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The Dilemma of Reversibility

March 4th, 2013

The Dilemma of Reversibility

Kelci Martinsen

 The third installment of this conservation blog will leave factors affecting the understanding of an artefact and instead focus on a dilemma that can affect the longevity of an artefact’s life.  The quandary being discussed is the reversibility of a treatment applied to an object. Reversibility is a major principle in a conservator’s work. It is widely accepted and predominantly viewed as a mandatory in the treatment of any object.  In “Overview of conservation in archaeology; basic archaeological conservation procedures,” the University of Texas A&M states that in order for a treatment to be reversible, the treatment must have the ability to be undone at a future time.

Using a treatment that is reversible is extremely important because it allows previously treated objects to continually be preserved. Reversibility assumes that no treatment is ever final so it is important for conservators to frequently reexamine treated artefacts and determine whether retreatment is necessary. Therefore, as technology progresses, so does the science of conservation. In the future, there will most likely be superior conservation methods developed, which will be less hazardous to the objects being treated. In order to use future techniques on all objects, both treated and untreated, the treatments that conservators use now must be reversible so that previous treatments will not react with new treatments. Therefore, the probability that a change in treatment will negatively affect the structure of the artefact is reduced.

The theoretical idea of reversibility does not create any issues but problems arise when reversibility is applied in a real world situation. Scholars have stated that it is impossible for any treatment to be completely reversible because a conservator cannot feasibly remove every molecule of the previous treatment that was applied. Consequently, there will always be a minute amount of treatment that is not reversible. The only solution to this problem is for a conservator to remove as much of the previous treatment from the artefact as possible, so that any interaction between the past treatment and the future treatment will be diminished.

Overall, reversibility is an important factor to consider in the preservation of artefacts because using reversible treatment methods allows for the science of conservation to progress and improve, which can help to lengthen the life of an artefact.  

Works Cited

Rogers, B. A. (2004). The Archaeologist’s Manual for Conservation: A Guide to Non-Toxic, Minimal Intervention Artifact Stabilization. New York: Springer.

 University of Texas A&M. (n.d.). Overview of conservation in archaeology; basic archaeological conservation procedures. Retrieved 02 19, 2013`, from Centre for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation: http://nautarch.tamu.edu/CRL/conservationmanual/File1.htm

General Conservation

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