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Conservation as a Subfield of Archaeology?

January 29th, 2013

Conservation as a Subfield of Archaeology?

Kara Fox

Being a student in the small and relatively new field of maritime archaeology, I was not prepared for the multidisciplinary involvement that came with the territory. Maritime archaeology is naturally dubbed as the study of human interaction with marine environments. To research, study, and preserve the past, maritime archaeology requires assistance from an assortment of fields. These fields can often include conservation, chemistry, geology, oceanography, and resource management. When referring to these fields and how they assist archaeological endeavors, one could suggest that they are merely “subfields” of archaeology, particularly with conservation. As a student in the field of maritime archaeology I find myself craving the skills of a conservator, therefore selfishly wanting to include the field of conservation as a subfield under archaeology. The skills associated with conservation are essential for the field of archaeology and are widely desired for potential jobs. But when I step back and acknowledge the breadth of knowledge, training, and special experience that accompanies the field of conservation, it is beyond a “subfield.” Years of experience and training would be required to fully understand the life of an artifact, recognize the deterioration, identify methods of stabilizing an object and apply the correct treatments.

To assign a demeaning subfield title on an intricate and complicated field such as conservation is absurd! On the contrary, some archaeologists disagree, “Conservation, therefore, is a critical tool within archaeology, a tool that becomes less meaningful if it is isolated, or seen as merely a technical skill that can be farmed out to the “hard sciences (Rodgers, 1).” This viewpoint is not universal. It is apparent through the concerns over “the very meaning of what it is to be a conservator, the viability of our core documents, the strength of our literature, and the effectiveness of peer review,” that the status and credentialing of the field of conservation is a complex and controversial topic (“Beyond the Certification Vote,” 2013). I am certain if I asked a group of conservators if they felt they were “less meaningful” when disconnected from archaeology they would have a much different answer. It cannot be denied that conservation plays a huge role in the field of archaeology, but the debate of its status as an independent, credentialed field that stands alone has yet to be fully accepted.

 “Beyond the Certification Vote.” Certification Information, accessed January 28, 2013. http://www.conservation-us.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=696&parentID=477.

 Rodgers, Bradley. The archaeologist’s manual for conservation: A guide to non-toxic, minimal intervention artifact stabilization. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers: New York,        1987.



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