.

[2] Andrew Curry, “Can Auschwitz be Saved?” Smithsonian Magazine. Feb. 2010. Accessed 19 Jan. 2015. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/can-auschwitz-be-saved-4650863/?no-ist.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Smith, “Preserving Auschwitz”.

[5] “Auschwitz-Birkenau.” Auschwitz-Birkenau. Accessed January 19, 2015. http://en.auschwitz.org/m/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=583&Itemid=37.

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Rights of the Owner Versus Rights of the Public

February 4th, 2015

Rights of the Owner versus Rights of the Public

Stephanie Byrd

 The rights to own property is part of the American dream, but what if the property has a past that is ties with a historic person from the community, and a new owner wants to alter the property? Can the town try to preserve the legacy of the former owner, over the rights of the new owner? The issue becomes a topic of discussion over the “Pretty Penny” house from the late Helen Hayes. The public wanted the home to remain visibly the same from Helen Hayes’ time, but the new owner wanted to restore the home to the original architecture and add a privacy wall in the process. The new homeowner was within their rights to alter the home, as long as the proper paperwork was submitted, even if the alteration angered the residents. In the case of historic homes, can a balance of owner’s right and historic appearance and legacy of the property meet to accommodate all parties involved?

On the Hudson River in a small and beautiful town of Nyack, New York, stands the former home of Helen Hayes, a woman known as the “First Lady of American Theater” (Arader 2013). To the village of Nyack, or to those who knew her well, she was Helen or Mrs. MacArthur. Her home was shared with her husband Charles MacArthur who nicknamed the home “Pretty Penny” due to the joke he told that it cost a “pretty penny” to keep up (Geist nd). I have a unique history with this house, or at least my family does. The Hayes family and my mother’s family grew up together from the early 1930s to 1993, when Mrs. MacArthur passed away.

Celebrities living in Nyack are nothing new. The town is small with large expensive homes and is located an hour from New York City, making it a perfect fit to get away. However, the town’s ability to treat celebrities as normal people is what I remember as a child. My family would drive back to visit my Grandfather and I loved the homes that lined River Road and N. Broadway that had always caught my eye. My first look at Pretty Penny took my breath away, a large white house shaped like a wedding cake. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the home had a metal fence that allowed the residents and visitors of Nyack to see the home while driving by. The home was built in 1856 in the Italianate style with little history prior to the MacArthur’s purchasing of the home in the 1930s. After the MacArthur’s bought the home, improvements and changes were done, most notably the moving of the front door, which could be seen from N. Broadway. Much of the interior was changed, but the appeal is in the architecture and gardens that surround the home since it was the outside that passer-byers wanted.

After Helen’s death, the home was placed on the market and sold to Rosie O’Donnell. The front door was placed back to the original location and the interior brought back to the 1850s appearance with some modern touches. Sadly, the 8-foot brick wall (Cary 2014) was built around the home that angered the residents of Nyack. As “Pretty Penny” was her private property, she had the right to change the home and the land, as long as she had gone through the village council and gotten the permits. However, due to the historic nature and its ties to the MacArthur family, much of the village did not want the wall because it changed the town’s appearance. It was a balance of private property, historic preservation, town aesthetics, and the MacArthur family legacy that needs to be reconciled.

If the local government of Nyack wanted to “own” Pretty Penny for a museum, it most likely could under the Fifth Amendment (Preservationnation.org). While most people know the Fifth Amendment as protecting individuals from incrimination, other components relate to eminent domain and the ability of the government to take private property for public use. Since the home is still private property and the wall still stands some part of the village has had to come to terms that “Pretty Penny’s” wall is now part of her past, but not the past people want to remember. It is the MacArthur’s home that is remembered but even they made changes that the public considers historic not because it was original but because of who made the changes. In changing the front door back to the original and adding a wall, did Rosie O’Donnell add value in restoration or devalue it by finding the historic home beyond the brick wall?

As much as I would like to argue that the wall is unnecessary, if all legal paperwork was completed for the wall construction then Rosie O’Donnell is fully within her rights to add a wall and alter the home. The residents can voice their displeasure, which is within their rights, but Rosie was the owner at the time and can add, modify, and change the home per the permits. The right to keep the home ultimately comes down to city hall issue permits on historic homes and if the governing body approves the permits to change the home the local residents have no choice but to allow the changes to occur. It is possible that the homeowner of any historic property could take into account the feelings the community has towards the property but that is not something the owner must do. Reconstruction of historic homes can be a challenge to obtain materials and even records of the original work to restore it properly. Materials used today are not the same material quality or type from the original work. Building codes have changed, making permits requires ensures safety and compliance, with the exterior being visually similar but safer for the current owners. Owning a historic property with community ties comes with a special set of challenges between the owner rights, community options, and preservation law that a person should not enter into lightly when thinking of buying a historic home.

 

 

References

“Fifth Amendment.” Fifth Amendment. http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fifth_amendment.

 

“Graham Arader: A Great Story about My House in Nyack – Pretty Penny.” Graham Arader: A Great Story about My House in Nyack – Pretty Penny. http://grahamarader.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-great-story-about-my-house-in-nyack.html.

 

Geist, John F. Personal Interview. Nyack, New York.

 

Batson, Bill. 2012. “Nyack Sketch Log: Helen Hayes MacArthur.” Nyack News and Views. http://www.nyacknewsandviews.com/2012/12/bb_helenhayesmacarthur/.

 

Cary, Bill. 2014. “Pretty Penny: Helen Hayes’ Former Home Is on the Market Again.” Pretty Penny: Helen Hayes’ Former Home Is on the Market Again.

http://www.lohud.com/story/life/home-garden/2014/02/13/pretty-penny-helen-hayes-former-home-is-on-the-market-again/5462043/.

 

“Takings Clause.” Preservationnation.org.

http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/law-and-policy/legal-resources/preservation-law-101/constitutional-issues/takings-clause.html

 

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What’s it Worth?

February 4th, 2015

What’s it Worth?

William Fleming

Every object has some sort of value to someone, otherwise it wouldn’t exist. In general,
the value of an object is the highest right after it is produced, though some objects (such as
family heirlooms) can increase in value over time, especially if they stay in excellent condition
through the generations. However, while the value of the object can increase or decrease, it can
also change from one form to another. There are three principle forms of value an object can
hold: monetary, cultural, and personal. This post will provide a general overview of these values,
but each type will be examined in more detail in the coming weeks.

Monetary Value
Monetary value is usually the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks “What is
this item worth?” In fact, archaeologists are often presented artifacts by the general public and
asked to appraise them. However, monetary value should be the least important form of value
placed on an object, and true archaeologists should know that to place such a value on any item
is considered unethical within the field. That being said, monetary value does end up playing a
significant role in the history of an artifact. monetary value generally depreciates over time, but
certain factors can make this value increase. Historic artifacts in excellent condition, such as
family heirlooms handled appropriately through the generations, or well-preserved
archaeological discoveries, can be worth thousands of dollars to collectors, despite their initial
cost after production (Read 2009:280). Also, as other examples of the same artifact disappear,
increasing the rarity of the artifact, the monetary values increase as well. Finally, as an artifact
continues to change hands, the monetary value increases as each successive collector must sell
the artifact at a higher price in order to make a profit.Regardless of how this value increases, it
becomes harder for archaeologists and conservators to acquire artifacts, as the lack of funding
(and the greed of humanity) keeps artifacts out of reach.

Cultural Value
Another type of value applied to artifacts is cultural value. Cultural value is the value
placed on an object by a society. This society can be the one that created the artifact, or an
entirely separate one that finds the artifact. An excellent example of cultural value are the tombs
of Egypt; the ancient Egyptians held these people and artifacts in high regard at the time they
were buried, and when they were later exhumed by British archaeologists, they became
significantly important to the British people. The problem here is that conflicts can (and very
often do) arise as to who such artifacts belong, and who has the right to display or conserve them
(Henry et. al. 2013:43-45).

Personal Value
The final type of value applied to artifacts is personal value. Personal value, obviously,
varies between individuals, and is purely subjective. The same object can mean everything to one
person, and absolutely nothing to a different person. The most interesting aspect of personal
value is that it can easily influence the design and use of the artifact, which later affects the other
types of values (Fleming 1997:64). This can have varying effects on the preservation of artifacts,
as some people want their treasures preserved professionally and will willingly donate them to
museums, while others can be cautious or over-protective and unwilling to let the artifacts go.

Conclusion
Three forms of value can be placed on any object. These values are monetary, cultural,
and personal, and the three are inter-related. This is especially true when it comes to preserving
and displaying artifacts; the three values discussed all affect the ease with which artifacts can be
acquired by professionals, as well as who those professionals are and the importance with which
the artifacts must be treated when put on display. Unfortunately, the monetary value of an
artifact is typically the defining factor in the display of an artifact. More valuable artifacts must
be placed in more secure displays, separated and protected from the public.

References
Fleming, D. (1997). Learning to link artifact and value: The arguments of student designers.
Language and learning across the disciplines, 2(1), 58-84.

Henry, R., T. Otto., and M. Wood. (2013). Ethnographic artifacts and value transformations.
HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 3(2), 33-51.

Read, D.W. (2009). Artifact Classification: A conceptual and methodological approach. Walnut
Creek, CA. Left Coast Press.

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Warbirds and Wordplay; or Restoration, Preservation, and Conservation

February 3rd, 2015

Warbirds and Wordplay; or Restoration, Preservation, and Conservation

James Pruitt

            Conservators, much like other specialist professionals, assign specific meanings to words that lay people might commonly use synonymously. One such example is the titles conservationist and conservator. To someone not actively involved in the conservation of the environment or artifacts, the two terms seem the same. However, call someone working on artifacts a conservationist and a likely response is “Conservationists work with birds. I’m a conservator—I work with artifacts.” Further complicating matters, the meanings of some words are open to interpretation even amongst those within the profession. For example, William Murtagh (1997) defined the terms preservation, restoration, and reconstruction, yet gave no clear meaning for the word conservation. For the purpose of this discussion, I will define conservation as the short-term stabilization of an object, preservation as the long-term preventative management of an object, and restoration as the process by which an object is restored to its original or working condition.

Conservators may sometimes work with “birds” too: warbirds. A warbird is a World War II aircraft, usually referring to fighting planes. Wreck sites of these aircraft, especially those of US Navy aircraft, pose significant management challenges. A special type of treasure hunter, warbird hunters, search for intact parts such as the control column, either as souvenirs or for the restoration of museum models or working warbirds (Wessex 2002:2). Some of the adventures and exploits of “warbird hunters” are captured, in detail, in popular books like Hidden Warbirds (Veronico 2013) and Hunting Warbirds (Hoffman 2002). Stories in these books show not only the measures warbird hunters will take in recovering aircraft or parts, but also the financial motivation driving them—a flyable B-17, for example, might sell in the $2 million to $3.5 million range (Veronico 2013:88).

This series of blog posts will examine a few of the issues surrounding the recovery, conservation, and exhibition of warbirds. This blog post will do so through a comparison of two Consolidated PB2Y Coronado flying boats. Designed in 1935 to meet the US Navy’s preparations for a long-range war in the Pacific, the Coronado was a large, four-engine flying boat capable of conducting round-trip patrols of up to 3,000 miles (Hoffman 2009:18). While fairly successful during the war, changing tactics and increased infrastructure made the Coronado obsolete, and they were scrapped by 1946 (Andrews 1989:23). Today, only two remaining Coronados are known: one, wrecked and heavily salvaged lying at the bottom of Tanapag Lagoon, Saipan, and the other, restored and on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tanapag Lagoon Coronado: photograph by author, 8 November 2014.

The comparison of these two cases illuminates several interesting points in regards to US Naval policy. The Coronado lying in Tanapag Lagoon is a typical example of the Navy’s desire to leave wreck sites in situ. The Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA), properly Division A Title XIV of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, basically reasserts the US government’s ownership of sunken military craft and prohibits disturbance of those sites. The US Navy’s regulations declare that Department of Navy ship and aircraft wrecks will be left in place (in situ) unless otherwise justified (32 CFR Ch. VI Part 767.3(b)). While the evidence of heavy salvage on the Tanapag Lagoon Coronado violates the SMCA, the in situ conservation of the site is clearly in line with Naval regulations pertaining to the SMCA.

An alternate example, the Coronado housed in the National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM), exposes a different side of Navy policy. The NNAM’s policy is to “select, collect, preserve and display historic artifacts relating to the history of Naval Aviation” (About the Museum, 2014). The Coronado housed there, BuNo 7099, was purchased from the navy in 1946; upon the death of its owner, it was donated to NNAM in 1977. The aircraft sat on the flightline for over 20 years, apparently following the aforementioned in situ policy, until a restoration project began in 2007. Four years later, the fuselage and center wing section were restored to their original 1945 appearance and placed on display in the museum (Hoffman 2009:107; Seaplane Walkaround 2011).

Pruitt-NNAM_CoronadoNNAM Coronado: courtesy of National Naval Aviation Museum

website, http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/attractions/aircraft-exhibits/item/?item=pb2y_coronado

These two aircraft demonstrated conservation and restoration. Both actions were legal according to the law of SMCA, and the restoration was sanctioned by the Navy. But were they “right”? Is it right to leave an aircraft at the bottom of a lagoon, unknown except by a few, to slowly deteriorate (calling that process “in situ conservation”)? Conversely, is it right to restore an aircraft with 30 years of postwar civilian use back to brand-new condition, as if it was just made? These are examples of ethical decisions cultural resource managers and conservators must make. In these two cases, they were carefully considered, and determined to be ethical. In the next post, I’ll examine cases that may not seem ethical from a professional standpoint.

 

 

References:

Andrews, Hal
1989     PB2Y Coronado. Naval Aviation News 72(1):22–23.

Hoffman, Carl
2002     Hunting Warbirds: The Obsessive Quest for the Lost Aircraft of World War II. Ballantine Books, New York.

Hoffman, Richard Alden
2009     Consolidated PB2Y Coronado. S. Ginter, Simi Valley, Calif.

Murtagh, W., 1997, Chapter 1: The Language of Preservation. In: Keeping Time: The History andTheory of Preservation in America, pp. 15-24.

National Naval Aviation Museum

2014     About the Museum. National Naval Aviation Museum. http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/attractions/museum/.

Travel for Aircraft Blog
2011     Seaplane Walkaround — Consolidated PB2Y Coronado. Travel for Aircraft. May 25. https://travelforaircraft.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/seaplane-walkaround-%e2%80%94-consolidated-pb2y-coronado/.

Veronico, Nick
2013     Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WWII’s Lost Aircraft.

Wessex
2002     Military Aircraft Crash Sites. English Heritage.

 

Ethics and Theory, Museum Studies , , , , , , , , , ,

What is Conservation?

February 3rd, 2015

What is Conservation?

James Kinsella

Conservation, preservation, and restoration can have multiple meanings depending on the audience.  For example, restoration can have two different meanings to someone working with historic artwork versus someone working on a classic car.  As a student of archaeology I have read about conservation and I understand the importance behind this field.  The first time I was directly introduced or involved with conservation was volunteer work with the Lighthouse Archaeological & Maritime Program (LAMP) under the auspices of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Museum.  This was a scientific diving program so my hands on experience with conservation was very minor.  When I saw that East Carolina University offered an Introduction to Conservation class I jumped at the opportunity to take it.  The first class was very interesting and we had a great discussion that touched on the foundation of conservation which evolved into definitions of preservation and restoration.

As mentioned above these terms can have different connotations to various disciplines.  For example, an archaeological conservator may have different approaches to an artistic works conservator.  The same applies to preservation and restoration.  One concept discussed in class was that conservation is defined as the means to prevent deterioration and that preservation was the protection and prevention of decay.  However the class defined restoration as “putting an object back to original” or making usable again.  In addition, adding new parts could be considered restoration.  This was of particular interest to me because of the comparison to antique car restoration.  Some car restoration enthusiasts would say that the definition of restoring a car is putting it back to the original form which means using original form and not customizing it in any way.  Others may say car restoration is taking an antique or classic car and making it useable again regardless if it is original parts or remanufactured parts.  My personal connection to restoration is a 1968 Camaro “project” and before our class discussion I had not given too much thought to what I was actually doing with it.  Am I restoring a classic 1968 Camaro or am I putting together a 2015 “1968 Camaro”?  If someone sees it in my garage and they ask me about it, I always reply with, “oh that is my project car, I am restoring it.”  Now I have to think is that really the case?  I am not putting this car to its original specifications and I have used remanufactured parts instead of finding original parts.  In addition to the original motor, I will most likely install a customized motor with better performance options.

After reflecting on my personal project, I then associated this with archaeological conservation by emphasizing the point that “restoration” can have different meanings.  Archaeological restoration also relates art restoration, the restoration of museum artifacts, and historic building restoration.  In archaeology the term restoration indicates the act or process of accurately depicting the form, features, and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time.  This is accomplished by removing features from other time or occupation periods its history and the reconstruction of missing features from the period considered most significant (National Park Service 2015).

Others may refer to restoration as the activity of repairs of pieces of art rom antiquity.  Catherine Sease (1996) stated that the Romans felt restoration was in the hands of artists.  She also stated that restoration was left in the hands of artists that understood the works of art.

In addition to art restoration and museum artifact restoration, it also applies to historic buildings.  Om Prakash Yadav suggests that restoration is giving back to the original shape and look and is used widely in the conservation of historic buildings and monuments (Yadav 2015).  It appears here that Yadav is suggesting that “giving back” means restoring to its original look and not modifying it in anyway.  Based off the definitions above it is apparent that “restoration” has different connotations across various disciplines.

Sources:

National Park Service. “Secretary’s Standards–Preservation Terminology.” National Parks Service. Accessed January 21, 2015. http://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/arch_stnds_10.htm

Sease, C. 1996.  “A Short History of Archaeological Conservation.” In: Roy, A. and Smith, P. (eds.) Archaeological Conservation and its Consequences, pp. 157-161.

Yadav, Om Prakash. “Conservation of In-Door Archaeological Objects.” Ancient Nepal, 152 (2003): 7-13. Accessed January 21, 2015. http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ancientnepal/pdf/ancient_nepal_152_02.pdf).

 

Ethics and Theory , ,

Conservation Reference Materials

January 2nd, 2015

 Journals:

  • Studies in Conservation
  • Journal of Conservation Science
  • Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
  • Reviews in Conservation
  • Journal of the Canadian Association for Conservation
  • The Conservator
  • Journal of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials
  • Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies
  • Journal of the Association for Preservation Technology
  • Corrosion Science
  • Museums Journal
  • Curator

Books:

  • Hamilton, D. 1999. Methods of Conserving Archaeological Material from Underwater Sites
  • Cronyn, J. 1990. Elements of Archaeological Conservation
  • Pearson, C. 1987. Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects
  • Sease, C. 1994. Conservation Manual for the Field Archaeologist

Conference Proceedings:

  • ICOM-Wet Organic Archaeological Materials (WOAM)
  • ICOM-Metals
  • ICOM Triennial
  • AIC-Objects Specialty Group Postprints
  • AIC-Wooden Artifact Group Postprints

Abstract Searches:

Other Published Resources:

  • Dissertations and thesis
  • Newsletters (AIC, Getty, WOAM, BROMEC)
  • Discussion/Distribution Lists (HistArch, SubArch, ConsDistList)

 Professional Organizations:

  • American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC)
  • Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC)
  • Australian Institute for Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM)
  • International Institute Conservation (IIC)
  • Institute of Conservation (ICON), formerly UKIC
  • International Council of Museums-Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC)
  • International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM)
  • Association for Preservation Technology (APT)
  • Numerous regional and state conservation societies (WAAC, SERCA, WCG, VCA)

Conservation Research Institutes:

  • Atelier Regional de Conservation (ARC Nucleart)
  • Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI)
  • National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT)
  • Getty Conservation Institute (GCI)
  • Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI)

Major Conservation Labs and Projects:

  • Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab)
  • Conservation Research Laboratory (Texas A&M)
  • Clemson Conservation Center (Hunley)
  • Batten Conservation Laboratory (Monitor)
  • Mary Rose Conservation Laboratory
  • Vasa Museum Conservation Lab
  • Skuldelev Lab
  • Western Australian Maritime Museum

Conservation Suppliers:

  • Fisher Scientific
  • Talas
  • University Products
  • Gaylord Archival
  • Hollinger Metal Edge
  • Conservation Resources

Useful Websites:

 Newsletters:

Case Studies:

News Stories:

Becoming a Conservator:

Museum and Conservation Jobs: 

Conservation Blogs:

 

 Salvage Company/Treasure Hunting Conservation Websites:

 

Videos on Conservation:

 

Podcasts on Conservation:

 

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Presenting Conservation-Suggestions for Making a Professional Poster

December 2nd, 2014

Presenting Conservation-Suggestions for Making a Professional Poster

Elements to include:

  • Title
  • Name (author)
  • Affiliation
  • Contact Info
  • Introduction/Background of object or project
  • Description of treatment or experimental process
  • Images
  • Conclusion
  • References Used
  • Acknowledgments

 

Tips:

  • The poster should be visually balanced between the number of images and text blocks. Don’t just use the text from your lab report.
  • Start with a white background! These are easier and cheaper for printing.
  • Make sure your images will print clearly. A general rule of thumb is that they are 150dpi or higher resolution. If you aren’t sure how to determine this, visit: http://www.ehow.com/how_5040929_check-dpi-image.html.
  • Text should be read in 5 minutes or less.
  • Focus on major research findings or treatment points.
  • General poster sizes are 36” by 48”.
  • Photoshop and Powerpoint are great software programs to start with. See below for resources from various websites.
  • Above all, follow the recommended guidelines for the organization you will be presenting the poster with!
  • Include any logos of organizations that have supported your research or treatment.

 

 

Using PowerPoint:

 

Using Word:

 

Poster Templates:

 

 Examples of posters:

General Conservation

Inside Tips from Museum Professionals

October 23rd, 2014

One of the most valuable courses that ECU offers is HIST5920 Techniques of Museum and Historic Site Development. The class includes readings and discussions in museum theory, as well as, several field trips to a variety of museums and organizations. The field trips are often the best environment to see how our theoretical discussions are applied…the “real world” of museums.

This year we have been touring the Department of Cultural Resources/ State Historic Preservation Office (Eastern Branch), Greenville Museum of Art, Tryon Palace, Bentonville Battlefield, Tobacco Farm Life Museum, NC Museum of Art, The Mariners’ Museum (VA), Colonial Williamsburg (VA), Jamestown (VA), and Yorktown (VA). Museum professionals have given us a variety of tips so we thought we would share them here!

What are the #1 skills/experiences that museum professionals should have?

  • Project management: The ability to manage multiple projects and budgets at the same time.
  • Ability to communicate with a variety of levels: Everything from school groups to board members to politicians.
  • Writing skills: Grant writing is increasingly more important.

 

Since grant writing has featured so prominently in our discussions with museum professionals, we asked for three tips for those who are starting from scratch. They are:

  1. Read the guidelines carefully and make sure that our project is compatible with the type of projects they fund!
  2. Contact the granting agency early and often!
  3. Keep your project descriptions and goals concise, but general. Don’t restrict your project so much that you can’t be flexible in getting what the project needs (within the limits of the grant).

We also asked an exhibit designer that we spoke to, what his top three tips were for museum professionals that have to design exhibits with no formal training. His top three tips are:

  1. Really know your content. Know the subject matter and truly understand what the exhibit is about and the overall message.
  2. Really know your visitors! Too much text causes fatigue and too many artworks or objects can be overwhelming. Provide areas to sit and reflect.
  3. Color and lighting are the two most important features to an exhibit. Consider these carefully!

 

Nothing beats first hand experience and as we are reminded by Dr. Tilley, Director of the ECU Public History program:

“Any experience is better than no experience!”

Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , , , , , , , , , ,

Apps for Conservation!

August 20th, 2014

Examining and Describing Objects in a Condition Report

August 8th, 2014

When examining objects, it is important that conservators describe them in great detail. This can help document what condition an object is in before treatment, identify any changes that have happened to the material over time, or to just provide a record in the event the object is damaged or lost. Photographs can also be helpful in this process, but sometimes areas of damage aren’t visible.

When you are examining an object it is important to record your observations about what the object is, what it is made out of, how it was constructed, and what condition it is in. Are there any attached pieces? Is there any evidence of previous repairs?

Here is a guide to help identify the types of terms that conservators use:

Methods:

  • visual examination: viewed with your eyes
  • microscopic evaluation: viewed using microscopic tools
  • macroscopic: viewed with your eyes

Shapes:

  • round
  • flat
  • square
  • rectangular
  • bulbous

Surface Features/Decorations:

  • convex (curving outwards)
  • concave (curving inwards)
  • pitted
  • entire surface: a feature that is present on the whole object
  • localized: a feature that is present in only one or two areas
  • sporadic: a feature that is present in a few areas with no apparent pattern

Condition:

 

It is also important not to use words that are too general. If you were reading your description in 100 years, would you be able to picture the object without an image? Here are some words not to use!

  • Broken: Where? How? In what way?
  • Damaged: Where? How? In what way?

 

Other useful resources:

http://mgnsw.org.au/sector/resources/online-resources/collection-care/condition-reports-how-guide/

http://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/MHII/mh2appc.pdf

http://www.aiccm.org.au/resources/visual-glossary

http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/skill-of-describing.html

http://cityofangelsconservation.weebly.com/blog/how-a-conservator-sees

http://www.museumtextiles.com/uploads/7/8/9/0/7890082/sample_condition_report.pdf

General Conservation, Research and Experiments , , , , ,

Placing a Value on the Past

April 6th, 2014

Placing a Value on the Past

Alex Garcia-Putnam 

As archaeologists we place certain values on the objects we work with; these values often differ with those placed on artifacts by the public.  Archaeologists and conservators do not place monetary value on artifacts and objects, instead, we value objects from the past based on the information we can gain from them about the people who used them.  The public often values objects from the past based on their monetary value. Examples of this can be seen on popular television programs across numerous networks.  Many of these programs ‘dig’ for artifacts and give dollar amounts to the objects they remove, with little to no regard for the valuable data that can be gained by the less glamorous analysis involved in the archaeological and conservation process.

As previously discussed in my blog “Ethical Principles in Conservation and Archaeology”, the Society for Historical Archaeology sets out a number of ethical principles to guide its members.  One of the critical components of this document is Principle Six, which states that archaeologists must not profit monetarily from the sale or trade of artifacts, and should discourage the placing of financial values on archaeological specimens (Ethics Statement, SHA 2007).  We have a duty to protect the past, and placing financial values on artifacts could easily contribute to the illicit antiquities trade. Archaeologists and conservators desire to learn about past cultures through an analysis of the material remains they left behind.  We value artifacts not for their rarity or beauty, but for their ability to better inform our interpretations of the past.

Contrary to reality, television shows and films portray archaeology as a financially driven hunt for artifacts, skewing the public’s perspective of what professionals do. This extends back to the founding of archaeology in popular culture: Indian Jones, where he is shown as essentially a glorified looter, plundering ancient sites for treasure to put in a museum (Hall 2004).  This trend is upsetting, and made tougher to stomach by current programs that follow television personalities with metal detectors that hunt for artifacts.  Inserting a measure of true archaeology into these programs, although not as glamorous, could really help alter the public’s evaluation of archaeological sites and specimens.

All that being said, these programs do provide a crucial service to archaeology: public awareness.  That value cannot be overlooked.  The public is at least being made aware of archaeology, even if it is a skewed version.  Archaeologists and conservators should strive to work with these programs to insert as much actual archaeology into them as possible, while maintaining viewership and interest.  In this way we can attempt to alter the public’s interpretation of archaeology, and potentially get our values all in line: to help understand and preserve the past.

Work Cited

“Ethics Statement”, Society of Historical Archaeology (2007). http://www.sha.org/about/ethics.cfm

Hall, M.A., 2004. “Romancing the Stones: Archaeology in Popular Cinema” in European Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 7(2): 159–176.

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What’s it worth? How historical objects are viewed in our society

April 3rd, 2014

What’s it worth? How historical objects are viewed in our society

Melissa Price

old_shoeVase

Which is more valuable?

We see them everywhere behind glass in museums, in a dim room with a spotlight on them, a guard standing around telling you not to touch: historical objects and artifacts on display for our viewing pleasure. To a museum visitor, the objects may be nice to look at or learn about from the brief informational placards. To a conservator or archaeologist, the objects may be a key to unlocking information about our human past and need to be preserved for future study. Different people view historical objects in various ways, and sometimes this can cause problems, especially when objects are seen for their monetary value only.

To an archaeologist, the context of an object is just as important as the object itself. After all, one can only learn so much about a single ceramic pot. If that pot, however, is found within a burial an archaeologist can make interpretations about the culture that made the pot: ritualistic behaviors, societal hierarchies, and the function of the pot can all be gleaned from its context.

The general public is less likely to understand the importance of context. This is understandable since most of their interactions with historical objects occur when they are standing in front of a glass case in a museum. They see the object at the end of its journey: after it has been removed from the field and been cleaned, preserved, and placed on display. The public sees these objects as valuable: they know they are behind glass cases for a reason and that museums pay (sometimes large) amounts of money for certain objects. The very circumstances surrounding museums place value on the object alone, rather than historical context (especially since accompanying informational text is brief).

In line with this concept is the idea that mundane or common objects are less worthy of being studied, collected, or placed on display in museums, which creates a bias of what is seen behind glass cases, as Caple mentions in “Reasons for Preserving the Past” (2003, 21). Unique, famous, rare, or beautiful objects are prized over everyday objects and are sought after for their monetary value. They are also more likely to be displayed in a museum in the hopes of attracting more visitors.

One example of highly sought after objects are those classical artworks such as Greek or Roman marble statues and vases. The modern aesthetics of these types of objects is sometimes seen as more highly prized than the object’s original context. The objects, according to Sarah Scott in “Art and Archaeology,” are displayed “as art rather than archaeology” (2006, 629). This has caused, and is still causing, looting or damage to archaeological sites as people try to find and sell such objects (628). They know there is a market for them and market value is given more importance than contextual detail (629). Archaeologists should stress the importance of context lest looting occur. Placing a high value on objects can lead to the “continued prioritization of a select range of objects, most notably classical sculpture” (636). Our modern view of what is considered “art,” such as classical statues, causes them to be considered as commodities to be bought and sold, rather than ancient objects that can lend information about the past societies in which they existed.

In conclusion, keeping objects in their original context, rather than applying value and aesthetics to them, is ideal. Archaeologists and conservators alike have a responsibility to make the acquirement of objects without context unacceptable both academically and socially. For example, archaeologists can refuse to help treasure hunters or salvors with excavation. Similarly, conservators can refuse to work on objects that have been obtained through less desirable means. Museums must be very careful when buying objects and place an importance upon integrity of objects. Finally, placing significance upon the study of seemingly mundane or common objects also helps to decrease the mindset of historical objects as commodities. 

Photo credits

Vase: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/tools/pottery/painters/keypieces/redfigure/niobid.htm

Shoe: http://www.armenianow.com/features/25224/world_s_oldest_leather_shoe

 

References Cited

Caple, C. 2003. Chapter 2: Reasons for Preserving the Past. In: Conservation Skills: Judgment, Method and Decision Making, pp. 12-23.

Scott, Sarah. 2006. Art and the Archaeologist. World Archaeology 38(4): 628-643.

Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , , , , , , , , ,

Ethics of Artifact Hunting Reality TV Shows

April 3rd, 2014

Ethics of Artifact Hunting Reality TV Shows

 Allison Miller

With the rise of popular reality TV programs showcasing artifact hunting, such as Spike TV’s American Diggers, The Travel Channel’s Dig Wars, and National Geographic’s Diggers, a new venue for ethical concerns from the archaeological community has been created. Questions arise not only about the artifact damage the individuals on these shows are directly causing, but also about the damage these shows could be creating by failing to inform the public of proper excavation processes and the legalities surrounding such searches (Kloor 2012; Ewen et al. 2013). These shows, particularly American Diggers, highlight the monetary value of such “found” artifacts, as well. It would seem that this placement of a dollar value on artifacts could only further encourage amateur enthusiasts to begin their own searches for artifacts. “Diggers” searching only for items of value will discard items, such as nails, that could lead to larger finds for archaeologists. How much of our cultural heritage is being lost because of these shows and the individuals they are encouraging, inadvertently or not, to search for artifacts of their own?

Once these valued items have been unearthed, it also raises questions for conservators. Whether or not these artifacts have been obtained illegally, or at least unethically, the conservator must then make the choice on whether or not to conserve such an item. An artifact that has been illegally retrieved can create legal questions for the conservator. If he/she chooses to conserve an object that has been illegally obtained, the conservator can be considered an accessory to the crime. The conservator also has an ethical responsibility of reporting any artifacts they know to have been illegally excavated. Many of artifact hunters may know that their artifact has been unearthed illegally, and therefore do not take it to a conservator. Instead, they will attempt their own conservation methods, which may ultimately create more damage to the item.

Artifacts that have been unearthed within the terms of the law but not with best archaeological practice also create ethical questions for the conservator. It can cause conflicting interests between the desire to conserve the artifact for its own sake and not conserving the artifact in order to not be affiliated with questionable archaeological practices. Ethical codes and guidelines provided for conservators by organizations such as the American Institute for Conservation leave such ethical decisions to the determination of the individual conservator.

Works Cited

Ewen, Charlie, Dan Sivilich, and Paul Mullins 2013    National Geographic’s Diggers: Is It Better? Society for Historical Archaeology Blog, 1 February 2013. <http://www.sha.org/blog/index.php/2013/02/national-geographics-diggers-is-it-better/>. Accessed 18 March 2014.

 

Kloor, Keith 2012    Archaeologists Protest ‘Glamorization’ of Looting on TV. Science Insider, Washington, D.C. <http://news.sciencemag.org/2012/03/archaeologists-protest-glamorization-looting-tv>. Accessed 18 March 2014.

Ethics and Theory, Public Outreach , , , , , ,

Field Conservation Methods and the Impact on Organic Residue Analysis

April 3rd, 2014

Field Conservation Methods and the Impact on Organic Residue Analysis

 Sophia Carman

            A main goal of field conservation is to prevent further deterioration and to promote long-term preservation of recently excavated artifacts. This is achieved by various techniques designed to clean and stabilize degraded materials. Additionally, field conservators are also able to make suggestions on proper handling and storage of artifacts, focusing on the continued preservation and longevity of artifacts. Consequently, these techniques may not preserve other important information, such as that from organic residues present on the surface or within the matrix of artifacts (Paterakis 1996). It could be considered contradictory to preserve one aspect of an artifact while destroying another. Oudemans and Erhardt (1996) argue that “there may be a difference in the purpose of conservation treatments, usually directed at preservation and consolidation of the physical, structural and optical qualities of an artifact, and treatments for organic residue analysis, primarily directed at the preservation of chemical characteristics of the original material” (104). Therefore, attention needs to be drawn to proper handling, storage, and conservation of archaeological objects, keeping in mind the preservation of all avenues of information that the object may provide.

Image 1

Figure 1: Canaanite amphora sherd from Amarna with visible organic residues on the inner surface. From: http://www.amarnaproject.com/pages/recent_projects/material_culture/canaanite.shtml

 

Traditional field conservation techniques can interfere with organic residue sampling and subsequent analysis (Oudemans & Erhardt 1996; Paterakis 1996). Simple techniques to clean ceramics, such as mechanical cleaning with a brush or wet cleaning with water, may remove organic residues from the surface. Other techniques, such as acid cleaning and consolidation, have the potential of destroying the organic residues altogether. In addition, contaminants can skew the results of organic residue analysis or render the organic residue unobtainable. Such contamination can occur at various points in the excavation and conservation process and is usually the result of the improper handling or storage of an object. Factors, such as fingerprints, transportation, plasticizers from plastic bags, inadequate storage environments, and so on, are examples of points during the excavation process where contaminants can be introduced. Therefore, recent advances in the analysis of organic residues have created a need for a re-evaluation of the treatment and care of archaeological ceramics.

Scholars, such as Paterakis (1996) and Oudemans and Erhardt (1996), have made suggestions on proper treatment procedures of archaeological artifacts after excavation, in specific reference to the preservation of organic residues. It is stated that if organic residue analysis is to be conducted on an object, the recommendation for the handling of the vessel is minimum intervention. Such handling was demonstrated by Evershed et al. (1994) in the collection of recently excavated potsherd samples. It is stated, “Sample handling was kept to a minimum to reduce the possibility of contamination from skin lipids, and the samples were not washed or otherwise cleaned prior to storage” (910). Further analysis of these organic residues did not reveal any contaminations due to excavation or conservation.

The concept of minimal intervention will not only add to the preservation of organic residues, but also promote the preservation of the structure of the object itself. As conservators, we must be cautious of over cleaning, conserving or restoring artifacts at a risk of causing more damage than preservation. Once the information stored within an object is obtained and analyzed, other conservation techniques can be applied to the object. In this way, the full spectrum of information and preservation can be achieved.

 

References

Evershed, R. P, K. I. Arnot, J. Collister, G. Eglinton, and S. Charters. 1994. Application of Isotope Ratio Monitoring Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry to the Analysis of Organic Residues of Archaeological Origin. Analyst 119:909-914.

Oudemans, Tania F.M., and David Erhardt. 1996. Organic residue analysis in ceramic studies: implications for conservation treatment and collections management. In Archaeological Conservation and Its Consequences. Preprints of the Contributions to the Copenhagen Conference, 26-30 August 1996. Ashok Roy and Perry Smith, eds. Pp. 137-142. London: International Institute for Conservation.

Paterakis, Alice Boccia. 1996. Conservation: Preservation versus analysis? In Archaeological Conservation and Its Consequences. Preprints of the Contributions to the Copenhagen Conference, 26-30 August 1996. Ashok Roy and Perry Smith, eds. Pp. 143-148. London: International Institute for Conservation.

Archaeological Conservation, Research and Experiments, Science , , , ,

Considerations in Conserving Wooden Ships

April 3rd, 2014

Considerations in Conserving Wooden Ships

Michell Gilman

            Archaeological excavations worldwide reveal wooden ships, usually in waterlogged conditions where a decision must be made whether to begin conservation treatments, leave in situ, or do nothing to protect the vessel.  Many aspects must be considered and this usually begins with whether the find is located on public or private lands, and where in the world the archaeological site is located.  Depending on the country, laws lay out the requirements for the management of shipwrecks.  For example, in the United States the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 delineates government ownership and the management of most abandoned shipwrecks, while other countries have similar statutes.  In fact, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage is a treaty that was adopted in 2001 by 45 countries and was designed to protect submerged cultural objects and sites older than 100 years.  In any case, each decision carries with it the positive aspects as well as negative implications.

Most wooden shipwrecks from archaeological environments are not fully excavated, conserved, and exhibited, due to the high number found, the high cost, and ongoing time requirements.  The options to leave wooden shipwrecks in situ or to reinter them into their original location or another suitable environment have become favorable amongst some archaeologists and conservators.  Björdal and Nilsson (2008) conducted a study in Marstrand harbor, Sweden to see how wood samples of sound oak, pine and birch decomposed above and within marine sediment.  Their findings suggest that reburial of wooden shipwrecks in marine sediments is a viable option for long-term preservation of these vessels.  Although there is a considerable amount of time and money required to conduct an archaeological project where the result is to leave a shipwreck in situ or to rebury it, these resources are significantly less than what is required to excavate and apply conservation treatments to them.  The few wooden shipwrecks that are deemed significant enough to conserve require a lot of time planning, excavating, retrieving, and ongoing upkeep to ensure their long-term preservation. Positive outcomes related to this planning includes such as putting the find into the place and time where it originated, adding to the body of knowledge in disciplines like history, anthropology, archaeology, and other fields of study; and increasing the general public’s awareness of and involvement in their cultural heritage which sometimes leads to additional funding for further research and conservation projects. The positive outweighs the time commitment and financial impact in conserving some archaeological conservation projects, one example being the Mary Rose.

The Mary Rose is a 16th century wooden ship owned by Henry VIII and sunk in 1545.  It was extracted in 1982 and continues to undergo conservation work; the Mary Rose Museum opened May 31, 2013 where the public can observe the final stages of conservation through viewing ports.  Not only do visitors get to tour the museum and learn about some of 16th century in England, they have the opportunity to observe some conservation techniques in progress!  In addition to public support, the raising of this vessel has contributed to researchers’ understanding of underwater archaeology and conservation techniques.

The decision whether to excavate a wooden shipwreck requires a commitment to following legislation governing archaeological, conservation, and preservation activities and there is a substantial amount of planning, resources, time, and money needed to engage in these processes.  Conservators are expected to adhere to ethical guidelines that are the framework for ensuring they demonstrate the proper treatment of the objects they conserve.  Sometimes a find such as the Mary Rose is deemed to be culturally and historically significant and the positive outcomes of that find outweigh the extensive resources required to save it.  Not all wooden shipwrecks discovered can be excavated and the alternative options of reburial or leaving them in situ are conducted in the hopes that these vessels survive long-term until better methods for conservation and preservation are developed.  In any case where an abandoned shipwreck is discovered, decisions must be carefully made and there are both negative and positive implications that result from those decisions.

Resources

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Work (AIC) 2003   Defining the Conservator: Essential Competencies.  Pp. 3-17.

 

Björdal, Charlotte Gjelstrup and Thomas Nilsson 2008   Reburial of shipwrecks in marine sediments: a long-term study on wood degradation.  Journal of Archaeological Science 35:862-872.

 

National Parks Service 2014     Archaeology Program.  Abandoned Shipwreck Act (ASA). http://www.nps.gov/archeology/tools/laws/ASA.htm.  Retrieved on March 18, 2014.

 

National Parks Service N.d.     Federal Historic Preservation Laws.  Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987. http://www.cr.nps.gov/local-law/FHPL_AbndShipwreck.pdf.  Retrieved on March 18, 2014.

 

The Mary Rose website.  http://www.maryrose.org/.  Retrieved on March 18, 2014.

 

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2001   Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001260/126065e.pdf.  Retrieved on March 18, 2014.

 

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2001   Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.  Paris, 2 November 2001. http://www.unesco.org/eri/la/convention.asp?KO=13520&language=E&order=alpha Retrieved on March 18, 2014.

Archaeological Conservation , ,

Conservation of Wetlands, or Conservation of Archaeological Materials: Maybe They’re One in the Same

March 19th, 2014

Conservation of Wetlands, or Conservation of Archaeological Materials: Maybe They’re One in the Same

 Amy Morse

            In addition to being an inspiration for cautionary bedtime stories by Han Christian Anderson, bogs, also known as peatlands and wetlands, have produced some of the best-preserved sources of archaeological materials in northern Europe and the United Kingdom (Buckland, P.C., 1993:513). It probably doesn’t help the bog’s reputation that the incredibly preserved remains of individuals killed by stabbing or hanging and then dumped into swamps millennia before present continue to be found by archaeologists in these wetlands. But the very existence of other, similar, undiscovered archaeological materials in bogs has been and continues to be threatened by both natural and cultural formation processes.  Moving past the ghostly perils and carnivorous plants, should archaeologists and conservators advocate along with environmental scientists for the preservation of bogs, peat deposits, and wetland ecosystems?

article-new-thumbnail_ehow_images_a08_48_ft_preservation-properties-bogs-800x800

 

As of 1988, more than 120 sites have been identified containing preserved human remains and archaeological objects in bog deposits (Omar et al., 1988:101). Threats to the continual preservation of these deposits include development, decreases in the water table via drainage and water abstraction, peat abstraction and wastage, and other environmental factors including climate change. (Van de Noort et al, 2002:18)

Bogs are formed over long periods of time on both dry land and standing water when layers of moss and algae find suitable surfaces to grow on. The moss retains water very easily (on dry and wet land), and any soil under the moss eventually becomes saturated and waterlogged. As the accretion of moss continues to grow over time, enough water collects in the once soil covered area to become swampy and submerged in successive layers of moss and water. Conversely, when algae and moss grow on the surface of standing water in lakes and ponds, those same layers continue to grow until they fill up any remaining space, preventing other biological organisms from growing in the vicinity (Lobell and Patel, 2010:27).

The importance of peat in preserving ancient organic materials lies in its anaerobic, water logged, acidic environments. Colder temperatures can also help in the preservation of deposits in bogs. Lack of oxygen and microbial life prevents the destruction of delicate materials, like wood, textiles, and even the bodies of humans and animals (known as Bog Bodies).

According to authors Lobell and Patel in their 2010 publication of Bog Bodies Rediscovered, the chemical nature of bogs vary. The exact chemical composition and interaction for successful preservation is not understood, and while half of a body or object can preserve beautifully, another half might completely disintegrate. For instance, Tollund man, found in Denmark, retains only the bones of his hands, while his feet remained fully intact.

Tollund ManTollund Man on display.

http://arjsocialstudyhw.blogspot.com/2009/02/tollund-man-was-from-400-b.html

            There are other problems behind wetland archaeology that cause scientists to hesitate before excavating in peat and water logged sites.  Despite the enormous potential of these areas for preservation of archaeological materials, archaeologists are guilty of diving head first into excavation without thought for how to take care of their findings once they are removed from their protective bed of soil. For this type of excavation and preservation, a trained conservator must be present during the stages of the artifact’s life span after removal from the burial environment.

Early methods of conservation have included slurries (oak bark), and solutions of distilled water and various oils, or solutions alternating concentrations of ethanol – anywhere from 33 to 99 percent (Omar et al., 1989:101). Methods used today include freeze-drying. However, it was necessary before carrying out this process to determine what should be used to impregnate the body. PEG is a type of water soluble wax used today that is a popular treatment for waterlogged wood. An object or organic substance, when placed in a solution of PEG 400, will absorb the wax from the water solution, filling and providing structure to otherwise compromised and delicate organic finds with either plant or animal cell structures. Once the PEG has been completely absorbed, the body or object can then be freeze-dried, and later, put on display in stabilized, museum environments.

It was not immediately clear to conservation scientists whether or not a consolidant would be required in the preservation of Lindow Man However, options existed that were successful when used on waterlogged wood and leather. These solutions involved PEG or polyethylene glycol and was first applied to Lindow Man at Silkeborg Museum, Denmark. Before they applied this solution, however, a n experiment was carried out on peat buried and preserved samples of pig skin to determine what solution of PEG would work best on bog bodies (Omar et al., 1989:104). After being buried in peat, the pig skins were tested by submersing them in solutions of PEG 400 with 10 percent PEG 2000. White, waxy residues congealed on the surface of the PEG 2000 samples. From these results, it was decided that it would be safest in the long term to use PEG 400 as a consolidant on Lindow Man (Omar et al., 1989:104-105).

lindow_man2_470_470x180Lindow Man on display.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2008/04/18/180408_lindow_man_pete_feature.shtml

 

 

Before his consolidation with PEG, Lindow Man was stabilized over the course of a year, first by storage in a custom made icebox. Limited numbers of people were allowed in the room at the same time to prevent fluctuations in temperature, and the body was consistently sprayed with distilled water, to prevent dehydration. The environment in the box was kept at a constant four degrees Celsius, while the surface of Lindow Man were continuously covered and recovered in a combination of cling-wrap and a loose-weave cloth used by doctors to make casts for broken limbs. These were dampened with water to harden, and painted with pastes, and then covered with fiber glass materials to form a very hard, custom body cast. This casting was meant to help the body retain its form, and after being placed in its temperature controlled environment, was made more secure by layers of peat to copy the original burial environment, and to prevent the cast and body from sliding around (Omar et al., 1989:101-104).

The remnants of these bodies, and the details of their last few days or years can also be analyzed by scientists seeking to reconstruct the past. Without the proper conservation of these finds, they would very quickly dry, crack, and warp into an unrecognizable form; useless for display. This is why it is so important to not only have conservators present from the time of removal from the burial environment but also why archaeologists and conservators must pay attention to the threats placed on wetland ecosystems. If we allow these areas to be destroyed, we allow rich potential resources of archaeological data on the past to be destroyed as well.

 

References

Buckland, P.C. 1993   Peatland Archaeology: a conservation resource on the edge of extinction. Biodiversity and Conservation 2(5):513-527.

 

Van de Noort, Robert et al. 2002    Monuments at Risk in England’s Wetlands. University of Exeter. English Heritage Strategy for Wetlands.

 

Lobell, Jarrett A. and Patel Samir S. 2010    Bog Bodies Rediscovered. Archaeology 63(3):22-29.

 

Envionmental Protection Agency Water: Wetlands In North America. 2013. http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/bog.cfm

 

Omar, S. et al 1989    The Conservation of Bog Bodies by Freeze-Drying. Studies in Conservation 34(3):101-109.

General Conservation

An Ethical Dilemma of Artifacts for Sale

March 19th, 2014

An Ethical Dilemma of Artifacts for Sale

Michell Gilman

            The selling and trade of artworks and artifacts is a highly inflaming topic amongst those in the fields of archaeology and conservation, and others committed to the preservation of their cultural history.  On the other side, there are those who believe there is nothing wrong with gaining profit from the sale of antiquities, and there are situations  where priceless artworks and antiquities are in danger of being auctioned. Aside from the illegal trade of antiquities, what are the ramifications of the legal selling of these items?  As archaeologists and conservators, where does our responsibility lie?

One interesting case study is with the city of Detroit which is facing bankruptcy and contemplating selling artwork housed at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) to pay its creditors. Media in the headlines (USA Today) report that the city of Detroit has been granted the option to file bankruptcy and their creditors and many in the general public have suggested that the city-owned DIA sell its precious artworks to offset the city’s debts of approximately $18 billion.  This is an example that illustrates the consequences of public-owned museums and why it is so important that artworks and other antiquities be housed in institutions funded by private foundations committed to their conservation, preservation, curation, display, and storage.  Media reports (USA Today) state the artworks in concern are city-purchased and represent about 5% of museum’s art collection, and have been appraised by Christie’s Auction House at $454 to $867 million.  There is a long process before it can be determined whether the artworks can be auctioned. Should the outcome be that even some of the art is eligible be sold, the impact could reach well beyond Detroit; this could potentially affect current and future donors’ decisions concerning donations to museums and other institutions that house antiquities.  A remedy for this potential outcome could be that there would be parameters set as to who could be eligible to purchase the objects such as other museums.

More recently, media in the headlines (San Francisco Chronicle) report a couple in the state of California discovered tin cans filled with 19th century $20, $10, and $5 US gold coins on their property.  According to news reports (San Francisco Chronicle) the couple plans to keep a few of the coins, help the homeless in their community, and auction the majority of the hoard.  It is unknown as to who buried the coins and why they did it.  Understandably, the couple did not know what they were digging up when they saw something sticking up from the ground, however their retrieval took them out of context and a part of their cultural history is lost.  The numismatic value of these coins far outweighs their metal value; they are rare and in excellent condition.  To be clear, the couple is well within their legal rights to do whatever they want with the coins as they were found on their private property.  The concern here is a situation where people find prehistoric and historic cultural materials on their property and exercise their right to sell them — how is this different than say private for-profit companies who conduct archaeological excavations with the intent of  documenting and then selling their find?  This question is not intended to be answered with a simple explanation, but instead to stimulate critical thought on this issue.  It is not known whether there exists a historical archaeological site in the area where the coins were discovered.  Should a survey have been done to determine historical significance?  Current laws protect sites on federal lands and most state laws do not concern finds discovered on private lands unless they are human remains or burial goods of Native American ancestors.  In this case, the couple is not obligated to have their property surveyed.   Not all of the historical value of the coins has been lost because they can be placed into historical context of when they were minted (it should be noted that these are uncirculated coins) and represent a part of the socio-economic system of their time.

These are only two of many situations that contribute to the antiquities trade.  Although legal, they do have the potential to impact illegal activities.  As professionals in the archaeological and conservation fields, we do not have a legal obligation to be involved with these kinds of activities, but we do have ethical considerations and are expected to follow ethical codes of conduct such as those set by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Work (AIC) and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA).  While we are not usually required to be involved in private, legal activities in the sale of artifacts and works of art, we are still expected to be stewards and advocates for the protection, conservation, and preservation of cultural objects and sites.  We are not obligated to involve ourselves in these specific situations, but we do have a responsibility to educate others about the important role cultural materials have in connecting people to their cultural past.  Furthermore, as the disciplines of archaeology and conservation change, so does our framework of thinking.  This does not suggest that there be no legislature in place to protect antiquities, but that the discussion should be ongoing.

A reality for archaeologists and museum curators is the fact that space for storing artifacts is limited.  In fact, there are many cultural materials that have been excavated, but not curated and will likely never be analyzed.  Some might argue that in cases where there is an abundance of a particular kind of object, as in the case of the gold coins, some be kept for full curation and display, and the rest be sold.  This is a sensitive topic and one that will never be fully resolved, but as previously mentioned, the discussion must be an ongoing one as the disciplines of archaeology and conservation adapt to changes and situations.  One of the best tools we possess is the ability to educate those outside the disciplines about the significance of cultural materials and our connection to the past.

 

Resources

Borney, Nathan, and Mark Stryker 2014  Judge says no to 1st step toward selling Detroit’s art.  USA Today. January 22.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/22/detroit-bankruptcy-institute-of-arts/4771613/.  Retrieved on February 26, 2014.

 

Fagan, Kevin 2014   Gold Country couple discover $10 million in gold coins.  San Francisco Chronicle.  February 26. http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Gold-Country-couple-discover-10-million-in-5266314.php.  Retrieved on February 26, 2014.

 

National Parks Service 2004   AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. http://www.nps.gov/training/tel/Guides/HPS1022_AIC_Code_of_Ethics.pdf. Retrieved on February 26, 2014.

 

Society for American Archaeology 1996   Principles of Archaeological ethics. http://www.saa.org/AbouttheSociety/PrinciplesofArchaeologicalEthics/tabid/203/Default.aspx.  Retrieved on February 26, 2014.

General Conservation

To Keep the Patina, or Not to Keep the Patina…

March 19th, 2014

To Keep the Patina, or Not to Keep the Patina…

Sophia Carman

Patina is a natural layer of corrosion that appears on the surface of various types of metals, including copper, bronze, and brass (Ankersmit 2013). This layer is stable and uniformed across the surface of the object, unlike other types of corrosion products which can be bulky and localized. It provides protection from other environmental degradation processes and slows further corrosion of the metal (Caple 2000). Although patina provides these benefits, it can appear on the surface of brass as a brown coating, hiding the lustrous metal below. Therefore, should the layer of patina remain when conserving the object, or should the patina be removed to reveal the true nature of the metal? As conservators, we are continually faced with these types of difficult ethical and theoretical issues. In order to make the most informed decision, a conservator must weigh the benefits and downfalls of the layer of patina on a case-by-case basis.

Patina can be preserved on objects because of its protective qualities and aesthetically pleasing aged appearance. Metal objects are subject to corrosion processes, such as humidity, rain, and air pollutants (Curkovic 2010). Therefore, it is not uncommon for artists and conservators to replicate the process of patination, by accelerating the corrosion using various chemicals. In addition to its functional value, the benefits of patinas are also apparent from an aesthetic point of view. Brandi (1996) states, “Historically we have seen that the patina documents the passage through time of the work of art and thus needs to be preserved” (378). The brown layer of patina gives the object an aged appearance that is consistent with other antiques, which has implications towards the object’s aesthetic, historical, and even monetary value. Thus, these benefits of the patina layer on objects can make a case for the justification of its preservation.

Image 1 - Bronze Apollo

Image 1: Apollo as an Archer (Apollo Saettante), a bronze Roman statue, dating to 100 B.C.–before A.D. 79, featuring an exterior layer of patina. http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/apollo_pompeii/

 

On the contrary, it can be argued that the mere presence of a brown patina layer inhibits the true nature and appearance of the metal below. According to Caple (2000), “The true nature of an object includes evidence of its origins, its original construction, the materials of which it is composed and information as to the technology used in its manufacture” (62). It is further stated in the process of conservation, it is desirable “to move towards revealing the truth(s) about an object and away from the obstruction of dirt, decay, or inaccurate and inappropriate restoration” (Caple 2000:62). Most brass metal objects displayed a lustrous surface when they were originally constructed. Taking this into consideration, the matte appearance of patina is not consistent with the true nature of the metal. This perspectives provides a justification for the removal of the patina.

Image 2 - Brass

Image 2: Polished brass (left) and tarnished brass (right). https://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/caringfor-prendresoindes/articles/metals-metaux/index-eng.aspx

            Conservators are frequently faced with ethical and theatrical issues that require them to make judgments and decisions towards the treatment of object. These choices are based off of personal experience, current trends in conservation, and weighing the positive and negative factors associated with such treatments (Caple 2000). When making a decision on whether or not to preserve the patina, conservators should consider the object’s historical significance, aesthetic value, original function, current state of preservation, future display location, and true nature. Some of these factors represent conflicting viewpoints, but it is the delicate balance between such factors in addition to preserving and maintaining the longevity of an object that provides the foundation for a holistic, effective, and appropriate conservation treatment.

 

References

Ankersmit, Bart, Martina Griesser-Stermscheg, Lyndsie Selwyn, and Susanne Sutherland. 2013. Recognizing Metals and their Corrosion Products. Canadian Conservation Institute. https://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/caringfor-prendresoindes/articles/metals-metaux/index-eng.aspx

 

Brandi, C. 1996. Theory of Restoration, Part III. In Historical and Philosophical Issues in Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Pp. 377-379.

 

Caple, Chris. 2000. Conservation Skills: Judgment, Method and Decision Making. New York: Routledge.

 

Curkovic, H.O., T. Kosec, A. Legat, and E. Stupnisek-Lisac. 2010. Improvement of corrosion stability of patinated bronze. Corrosion Engineering, Science and Technology 45(5):327-333.

General Conservation

The Human Element

March 19th, 2014

The Human Element

Allison Miller

Exhibiting objects and works of art in museums pose many problems, some of which may not be immediately recognizable. There are the readily thought of dangers of storage and display – using proper archival materials, controlling relative humidity and light exposure. What is more of a problem, however, are the uncontrollable elements, particularly, the human element.

While smaller objects are generally kept safe in cases, larger objects and works of art cannot be displayed in such a manner. Paintings and sculptures are obscured when viewed from behind a screen and their aesthetic value is depreciated, so they are generally open to public viewing. This, however, presents the problem of human contact. People are prone to want to touch displays, and taking photos or selfies with artwork has steadily become more popular, as seen in Image 1. It seems the larger and more popular the museum, such as the Louvre, and the more famous the work of art, such as the Mona Lisa, the worse the problem (Heritage 2013; Jones 2009). This is not only rude to other museum visitors and takes money from the museum gift shops sales but it is also harmful to the objects on display (Collections Conversations 2014b; DeRuiter 2010).

Eminem in front of Monsa Lisa.

Entertainers taking selfies with the Mona Lisa has become its own trend (Heritage 2013).

 

“Theft is the most obvious danger to artifact preservation that people pose” (Collections Conversations 2014b), but there are more common dangers that many museum visitors do not realize. When taking photographs, not using flash is crucial, as light damage is cumulative. Light damage can permanently alter an object by participating in chemical reactions causing discoloration and fading. The oil and dirt from people’s hands can also cause similar damage, as well as the wearing away of surfaces from an object.

Museums often post signs and have guards to prevent such harmful behavior, yet they are regularly ignored by museum visitors and guards alike, as they fail to enforce the rules. Perhaps if museum visitors were educated on the damage their actions were causing, they would be less prone to try to photograph and touch priceless objects and works of art. Activities at museums can easily entertain and educate both adults and children with just a little effort from museum staff (Collection Conversations 2014a). Museums, such as the Getty Villa in California, offer permanent exhibits for both the visually impaired and the public-at-large that are available for touch. Museums may also conduct workshops where visitors are encouraged and educated on how to handle museum artifacts and works of art. Generally, these are replicas of more famous works of art, so that the original is still protected (The J. Paul Getty Trust 2014). Creating more of these special exhibits and touch tour programs, as well as opening them up to broader public, has the potential to help offset the damage to the primary exhibits, while at the same time educating and providing visitors with greater access to museum objects (Collections Conversations 2013). Without an understanding of the damage they are causing to museum collections and appreciation of preserving them for the future, museum visitors will continue to partake in such harmful behavior. Education, as always, is key.


Works Cited

Collections Conversations

2013    Managing Touch. Collections Conversations, July 17, 2013. North Carolina: Connecting to Collections, Raleigh, North Carolina <http://collectionsconversations.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/managing-touch/>. Accessed 25 February 2014.

2014a  A C2C Badge? Collections Conversations, January 8, 2014. North Carolina: Connecting to Collections, Raleigh, North Carolina <http://collectionsconversations.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/a-c2c-badge/>. Accessed 25 February 2014.

2014b  People Pose Preservation Dangers. Collections Conversations, February 25, 2014. North Carolina: Connecting to Collections, Raleigh, North Carolina <http://collectionsconversations.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/people-pose-preservation-dangers/>. Accessed 25 February 2014.

 

DeRuiter, Geraldine

2010    Ten reasons why you shouldn’t take photos in museums. The Everywhereist <http://www.everywhereist.com/ten-reasons-why-you-shouldnt-take-photos-in-museums/>. Accessed 25 February 2014.

 

Heritage, Stuart

2013    Selfies: the dos and don’ts of the word of the year. Shortcuts Blog. The Guardian, New York, New York < http://www.theguardian.com/technology/shortcuts/2013/nov/19/selfies-dos-donts-oed-word-of-the-year>. Accessed 25 February 2014.

 

The J. Paul Getty Trust

2014 Accessibility. The Getty Villa. The J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles, California <https://www.getty.edu/visit/villa/plan/accessibility.html>. Accessed 25 February 2014.

 

Jones, Jonathan

2009    These tourist snappers are killing the Mona Lisa. Jonathan Jones on Art Blog. The Guardian, New York, New York <www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2009/mar/09/mona-lisa-tourist-snappers-louvre> Accessed 25 February 2014.

General Conservation

In Situ Preservation at Terrestrial and Maritime Archaeological Sites

March 19th, 2014

In Situ Preservation at Terrestrial and Maritime Archaeological Sites

 Alex Garcia-Putnam

            In situ preservation is a topic within conservation theory and practice that deserves a closer look.  In situ, in simple terms means to leave the object in place or to not remove it in the process of an archaeological dig. Artifacts and features are left in situ for a number of reasons.  Sometimes artifacts, features, or architectural elements are too large to be safely or effectively removed.  Other times there is no need to excavate; the excavators feel that they can get as much information from leaving the object in place as they would by excavating.  Often, when objects are left in the field in their original location, conservators are called upon to provide in situ preservation.
Conservators can treat, triage, and protect artifacts in the field, to ensure they have the longest life possible, all without removing the objects.  This allows for the objects to be maintained in their original context, while being preserved for future study.  Unfortunately, there are also a number of issues with in situ preservation, and more generally about leaving artifacts in situ.  Leaving artifacts in situ allows for the elements to continue to degrade the objects, making the conservator’s job that much harder.  Removing artifacts to labs and museums at least allows for some amount of control over the process.  In a 2002 article, Jans et al. discuss the techniques currently available for in situ preservation of human bone.  The goal of their work is to illuminate the factors responsible for degradation of human remains (Jans et al. 2002: 349).  They inevitably conclude that a multitude of factors such as soil pH, taphonomy, and hydrological processes influence the preservation of a site, therefore making in situ preservation unique to each site, season, and circumstance; a very difficult task (Jans et al. 2002: 349).

 

Underwater archaeological projects take the topic of in situ preservation to the next level.  The same factors discussed above are at play but to a more extreme degree.  Underwater sites can be incredibly well preserved, especially wooden artifacts, due to the limited oxygen underwater (Cronyn 1990: 250).  Removing artifacts from maritime environments is difficult, costly, and potentially harmful to the objects, making in situ preservation a viable option.  But similarly to terrestrial sites, a multitude of factors continuously batter and degrade objects on the ocean floor, and removing them may be archaeologists’ best chance at studying them closely.

 

Another, lesser discussed, aspect to this discussion is the looting of archaeological sites.  Looting is a pervasive issue in some countries; artifacts can be stolen and sold for profit.  One way that archaeologists combat this is by removing artifacts back to labs and museums for analysis.  Leaving artifacts in the field allows looters the opportunity to illegally remove them, ruining any chance at further study.  In situ preservation has many pros and cons and should be used judiciously and in the right circumstances.  Although this blog post did not touch upon all facets of in situ preservation, it was meant to serve as an overview for beginners in the field as a place to start thinking about in situ preservation and when to use it.

 

Work Cited

Cronyn, J.M. (1990), ‘Organic Materials’ in The Elements of Archaeological Conservation: 250-251.

Jans, M. M. E., Kars, H., Nielsen–Marsh, C. M., Smith, C. I., Nord, A. G., Arthur, P. and Earl, N. (2002), In situ preservation of archaeological bone: a histological study within a multidisciplinary approach. ‘Archaeometry’ 44: 343–352. doi: 10.1111/1475-4754.t01-1-00067

General Conservation

Preventative Conservation

March 17th, 2014

Preventative Conservation

Melissa Price

An artifact that has been buried for an extended period of time has reached equilibrium with its surroundings and the minute it is exposed, an object can start to change and deteriorate. Therefore, without proper foresight and preparation, valuable information can be lost due to damage from exposure or improper handling techniques. Preventative conservation is one way to avoid this. According to Jean-Bernard Memet, preventative conservation is to “anticipate, restrict or halt any acceleration in the degradation of objects after their discovery” and involves taking a logical and cautious approach when dealing with cultural remains (2008, 45). A broad range of methods can be applied in order to maintain a protocol for keeping artifacts safe during their journey from excavation to storage or a museum. Luckily, recent years have brought about cheaper and more efficient ways of preserving and protecting artifacts.

It is not difficult to find stories of excavations gone wrong, when objects that were lifted or excavated fell apart in the archaeologist’s hands because of exposure to air. Allowing things to be exposed to open air can speed up the process of deterioration and cause many problems. This is especially true for submerged cultural remains, such as wood. Removing wood from its underwater environment and allowing it to dry without employing proper techniques can cause it to shrink, crack, or fall apart completely. Objects that are removed from their underwater environment should be kept in a similar environment until preservation can take place (Memet 2008, 43). For example, an archaeologist who lifts wood from the seabed should place that wood in saltwater.

canoe

 

Dugout canoe submerged in treatment tank. http://nautarch.tamu.edu

Archaeologists may not be trained in conservation but should be aware of impacts on artifacts once they are exposed during excavation. Conservation begins at the excavation level and the archaeologist is responsible for executing the appropriate level of care for the artifact (Singley 1995, 8). Suitable equipment and supplies should be available to ensure that proper care of artifacts is taken. Sometimes, intervening scientifically is not possible because there is not enough funding or appropriate technology for the long-term conservation of artifacts; these artifacts may then end up in a storage facility with no conservator to evaluate them (Khakzad et al. 2012, 471). This begs the question of whether objects found in this situation should be removed from their original environment in the first place. Perhaps leaving a site alone may be deemed a better alternative and may also reserve the right for future techniques to be employed (Khakzad et al. 477). Future methods for preservation may come along that are technologically superior, quicker, and cheaper (Gregory et al. 2012, S147). After all, the goal of archaeology and conservation is to ensure the survival of the greatest number of finds and if the required technology is not available, those artifacts should be left alone for a later time (Gregory et al. S139).

It can be difficult when considering whether or not to remove an artifact from its surroundings. Underwater cultural remains provide a drastic example: surge, currents, divers, and environmental factors all can impact a submerged site. Is it better to learn what we can and excavate something, thereby speeding up its deterioration, or should we leave objects in their original environment, where they will still deteriorate at a possibly slower rate? These questions are not easy to answer and they are best dealt with in a case-by-case situation. Some artifacts, for example, are more likely to be raised and preserved if they are in a particularly aggressive environment or are deemed to be historically or culturally significant in some way. It should be noted, however, that objects should not be brought up without the necessary equipment, transportation, and storage facilities. Funding for research and preservation of the object should also be considered before cultural remains are excavated. Preventative conservation involves thinking ahead and being prepared when caring for an artifact. This starts with the archaeologist in the field, before the object is even taken from the ground.

 

References

Gregory, David, Paul Jensen, and Kristiane Straetkvern. 2012. Conservation and In Situ Preservation of Wooden Shipwrecks from Marine Environments. Journal of Cultural Heritage 13S: S139-S148.

Khakzad, Sorna and Konraad Van Balen. 2012. “Complications and Effectiveness of In Situ Preservation Methods for Underwater Cultural Heritage Sites.” Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 14(1-4): 469-478.

Memet, Jean-Bernard. 2008. Conservation of Underwater Cultural Heritage: characteristics and new technologies. Museum International 60(4): 42-49.

Singley, K. 1995. Caring for Artifacts after Excavation: Some Advice for Archaeologists.  Historical Archaeology 15(1): 35-48.

 

General Conservation

Construction for Sindh Cultural Festival threatens ruins at Mohenjo-Daro and Poses Preservation and Money-Making Questions

March 16th, 2014

Construction for Sindh Cultural Festival threatens ruins at Mohenjo-Daro and Poses Preservation and Money-Making Questions

Amy Morse 

            Mohenjo-Daro, one of the oldest cities in the world, was recently the site of a festival in honor of Sindh culture. Spear headed by Pakistan’s People Party, Balawil Bhutto Zardari, the event was highly contested among conservators and archaeologists. Heritage professionals worried for the preservation state of the ruins while platforms were built over the brick walls and open spaces of the city. A BBC photograph recorded workers hammering together a platform balanced on many, spindly wooden legs. Although the number of people allowed to attend was limited, the platforms had to hold 500 people in addition to the stage and entertainment. Colored lights, much like the lights shone on the Pyramids at Giza, were meant to illuminate the ruins and the festival, one can only assume, as night fell on the gathered crowd.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the archaeologists in charge of the maintenance at Mohenjo-Daro are now subject to the scrutiny of Pakistani citizens and cultural heritage professionals. Conservators and Pakistani archaeologists have already spoken out against the plan and appealed to the United Nations.

Mr. Bhutto Zardari made his case for the festival at Mohenjo-Daro. A BBC interview with Zardari recorded his “passionate” interest in the preservation of history in Pakistan. The People Party leader also acknowledged the intense need for conservation efforts at the ruins. Despite the controversy over “hammering a nail” into ruins anywhere in the world, let alone Pakistan, I think Mr. Zardari’s choice of location held huge potential for garnering the interest of funders with deep pockets. Time in the limelight of the international media has enhanced international knowledge of the ruins. If the Sindh festival can garner attention from wealthy patrons willing to invest in preservation of culture heritage anywhere, the more advantageous to the continued care of heritage in Pakistan in the long run.

Although, I have to ask: why did Mr. Zardari have to have the festival on top of the ruins? Was there no nearby countryside that would have suited the occasion just as well?

The tenuous state of preservation at Mohenjo-Daro is compounded by the commonplace threat of flooding by the Indus river: ironic, considering the city is the first in world history with its own public drainage systems. For archaeologists, Mohenjo-Daro is a site of great interest to Southeast Asian heritage and also well-known for its extensive, fortified wall embankments and evidence of long-distance trade with Mesopotamian civilizations. Mohenjo-Daro, like many archaeological sites, pays the price of wear and tear from exposure to the elements for one specific reason: excavation and subsequent exposure to the elements causes rapid decay of archaeological materials.  Buried archaeological deposits are faced with their own set of unique preservation challenges, but by excavation, the exposed burnt-brick city walls and buildings are subject to the effects of severe salt corrosion. Gloomy predictions by some archaeologists predict the city’s complete disintegration in the next 20 years.

Salt corrosion is not an unusual problem for sites located in environments like Mohenjo-Daro. A study conducted in 1977 by A. S. Goudie in the journal of Earth Surface Processes, identifies and dissects the problem of disintegration by the formation of sodium sulphate – a more damaging cousin of everyday table salt.

The salt crystals, which spread over the faces of brick walls, are the combined result of a high ground water level, high level of salinity, rapid, daily changes in temperature, and corresponding evaporation of water. Water droplets that condense early in the morning are then subject to a sudden drop in that humidity, causing an increase in the aridity of the environment, and rapid evaporation of condensed water. Because the water droplets evaporate so quickly in the arid environment, by default, salt crystals are left behind. These sodium sulphate crystals can be observed on the walls at Mohenjo-Daro as small and needle like colonies so common, whole portions of walls appear white washed. It is the sulphate component of this compound, which causes the most damage and poses the greatest obstacle to preservation efforts (Goudie, 1977).

The UN originally named Mohenjo-Daro one of six of UNESCO’s important sites of world heritage. UNESCO, the culture heritage preservation organization will hopefully be likely to impose restrictions in the future to protect the ruins from unnecessary exposure. Despite these efforts, the festival was allowed to continue and was held on the 1st of February.  The damage, which can no longer be undone, can now only be minimized by the efforts of poorly funded preservation minded archaeologists and conservators. One hopes, the interest cultivated by Mr. Zardari’s festival will have the heads of people with money turning in archaeology’s direction.

I would suggest that archaeologists and other professionals specializing in the study, preservation and teaching of cultural heritage could benefit from tourism and the popularization of the study of history and archaeology. Profits accrued by tourism via important sites like the Pyramids at Giza, the Greek Pantheon, and Williamsburg, Virginia, while not a direct source of funding for archaeologists and conservators, retains vast, untapped potential. The kind of attention being drawn to Mohenjo-Daro by the Pakistani festival is another of these untapped monetary resources. The dilemma imposed by this tenuous situation is how cultural heritage professionals and stewards of cultural heritage like government institutions can take advantage of public interest for funding while simultaneously preserving the source of interest for that monetary well. Needless to say, no preservation means no archaeological site. If Mohenjo-Daro completely disintegrates by 2034 because of exposure to construction and the wearing of pedestrian feet, there will be no site to draw the gaze of the interested world public or the fascination of funders with deep pockets on which the site’s survival depends.

So what can archaeologists and conservators learn from this situation? Need for funds and the relationship allowed by professionals between the public and cultural heritage will always be pressing if this community of preservation minded individuals wants to keep educating the public. How can we do this without causing irreparable damage to a non-renewable resource? According to Farzand Masih at Punjab University and head of archaeology, “you cannot even hammer a nail at an archaeological site,” – at least, not in Pakistan, according to what the BBC references as the Antiquity Act (although they do not specify what institution enforces this legislation) (BBC, 2014).  So what can professionals do at sites of cultural heritage to bring tourism to Mohenjo-Daro without risking further damage? What about other sites around the world whose stewards fight for both dissemination of knowledge and preservation – could Pakistan and Zardari learn anything from their examples? Meanwhile, conservators will once again have to swoop in to salvage what remains of the day.

 

References

Goudie, A.S. 1977     Sodium Sulphate Weathering and the Disintegration of Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan. Earth Surface Processes 2:75-86.

Mackay, E. J. H 1934    Further Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 82(4233):206-224.

Dales, George F. 1965    New Investigations at Mohenjo-Daro. Archaeology. 18(2):145-150

BBC News: Asia. January 30-31st, 2014 Pakistan’s Mohenjo Daro ruins ‘threatened by festival.’Mohenjo-Daro: Protest over Pakistan Festival at Ruins

General Conservation

Lifting Techniques for Retrieving Artifacts from an Excavation

February 24th, 2014

Lifting Techniques for Retrieving Artifacts from an Excavation

Michell Gilman

            There are many considerations essential to minimizing damage to deteriorating artifacts upon their discovery during an archaeological excavation including preparation, cost, time, and minimizing the effects of surrounding features of a site.  Archaeological conservators collaborate with others involved in the methods used for processes of conserving significant organic and inorganic materials determined to need specialized care.  The early stages of preparation and retrieval of objects from a site can set the stage for the degree of impact and damage to them; improper retrieval can severely damage objects and it is critical that conservators recognize that in some cases, the best option is to leave objects in situ.

There are several lifting techniques used by conservators that, if prepared and performed correctly will provide safe storage and transportation of fragile artifacts until they can be properly excavated, analyzed and curated in a laboratory.  The methods for lifting from a terrestrial excavation, are block lifting objects isolated in situ on a platform and lifting objects that have been isolated on a pedestal; they have been developed as a means to provide support to prevent fracturing and further deterioration of cultural materials.  Prior to using any lifting technique, it is imperative that all preparation steps have been set, including having all materials and assistance necessary for a successful excavation.  If the conservator cannot attain the required materials and assistance, then they should not engage in any attempts to retrieve an object.  In a case where the situation calls for rescue archaeology techniques, improvisation with materials on-hand may be necessary.  A reasonable assertion is the most crucial component to lifting an artifact is a thorough preparation.  It should be noted that with future technological advances, techniques for artifact conservation will likely improve and lifting methods will also change.  Additionally, the method chosen is determined by the condition and type of artifact and should be the least intrusive to the object itself as well as the context of its immediate surroundings within the archaeological excavation.

The method of block lifting involves lifting an object from the ground.  First, the surrounding upper and lower parameters of the block must be determined. The object is isolated in situ on a soil platform with enough soil to sustain the integrity of the object.  Second, the soil environment the object has resided in must be maintained as much as possible to minimize damage; in the case of moist soils, the humidity is retained by misting the soil with water and then covering the entire block in a protective covering of gauze bandages. Third, the bottom of the block is undercut with a trowel and then a strong, firm support slid underneath the block.  Finally, the block can be further protected with additional bandages and/or other safe protective materials, and then removed and placed into a proper storage container.

Methods for lifting objects isolated on a pedestal are similar in that they both require parameters for removal to be delineated, and objects to be pedestaled and protected by some kind of supporting material.  Their differences lie in the types of supports and materials use.  One method is referred to as “lifting from a cocoon” (Cronyn 1990:47) where the object is isolated on a soil pedestal where the object may be partially exposed.  Next, the soil can be misted with water and both the object and pedestal wrapped in damp non-acidic tissue.  Then the object and pedestal are wrapped in gauze bandages that have been soaked in plaster of Paris.  Once the plaster of Paris has set and hardened, the cocoon can be removed from the ground by undercutting with a trowel then sliding a firm support underneath.  The cocoon can then be inverted and placed in a proper container.  Another method, referred to as “Lifting by the formation of a polyurethane foam cocoon” (Cronyn 1990:49) involves isolating the object on a soil pedestal and wrapping it in some kind of “clingfilm.”  Next, a rigid support such as corrugated cardboard is set in place around the object.  The cardboard must be supported by surrounding soil banked up against it.  Then polyurethane foam can be poured in according to directions and allowed to set.  Once set, the cocoon can be covered and stopped with a plywood lid, and removed from the ground as in the previously discussed methods.  The cocoon is inverted and placed into a proper container.

Other similar techniques used vary in the kinds of materials used to protect fragile objects.  The primary focus is for conservators and people they collaborate with on a given project to carefully determine all the necessary preparation, materials, methods, and available assistance required to ensure minimal damage to objects.  If these steps are unattainable, or an object cannot be safely excavated then retrieval must be postponed until circumstances provide for a safe retrieval.

 

References

Cronyn, J.M. 1990  The Elements of Archaeological Conservation.  London: Routledge.

Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre 2007    Conservation Manual for Northern Archaeologists, 3rd ed.  Rosalie Scott and Tara Grant, eds. http://www.pwnhc.ca/programs/downloads/conservation_manual.pdf, accessed February 23, 2014

General Conservation

What Can be Learned from the Swedish Heritage Conservation Model

February 24th, 2014

What Can be Learned from the Swedish Heritage Conservation Model

 Allison Miller

            Kristin Huld Sigurdardottir’s article (2003) on the conservation-education challenges facing archaeologists and conservators today, led to an exploration of the laws governing archaeological finds and excavations in the Scandinavian countries. In her article, Sigurdardottir stated that the five Scandinavian countries all have well-developed laws governing archaeological heritage management with strong systems of enforcement in place. In a broader statement, she claimed that within these countries “all excavated objects are the property of the nation” (2003:221), which sounds like an ideal environment to deter treasure hunters and salvers, both on land and sea, especially with an effective penalization system in place. The investigation into these Scandinavian laws and what archaeologists and conservators might learn from them began with Sweden.

In Sweden, cultural environment and cultural heritage sites are overseen by the National Heritage Board, which in turn answers to the Ministry of Culture. The current legislation stems from the Heritage Conservation Act of 1988 (Europae Archaeologiae Consilium 2011:1). Chapter 1, Section 1 of the Act begins with, “The care and preservation of our cultural environment is a matter of national concern” (Swedish National Heritage Board [SNHB] 1988:1). This is a telling statement, which many countries, particularly America, could take a lesson from.

Recognizing the cultural heritage that belongs to people as individuals and as a nation should be at the forefront of the minds of archaeologists and conservators as they seek to protect the sites and artifacts that can be used to learn about the past. The support of the government and politicians is crucial in assisting with this effort. Without adequate laws and the enforcement of them to prevent the destruction and looting of archaeological sites, and to protect those sites and artifacts that have been properly excavated, archaeologists and conservators are fighting a losing battle. There will always be individuals who seek to gain from the selling of artifacts , but minimalizing their effects would provide a more solid foundation on which to develop our views of the past.

Sweden’s Heritage Conservation Act helps to prevent such looting and selling of artifacts by providing reimbursement to individuals who report their finds to the state (SNHB 1988). Though some information may be lost from the artifact not being found in context and with its provenience, it is not without value of its own. The practice of paying for such artifacts may encourage individuals to report their finds to the state, rather than selling them illicitly. The Act outlines measures against such illicit trade activities as well, detailing fines and punishment for various offenses, including the exportation of Swedish cultural goods from the country. Unfortunately, these laws do not protect against the trade of cultural goods from other nations, and such trade, particularly in Chinese artifacts, is quite rampant throughout the country (Lunden 2004).

In conclusion, though the Swedish heritage conservation model is not without its flaws, it has taken many progressive steps towards providing archaeologists and conservators with a well-structured legal guideline in which to work. The National Heritage Board details who is to care for archaeological sites and finds, and cooperates with several other state authorities to protect these sites.  These established avenues serve to protect the sites and finds, as well as the valuable work of archaeologists and conservators.

References

Europae Archaeologiae Consilium

2011    Archaeological heritage management in Sweden. Archaeological Heritage Management in Europe, Europae Archaeologiae Consilium <http://www.european-archaeological-council.org/files/archaeological_heritage_management_in_sweden.doc>. Accessed 10 February 2014.

 

Lunden, Staffan

2004    The Scholar and the Market. De nasjonale forskningsetiske komiteene <https://www.etikkom.no/Documents/PDF/stefanart.pdf>. Accessed 10 February 2014.

 

Sigurdardottir, Kristin Huld

2003    Challenges in Conserving Archaeological Collections. In Of the Past, For the Future: Integrating Archaeology and Conservation, Neville Agnew and Janet Bridgland, editors, pp.220-223. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, CA.

 

Swedish National Heritage Board

1988    Heritage Conservation Act (1988:950). UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws  <http://www.unesco.org/culture/natlaws/media/pdf/sweden/se_ordincehertgeconservat 1998_engtno.pdf>. Accessed 10 February 2014.

Archaeological Conservation, Ethics and Theory, General Conservation , , , , , , , , ,

Ethical Principles in Conservation and Archaeology

February 19th, 2014

Ethical Principles in Conservation and Archaeology

 Alex Garcia-Putnam

            Every professional society or organization has its own statement of ethics or list of guidelines for its members; archaeology and conservation are no different.  Should conservation, working alongside archaeology, be subject to both archaeological and conservation ethics, and vise versa?  Every archaeological society has its own ethics statement, so for the purposes of this entry, as it is most likely to affect conservation, I will focus on the Society of Historical Archaeology, and their code of ethics.  This particular code is relatively standard amongst the archaeological societies.

The SHA ethics statement calls for its members to follow seven principles of professionalism, detailed here.  Members must behave and work in a professional manner. They have a duty to preserve and protect archaeological sites and collections. They should make their knowledge public through peer-reviewed publications. They have the duty to collect accurate information and data and make it available to future researchers. They must respect the “dignity and human rights of others”.  They cannot profit from the sale of artifacts, nor should they place a monetary value on archaeological specimens. And finally they have a duty for public outreach. (Ethics Statement, Society of Historical Archaeology, 2007).

The American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works has a similar set of ethical statements, compiled on their website.  They too call for professional behavior and work.  They also have a duty to respect and care for archaeological and artistic specimens.  They have a duty to do the best work possible preserving a particular artifact or work of art.  They also have a duty to know the limits of their expertise, in order to best serve the conservation of an object. They have a responsibility to use practices that will not negatively affect the objects they work with, as well as a policy of reversibility and limited alteration in their treatments.  They have a duty to promote the profession, and enforce and promote these ethics.  (Code of Ethics, American Institute for the Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works, 2013).

In general these codes are similar enough that following them both would not be a challenge and would probably be positive for both archaeologists and conservators.  They both stress professionalism, public outreach, and responsibility to the protection and preservation of the past.  Really, both of these codes are standard, and could probably be tweaked for any profession.  But there are particular elements that are crucial to each society and should be strictly adhered to by both archaeologists and conservators.  I think public outreach is critical for both groups, for the simple and pragmatic reason of funding.  The more we get the public involved, the more interest we can develop, and hopefully that leads to a more concerned public.  This concern can help in the preservation of sites and artifacts, as well as aid our funding woes.   Also critical for both groups, but not mentioned specifically by the AIC, is the honest and timely publication of results.  It is critically important to produce peer-reviewed works, both for current and future researchers, but also for the public.  It surely seems obvious to those in both fields that a respect for the past and the object we work with is paramount; our ultimate responsibility lies with that, and both codes of ethics make that clear.  In sum, the codes seem to work well with each other and should be, and can easily be, adhered to by both archaeologists and conservators.

Works Cited

“Code of Ethics”, American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (2013). http://www.conservation-us.org/about-us/core-documents/code-of-ethics#.UvKL_v1ATwI.

“Ethics Statement”, Society of Historical Archaeology (2007). http://www.sha.org/about/ethics.cfm.

 

Archaeological Conservation, Ethics and Theory , , , , ,

Ethics and Theory of Digital Reconstruction in Archaeology

February 18th, 2014

Ethics and Theory of Digital Reconstruction in Archaeology

Sophie Carman

Recent advances in 3D imaging technology has allowed archaeologists to digitally reconstruct objects and monuments. These reconstructions are available to a wide audience in the form of scholarly publications, websites, or museum displays, and allow for cultural heritage to be transmitted through many generations (Bruno 2010). This newly developed software allows objects and monuments to be rotated 360 degrees, creating a virtual and interactive experience for the viewer without restriction. However, reconstruction theory and ethics become more complex when the original construction is not known. Is it deceiving to the general public to digitally reconstruct an object or monument when the reconstruction created is based off of inferences from the archaeological record? Since we usually do not know the original construction, is it ethical to digitally reconstruct anything? To further understand this ethical issue, it is important to understand the theoretical basis of archaeological reconstruction.

Image 1

A digital reconstruction of an ornate Roman plate based on two original fragments unearthed near Haddington in East Lothian, Scotland, in 1919. From: https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/Petra/excavations/technology.html

 

 

Brandi (1996:Part I) describes the duality between the historical significance and the aesthetic value of an object or monument when a reconstruction is being considered. On one hand, a reconstruction can be based on historicism by utilizing information from the archaeological record, in absence of any modern cultural or aesthetic biases that may alter its historical value. On the other hand, a complete reconstruction is aesthetically pleasing to the viewer and can provide further information on how an object, building, or site may have been constructed in the past. These two factors also speak to a wider distinction between structure and appearance. Is it the historic structure that is maintained in the reconstruction, or should the focus be on an aesthetically pleasing and complete appearance? It is important to consider the benefits and limitations of these two factors and how they should be integrated into the final product.

Image 2

 

Digital reconstruction of the Great Temple at Petra, Jordan, From: https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/Petra/excavations/technology.html

 

When conducting a reconstruction according to historicism, the focus is on the historical significance of the building instead of its aesthetic value (Brandi 1996:Part I). Such a reconstruction may be implemented, “as long as this is possible without producing an artistic or historical forgery…” (Brandi 1996:Part I p.231). In other words, archaeologists may undertake the reconstruction of an object or monument unless the end product is untrue to its historic value or original appearance. This poses to be a difficult task for archaeologist, since many reconstructions of monuments are base off of interpretations of the archaeological record. Nonetheless, the product of such interpretations, when based on historicism, is an image of a monument that strives towards historic authenticity.

Image 3

Reconstruction of the Bronze Age fortified settlement ‘Friaga Wald’ based on digital topographic mapping and records from archaeological excavations. From: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/oeggl317

Reconstructions in accordance to aesthetics weighs less heavily on an object or monument’s historicism and more on its overall appearance and the potential unity of its components. This theoretical standpoint argues that “the essence of the work of art is in the fact that it is a work of art, and the historical event that the work represents is only a secondary aspect” (Brandi 2010: Part III p.378). In addition, Brandi (2010) further states that “a work of art is effectively made up of several components,” and when “taken individually, the components do not have any particular aesthetic significance” (Part II p.339). Therefore, when all of the components associated with the object or monument, whether authentic or reconstructed, are brought together, the finished product represents aesthetic unity, but not necessarily historic authenticity.

A reconstruction is an important aspect to the process by which the information, structure, and appearance of an object or monument is transmitted to future generations. Recent advances in digital technologies assist in this process by creating virtual reconstructions that are easily obtainable and transmittable, but also allow for falsehood. It can be agreed upon that the general public looks to archaeologists for authenticity, and thus deception by such reconstructions is unethical. To assist in the prevention of this issue, archaeologists carefully consider the complex duality between and object or monument’s historical significance and its aesthetic value, and how that duality pertains to the true nature of the object or monument that is being reconstructed.

 

References:

Brandi, C. 1996. Theory of Restoration, Part I. In: Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. 230-235.

Brandi, C. 1996. Theory of Restoration, Part II. In: Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. 339-342.

Brandi, C. 1996. Theory of Restoration, Part III. In: Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. 377-379.

Bruno, F. et al. 2010. From 3D reconstruction to virtual reality: A complete methodology for digital archaeological exhibition. In: Journal of Cultural Heritage. 11:42-49.

General Conservation

How visible should conservation treatments be?

February 12th, 2014

How visible should conservation treatments be?

 Lawrence Houston

Retaining and producing documentation of conservation treatments is considered a fairly recent development when it comes to historical and artistic works.  The prior philosophy of repairs was often to make them so invisible that the original and the repair could not be told apart.  It was thought that the slightest hint of visible treatment would ruin the value of an object and many objects were ill-treated in order to attain this visual effect.  When conservators worked together to develop treatment ethics, one of the aspects of ethical repair that was examined closely was how treatments should be incorporated into the object as a whole.  How can damage repair be undertaken in a manner that neither detracts from the perception of an object, nor attempts to pass itself off as authentic?

One guidepost that conservators set was the ‘six foot/six inch rule.’  Basically put, a repair should be incorporated into the object so that from 6 feet away, the repair blends seamlessly with the object.  The object and its aesthetic experience should be at the forefront of the observer’s attention.  Treatments should not detract from the appreciation of an object.  However, treatments should not be so invisible that the object becomes something that it is not.  Original detail and the work of time and craft should be distinguished readily from the restoration and stabilization work done to care for an object.  Hence the six inch rule, which states that treatments should be apparent on close examination.

Why make the treatments visible at all?  Conservators have the responsibility of ensuring that an object is allowed to speak for itself.  Hiding the treatments entirely creates a false appearance that can mislead or even create forgeries of authentic craft.  Those who access the objects treated have the right to know which parts of an object are original. Likewise, conservators have the obligation to show what is interpolation or which portions are not supported by authorial intent and are merely an assist to stabilization.  Conservators have developed techniques like tratteggio [Italian for sketching] and rigatini [striping] for adding paint to compensate for loss.  Other times, the ‘reading side’ of an object will not show work that is readily visible from the back.  When treatment documentation is lacking or absent, it is often these visual clues that are an important help to guide researchers and conservators in their approach to an object.

Figure 1

Page from a copy of Homer’s Iliad. 1722. 

Aqueous treatment was being contemplated to fix the staining of the page.  Repairs are almost invisible.

Figure 2

Note the undocumented repairs that are easily visible on close inspection.  Should aqueous treatment be attempted with this object, these historical repairs can be accounted for by the conservator and loss of the information can be prevented. These visible repairs are also of note to researchers.  In this case, the repairs indicate a printing error that was caught and likely corrected early in the object’s life. (Raking and transmitted light used in the photos provided to visually highlight the repairs).

Figure 3

Current AIC guidelines require conservators to “not falsely modify the known aesthetic, conceptual, and physical characteristics of the cultural property.”  As conservators we need to ensure that repairs stay in the background and do not drown out the voice of the object.  But we also need to avoid the vanity of creating a truly invisible repair and work to hone our craft in a way that allows the object to speak for itself.

 

Bibliography

AIC Code of Ethics.  http://www.nps.gov/training/tel/Guides/HPS1022_AIC_Code_of_Ethics.pdf.  January 21, 2014.

Applebaum, Barbara. Conservation Treatment Methodology. Lexington, ky 2010

Capel, Chris. Conservation Skills: Judgment, Method, and Decision Making. Routledge. ny, ny. 2000

Phillips, David. Exhibiting Authenticity. St Martin’s Press. NY, NY. 1997

Schweidler, Max.  The Restoration of Engravings, Drawings, Books, and Other Works on Paper.  Ed. Roy

Perkinson.  Getty Conservation Institute. Los Angeles. 2006.

Photo credit: Lawrence Houston.  Images from ΟΜΗΡΟΥ ΙΛΙΑΣ. Homeri Ilias: id est, de rebus ad Trojam gestis. Printer J. R. Prostant. 1722.

General Conservation, Science , , ,

Challenges of Human Skeletal Remains

February 12th, 2014

Challenges of Human Skeletal Remains

 Allison Miller

The study and care of human skeletal remains continues to provide challenges to archaeologists and conservators, as the cultural implications of the remains often supersede their scientific implications. Many of the cultural and legal aspects of working with skeletal remains, however, can be mitigated if archaeologists and conservators remain vigilant about treating the remains of the individuals and their potential ancestors with the proper respect. While certain laws, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), exist to prevent the study of remains in deference to religious and cultural beliefs, they do not broadly hinder the study of human remains, as there continue to be many other remains to be examined. Conservators working with human remains should both be knowledgeable about conservation of bones and be concerned with the remains as a person.

Though the conservation of skeletal remains often lies outside of the scope of study of conservators, they are regularly called upon to assist in the best care of such remains (McGowan and LaRoche 1996). Considering the regularity with which conservators are asked to assist in the care of skeletal remains, it is prudent that dissemination of information on proper care practices for bones be provided through educational courses and publication of studies. “The treatment of human remains is an evolving topic, subject to updated and revised philosophies” (McGowan and LaRoche 1996:112), of which publication would help conservators keep abreast of the most current care practices. Though it is as true as with any other material, no one practice would prove best for all situations, knowledge of the variety of treatments and storage available would provide conservators with the greatest ability to continue the preservation of the remains.

In handling skeletal remains, their dual scientific and cultural value must be remembered at all times. Archaeologists and conservators must remember not to separate themselves from the remains they are handling; they must always remember that those remains were once, too, a whole person, an individual, with a personality and a life story. The cultural background of the individual should also be remembered, as it can provide a basis for the treatment and storage options that are most culturally acceptable; sometimes reburial may even be best practice. Care for individuals whose identity and therefore cultural background is unknown, though case dependent, should often include reburial in a condition relatively unaltered from first recovery (Ubelaker and Grant 1989).

Proper storage is likely to be the primary concern of conservators working with skeletal remains, as many conservation techniques used elsewhere may prevent further study of the remains. This study is often fraught with complications, as well, since they can damage the physical characteristics of the bone, though new, less invasive methods are being developed (Bolnick et al. 2012). Too often, bones are improperly stored at the excavation site, which then becomes long-term storage. Sound conservation practices should ensure that skeletal remains are properly stored in acid-free materials with environmental controls and correct cataloging of the remains. “The proper storage and treatment of human remains serve the interests of both an engaged descendant community and the scientific community” (McGowan and LaRoche 1996:116).

Working with human remains can be a sensitive subject, as it highlights many spiritual and philosophical belief systems. Concern for the proper scientific analyses and conservation practices of skeletal remains can communicate the respect shown for the individuals and help allay the concerns of descendant cultures.

 

Citations

Bolnick, Deborah A., Holly M. Bonine, Jaime Mata-Miguez, Brian M. Kemp, Meradeth H. Snow, and Steven A. LeBlanc, 2012, Nondestructive sampling of human skeletal remains yields ancient nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 147(2):293—300.

McGowan, Gary S. and Cheryl T. LaRoche, 1996, The Ethical Dilemma Facing Conservation: Care and Treatment of Human Skeletal Remains and Mortuary Objects. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 35(2):109—121.

Ubelaker, Douglas H. and Lauryn Guttenlan Grant, 1989, Human Skeletal Remains: Preservation or Reburial? Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 32:249—287.

Ethics and Theory , , , , , , ,

The Need for More Archaeological Conservation Programs in the U.S.

February 12th, 2014

The Need for More Archaeological Conservation Programs in the U.S.

Michell Gilman

            Within the United States, there are select programs designed strictly for archaeological conservation.  Historically, conservation has been viewed as a designation for the fine arts and most programs in the U.S. are geared towards the preservation of artworks.  Archaeological conservation is as necessary and important as art conservation.  Archaeologists often find organic and inorganic objects in dire need of preservation.  They find things made of leather, textiles, wooden objects, paper, basketry, and various metals, to name a few kinds of materials.  It is likely many archaeologists do not realize some of the artifacts they excavate need specialized care in order to preserve those objects’ integrity, and either simply neglect to provide the attention necessary or do not plan for this possibility within their research design.  This can be because they do not think they will find materials needing conservation, or do not know of the necessity of conserving some things until it is too late.

Currently, the only educational opportunity specific to archaeological conservation is at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.  This is a three-year program and applications are accepted every other year.   Other opportunities include New York University History of Art and Archaeology, the University of Delaware, an Archaeological Conservation program at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, and a few courses at ECU.  Admissions requirements vary with each institution and studies are closely aligned with a focus on artworks or build upon the existing training of conservators and archaeologists.  With the abundance of artifacts and collections already housed in museums, universities, and other laboratories, it is clear that additional prospects are required in order for these materials to have a chance at being conserved.

An increase in the amount of educational opportunities is necessary for archaeologists to learn how to properly excavate and care for these objects due to the fact that they are typically untrained in conserving the delicate artifacts they sometimes excavate.  Granted, most artifacts excavated from archaeological sites are inorganic materials that do not require the degree of protection as organic materials such as wood which can deteriorate almost immediately after being extracted from the soil.  Better preparing students seeking degrees in archaeology would ensure fewer losses of unexpected finds that need specialized treatment.  Additional programs would also bring a greater awareness to students interested in pursuing archaeology and archaeological conservation, as well as allow undergraduates to better prepare themselves for this career goal.

When undergraduates are contemplating a graduate education in archaeology, they are typically focused on learning excavation methods, the laws governing archaeology, or learning more about particular cultures of the past.  It would be safe to say that archaeologists are typically concerned with saving past material culture and knowing that archaeological conservation is a possible education and career focus would more likely lead them to taking the proper courses in chemistry and art history while studying at the undergraduate level.  This would better prepare them for applying to archaeological conservation programs upon completion of their undergraduate degrees.  More archaeological programs would likely provide more volunteer and internship opportunities, further preparing students for graduate work and eventually careers in archaeological conservation, or at the very least better prepare them as archaeologists in general.  It is not reasonable to suggest nor is it necessary that every archaeologist be trained in archaeological conservation, however having the greater availability of accessing archaeological conservators would surely ensure fewer losses of delicate artifacts.

More programs designed to focus on archaeological conservation would benefit the field of archaeology in the U.S. because this would lead to an increased awareness of the specialized care needed to preserved artifacts in danger of eroding away.  It would also lead to more archaeologists conducting fieldwork capable of implementing the proper procedures for beginning the conservation process upon discovery of fragile artifacts.

 

Sources:

http://blog.ecu.edu/sites/eastcarolinaconservationlab/blog/2013/09/03/conservation-advising-faqs/

http://www.ioa.ucla.edu/conservation-program/

http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/fineart/academics/index.htm

http://www.si.edu/mci/english/professional_development/archaeological_conservation/index.html

Archaeological Conservation, General Conservation, Museum Studies , , , ,

Preservation at Pompeii

February 6th, 2014

Preservation at Pompeii

Sophia Carman

Image 1

Image 1: Map of the Bay of Naples, Italy. Image from: http://www.markville.ss.yrdsb.edu.on.ca/projects/classof2008/chong2/hrivnak/template.htm

The ancient city of Pompeii, located in the Bay of Naples, maintains a rich history as a vibrant city during the Roman times (Image 1). Nevertheless, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 led to the total destruction and preservation of the site. Pompeii laid untouched for almost 2000 years, until excavations began in 1748 and continued to the present day (Slayman 1997). During these excavations, the daily life of the citizens who had been frozen in time was revealed in the form of residential architecture, wall frescos, household objects, and casts of the people themselves (Image 2). Although the information collected from these excavations remains valuable to the history of the site, the integrity of the newly exposed architecture, art, and objects are continually being threatened by both natural forces and human activity. Therefore, one must ask themselves if it is appropriate to excavate a site, such as Pompeii, if the current preservation techniques may not be sufficient in caring for the materials uncovered? Such a question is constantly on the minds of conservators and addresses an ethical issue that is prevalent in the field of archaeology and conservation today.

Image 2

Image 2: Archaeological plan of Pompeii. Image from: http://www.dogsofpompeii.com/tour.php

Once structures and objects are exposed by excavations, the deterioration process begins. Factors that affect the integrity of the archaeological materials can be natural and/or anthropogenic (Slayman 1997). Natural deterioration factors include exposure to sun, wind, rain, erosion, or even fluctuation in temperature. Botanicals also play an active role in the deterioration of structural elements of the city by growing within the matrix of the walls, causing them to collapse, or behind the plaster frescos, forcing them from the wall. On the other hand, humans have a hand in the destruction of the site. International wars have destroyed parts of the site in addition to priceless objects, both of which were unable to be recovered. Tourists visiting the site cause daily wear and tear, especially when theft or vandalism is involved. Archaeological excavation itself is a destructive technique that does not necessarily allow for re-excavations in the future. It is these deterioration processes that are a prevalent issue in the preservation of the site today.

Image 3

Image 3: House of Amarantus. Left: Photo from the 1950s excavations showing the amphorae. Right: Photo from the 1994 excavations showing the same amphorae. Image from: Picking Up the Pieces

Early excavators of Pompeii gave little notice to the care and maintenance of the site (Slayman 1997). Once unearthed, various features were directly exposed to environmental conditions and have not survived to the present day. For example, a group of amphorae in the House of Amarantus, which was initially documented in the 1950s, remains today only as shattered vessels (Image 3). In other parts of the site, frescos have lost their pigment color and some walls have collapsed altogether. Essentially, these early excavators were not able or did not have the means to handle the maintenance needs of the site after it was exposed.

Although conservation techniques are far more advanced than what they were in the 1700s, there are still some conservation issues that they are difficult to address today. The restoration and maintenance of Pompeii is a top priority, but is hindered not only by the sheer size of the city, but also by the availability of manpower and the amount of funds that are able to be accessed. When a new section of Pompeii is exposed, both support and protective structures have to be constructed in order to care for that portion of the site. Further restoration needs to be enacted to maintain the structural integrity of the walls and floors. All objects uncovered in the excavations need to be properly cared for and stored, which requires space in a storage facility or museum. Therefore, undertaking an excavation does not stop when the field season has finished, but continues for many years to come. If the resources, manpower, and funding are not available to care for and maintain the site once the excavations are completed, it would seem to be unethical to excavate the site in the first place. However, since the time of the first excavations of Pompeii, the techniques of conservation, preservation, and restoration have improved dramatically and are able compensate for the earlier shortcomings.

Digital archaeology has allowed conservators to effectively care for, maintain, and document the remains of Pompeii today (Bruschini 1991). Digital databases preserve various features and objects from the site by documenting the more technical information associated with their state of preservation. Such information can include general descriptions, a history of restorations, damage analyses, graphic documentation, etc. Databases also allows archaeologists and conservators to gain information on the distribution patterns of features and objects in order to learn more about city planning and daily life at Pompeii. Additionally, photographic documentation allows for the condition of various features to be monitored over time by noting any changes that may be caused by deterioration processes. Such images also permit conservators to simulate restoration techniques digitally, prior to implementing the modifications on the feature itself. Furthermore, three-dimensional modeling enables conservators to reconstruct objects and architectural features which can assist them in the restoration process. It is clear that these recent technological advances in digital archaeological has dramatically improved the way in which a site, such as Pompeii, is documented and maintained.

Pompeii has a rich history that is preserved in a layer of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Since the first excavations in 1748, the techniques to preserve, conserve, and restore the site have significantly improved. Digital archaeology has opened up additional avenues in maintaining the site by enabling the conservator to observe changes in features and objects over time through databases and photographs. However, there is still much to be uncovered and learned from the two-thirds of the exposed Pompeii, as well as further advances in conservation techniques before the last third of the site is exposed and excavated.

 

Bibliography

Bruschini, Stefano

1991 Imaging Pompeii. In Archaeology. 44(2):32-35.

Slayman, Andrew L.

1997 Picking Up the Pieces. In Archaeology. 50(6):34-36.

 

General Conservation, Public Outreach , , ,

Archaeological Conservation: Art or Science? Why not both!

February 6th, 2014

Archaeological Conservation: Art or Science? Why not both!

 Alex Garcia-Putnam

Conservation is critical to how both archaeologists and the public interpret the past.  The material culture studied by archaeologists is maintained, preserved and restored by conservators, aiding in our understanding of the people that made or used these objects in the past.  And some of these same objects are displayed in museums and must survive the rigors of a life on display (instead of say, stored in a climate controlled curation room). Conservators must have the know-how to stabilize and maintain artifacts as well as restore them for museum display purposes; in this way conservators must bridge the divide between art and science.  This divide and the work done by conservators somewhere in the middle of it, and leads to a discussion of the motives and ethics of archaeological conservation.

Conservators, tasked with repairing, restoring, maintaining, and protecting artifacts, have to keep in mind who the audience of their work will be, as per their code of ethics presented by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (2013).  As previously mentioned, both archaeologists and the public view and utilize conservators’ work.  Archaeologists need conservation to help expose the original surface of artifacts that may have been deposited in the ground thousands of years ago.  As artifacts are brought out of the ground, they immediately begin to degrade.  Stable environments make for the best preservation, and once artifacts are removed it takes the deft hands of a conservator to make sure that they are maintained in order to gain as much information from them as possible.

The other side to conservation, and probably the one that is thought of most, is the work they do in museums, maintaining artifacts and works of art to go on display.  Conservators can have creative license to retouch, and change these archaeological materials.  Here in lies the issue.  Museums, from a business and aesthetic perspective, want on display objects of beauty that will attract crowds and admiration.  Many artifacts come out of the field, be that excavated from a terrestrial site or salvaged off the ocean floor, in a state of disrepair, not exactly what museum goers want to see behind the glass cases.  It is one of the many jobs of conservators to fix and treat artifacts to prolong their life on display.  They must be allowed some creative license in this process, but where do they draw the line between simply exposing and preserving the artifact and embellishing or changing it from its original form?  Do the alterations made by a conservator take anything away from the original maker of the object? Even if the conservator’s intentions are simply to revitalize and protect the objects, is it not in some way intrinsically altering it?  Conservators combat this dilemma by ensuring that as much of their work as possible is reversible, thus allowing for the original structure to be maintained.  They are also incredibly concerned with using safe treatments, storage practices, and display techniques that allow the artifacts the longest ‘shelf life’ possible.

I do not mean to seem critical of the alterations made by conservators on objects from the human past, but I do believe that it is crucial that extreme care be taken in the decision making process of conservators when altering objects.  It is not the raw dirty artifacts that the public sees, they see the ones cleaned, preserved, and refurbished by conservators.  The point being that the public needs to be careful when viewing these artifacts, they need to understand that this is not how we found these objects; and conservators need to be judicious in the treatments and alterations they make.

Works Sited

“Code of Ethics”, American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (2013). http://www.conservation-us.org/about-us/core-documents/code-of-ethics#.UvKL_v1ATwI.

Ethics and Theory, General Conservation ,

To remove or not to remove?

February 5th, 2014

To remove or not to remove?

Melissa Price

Deeply ingrained within the concept of restoration is the notion of ethics. Restoration involves the removal of more recent layers to return something to a former condition. Paintings, chairs, and houses can all be restored and there can always be a debate about what or how much should be removed from an object in an attempt to return it to an earlier state.

Who decides what is important or what should be restored? How can all aspects of a building’s history be represented equally? What should be removed and what should be left in tact during a restoration project? There are no easy answers for these questions and the matter of restoration is prone to gray areas. It is important, however, to consider these questions and keep in mind some of the difficulties conservators face when dealing with such projects.

Murtagh, in Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America, defines restoration as involving the removal of later work or replacing missing earlier work. When thinking of the concept of restoration, historic buildings frequently come to mind and Murtagh appropriately warns that too much restoration borders on “creeping reconstruction,” in which the original elements of the building are slowly refurbished until the original building has practically been replaced (pg 20). Restoration, then, has the potential to be a systematic destruction of parts of a building’s history. Perhaps this is why some people believe that buildings should be left alone: all construction is a part of its history.

Sometimes, there are also subjective influences as to why some things are restored. A case study that provides an example of this is the restoration of Montpelier, the home of former president James Madison. Montpelier was built and owned by the Madison family from 1723 to 1844, when it changed ownership multiple times until the DuPont family purchased it in 1901. The DuPonts were a wealthy family in the Upper South that contributed greatly to the development of thoroughbred horse racing and even used the grounds of Montpelier to host yearly horse races. Throughout their ownership of Montpelier, extensive construction took place, which increased the 22-room Madison-era mansion to a whopping 55 rooms (Gontar, “Rediscovering James Madison’s MONTPELIER,” 122-124).

DuPont-eraMontpelier

DuPont Era Montpelier: Photo from http://nookstowersandturrets.blogspot.com

Those 33 DuPont-added rooms are gone now; they have been demolished or deconstructed during the restoration of Montpelier to the original Madison-era mansion. Marion DuPont Scott, the last private owner of Montpelier, willed the mansion to the National Trust for Historic Preservation before her death and it took much discussion and consultation before the decision to restore the mansion to its earlier form was made. The National Trust, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the National Park Service, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the remaining members of the DuPont family were involved in this decision-making process (“Mansion Restoration”).

Madison-era Montpelier

Madison Era Montpelier: Photo from http://www.traditional-building.com

In the early stages of planning, there were high hopes for exhibiting both the Madison and DuPont eras of the mansion. It was hoped that the restoration would be able to display a “house within a house” (“Restoration Of Montpelier Aiming At 2 Eras”). Today, however, it is obvious that there is less DuPont and more Madison present in the mansion. While some applauded the immense amounts of tedious work that went into the restoration of the Madison era home, some remained unconvinced that deconstructing the DuPont’s work was ethical while others argued Madison’s work for the country overshadowed the DuPont additions to Montpelier (“Uncovering Montpelier’s Hidden Past”).

It is no surprise that the home of a former president is placed on a higher pedestal than that of an Upper South wealthy family; visiting the home of a former president is an easier sell to tourists (or grant providers). Less is known about daily life during the Madison’s time than daily life during the DuPont’s time and there is much information to be gained from the restoration process. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that both families were important in the history of Montpelier and in choosing to restore one part of that history, many other facets of the building’s complex life are destroyed or given up. The case of Montpelier provides just one example of how ethics are closely tied to restoration.

 

References Cited:

Gontar, Cybèle Trione. 2007. Rediscovering James Madison’s MONTPELIER. Magazine Antiques 171(4): p120-129.

Mansion Restoration. The Montpelier Foundation. http://www.montpelier.org/research-and-collections/mansion-restoration (accessed 01/20/14).

Murtagh, W., 1997, Chapter 1: The Language of Preservation. In: Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America, pp. 15-24.

Shea, Christopher. 2008. Uncovering Montpelier’s Hidden Past. Preservation. www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2008/september-october/montpelier.html (accessed 01/20/14).

Stevens, William K. 1986. Restoration Of Montpelier Aiming At 2 Eras. New York Times News Service. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-05-25/news/8602070975_1_du-ponts-madison-era-triple-hung-windows (accessed 01/20/14).

General Conservation

Condition Reporting Keywords

January 22nd, 2014

Condition Reporting Keywords

  Not sure?

“appears to be”

“possibly”

 

General locations:

Pronounced: visible in numerous places

in situ: found in place, as originally designed

Interior/exterior

Obverse/Reverse

 

If something is flaking/detaching:

“structurally unstable”

Crack: separation of two sides that were originally a whole piece

Cohesive: stuck together as originally intended, uniform

If something is broken:

Dislodged: not in the original position, but still attached

Fractured: damaged by being split, but still attached

Fragmented: detached and in pieces

“loss of surface”/”surface loss”

Describing decorations:

Relief: decoration stands out on surface, (high-relief: higher than surface, bas-relief: lower than surface)

Concave: curving inward, dip

Convex: curving outward, bulging

Conservation actions:

Facing: applying a solid support to the surface of an object for the purposes of providing strength for lifting or manipulating it

General Conservation ,

Tips on Exhibition Design

December 28th, 2013

On a recent tour to the North Carolina Museum of Art, we were able to meet with some of the “behind-the-scenes” staff including conservators and the exhibition designers. In North Carolina, we have  a large amount of small museums with small staffs that have to fulfill numerous roles including exhibit design, but many times staff don’t have prior training in this area. We asked what the top four tips are when designing a new exhibit! They are:

1) create connections w/ vendors

2) everything you purchase should be an investment that you can reuse

3) everything is a learning experience

4) you always need a scope, schedule, and budget for a successful project

 

Excellent words of advice! What are some of your tips? Other good advice we received was that teamwork in project management is a major part of museum work. So taking courses on project management and teamwork will help you in any workplace. Also consider the type of museum you are working with. Art museums are all about the visual, history museums are about the experience and science museums are about the process.

Additional Resources:

http://www.collectioncare.org/pubs/Dec152013.html#LETTER.BLOCK11

 

Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , ,