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The Benefits of Teaching Conservation

March 4th, 2013

The Benefits of Teaching Conservation

Kate Clothier

East Carolina University (ECU) is unique in that it offers introductory courses in conservation methods to students who may not pursue it as a profession. This raises a question by the conservation community of whether conservation methods should be taught to non-conservators, specifically archaeologists. The fear is that teaching archaeology students conservation techniques they will try to use them on artifacts rather than going to a more qualified conservator, potentially damaging the artifact.  It is my belief that this fear is unfounded and that teaching conservation to archaeologists will actually help communication.

The conservator is a very vital part of the archaeological excavation. It is the conservator’s job to protect the artifacts that the archaeologist removes or exposes during the excavation process. Depending on the artifact, preservation and conservation methods may take longer than expected. This in turn can cause some communication problems between the archaeologists and the conservator. The archaeologist wants to gather information from the object as soon as possible but some treatments require the object to be removed from the site for a long duration. This is one aspect of where having some knowledge of conservation methods can help. If the archaeologist is aware of some basic conservation methods for different materials they can better understand the time frame to be expected. This will help promote a better understanding between the conservator and the archaeologist and relieve some tension on site concerning the conservation process.

Perhaps the most important aspect of teaching this course it helps the researcher understand their limits. When an artifact is found, often times the first instinct is to mechanically clean it and scrape away dirt or other debris. Taking a course in conservation informs the researcher that the dirt and debris left on artifacts can actually be clues that should not necessarily be removed. Different elements interact with the environment in unique ways. If the artifact is given to a conservator before everything has been removed it will give the conservator a chance to analyze how the material is breaking down, leading to a better course of action for the artifacts protection.

Having working knowledge of conservation methods and techniques can lead to better communication between conservators and archaeologists. This translates into better artifact care. Both professions go out of their way to protect the history they are working with and can benefit each other by coming together. By offering courses in conservation to its students, ECU is allowing future conservators, historians and archaeologists a chance to learn a common language and lessen the gap between the studies. This will benefit research of the future and promote a more interdisciplinary approach.

Hamilton, Donny L. 1997.  “Basic Methods of Conserving Underwater Archaeological Material Culture”. Nautical Archaeology Program, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, Accessed: Web. 18 Feb. 2013

General Conservation

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