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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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An Ode to Fieldwork

August 26th, 2013

An Ode to Fieldwork

Taryn Ricciardelli

             Although professional discourse often dissuades us from thinking that archaeology and conservation share any similarities, ECU’s recent conservation field school in Israel showed me that both of these specialties have the same, ultimate goal. We want artifacts to be expertly handled and preserved so that researchers in the present and the future can glean all possible knowledge from objects which others might see as trash, or land which others might see as a development opportunity. Archaeologists and conservators want the history of objects to mean something to the public. We want adequate storage for the multitudes of cultural objects connected to self-identity, and we want the story of our past to continue developing, so that we can feel connected to our ancestors (or learn from their mistakes). We want the opportunity to travel– to learn from others whose perspectives might offer new insights into our own individual and professional growth. But most of all we want artifacts to get the respect and attention they deserve, both in the field and in the lab.

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         Photograph 1. Dome of the Rock seen from the Jaffa Gate Hostel

            The conservation field school in Israel was what all successful field schools are: one part good planning and three parts good luck. No matter what you expect from a field school going in, you should always mostly expect the unexpected. Working in the field, in both archaeology and conservation, requires you to become comfortable with flexibility. A constantly changing environment, a limited amount of tools (or budget), and a variety of artifact materials make work especially exciting, while play is no less of a shocking experience. There are new smells at every turn, colors you never thought imaginable blur your vision, you start waking up to the cultural sounds of a very distinct people. In other words, your senses are completely overwhelmed from start to finish, and your history starts to mingle with others’ histories. It’s common knowledge that for a traveler, you can never go home again. The explanation behind this is that everywhere becomes home.

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 Photograph 2. The Mediterranean as seen from Ashqelon

            The biggest challenge for those first starting fieldwork is understanding that fieldwork is both mentally and physically strenuous. The climate is never perfect. Almost all landscapes have hills to climb. Artifacts are heavy. Shovels cause callouses, or in the case of a conservator, your neck and eyes hurt after scrutinizing one artifact for six hours. You are constantly thinking and researching and asking yourself, “What the hell is that?” And, yes, the first week makes you reconsider your career choice. But once you get over the shock of constantly being in motion or the nuisance of changing your schedule fifty times to accommodate new surprises, you start realizing that you love being exhausted at the end of the day. You love eating bugs for the first time and meeting people who are genuinely interested in what you do. I admit it, I personally like the chaos. Chaos breeds new experiences in a way that planned trips never can. Professionally, chaos creates the perfect venue to meet new, exciting people. In Israel, we had a chance to learn from wonderful archaeologists and conservators alike. And, although they might not agree that we met amidst chaos, there were certainly plenty of loose artifacts to invoke the idea that we were all heading in the right direction.
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 Photograph 3. Chelsea Freeland, Samantha Sheffield, and author holding up the arch of Ashqelon

            Israel was an ideal place for an archaeologist’s first fieldschool with a conservation focus. I saw more artifacts in one place than I have ever seen in my life. Israel’s history is so deeply rooted in archaeology that its cultural attributes are highly valued, and, therefore, most artifacts are either on display or being conserved by the Israel Antiquities Authority (henceforth referred to as the IAA).   The IAA sees every artifact from both private and public archaeological sites pass through their office. Every prehistoric pottery sherd, every Roman glass piece, every waterlogged coin is conserved by a specialist and put in storage. This is incredibly different from American archaeology, in which artifacts are not required to be conserved by a central party, and so are spread out among universities and researchers across the country. There are benefits and downsides to both systems, but in both countries artifacts play a central role in politically-charged conversation. In other words, archaeology and conservation are relevant fields, and they remind us that people do care about their history and what is becoming of their material heritage.

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Photograph 4. The Negev Desert

             If you choose to go into archaeology or conservation, remember that we all want the same things. We love artifacts and the reconstruction of the people behind those artifacts. We want to represent cultures fully and accurately, while still embodying their humanity. If you want to be in archaeology or conservation, my advice is to love fieldwork for what it is. You probably have an addiction to adventure, and, even though you will complain, even your worst days in the field will be productive and inspiring. How else can a professional know they have reached the pinnacle of their career unless they have had the experience of cleaning one artifact for four hours and then having a colleague (or professor) lean over them and say calmly, “Have you started cleaning that yet?”

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Photograph 5. Author sitting next to Petrie’s old archaeological tunnels in the Negev

 

Note: All photos are by the author and should not be reproduced without the author’s permission.

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Working Together in the Field: Compromise and Communication between Conservators and Archaeologists

February 14th, 2013

Working Together in the Field: Compromise and Communication between Conservators and Archaeologists

 Hannah Smith

            Having the split personality that I do as a student of both archaeology and conservation, I’ve seen the unintentional divide that exists between conservators and archaeologists. In so many cases, this divide is due to a lack of understanding of what a conservator really does, as well as how to communicate what would be the best course of action to preserve a collection. That process encompasses the entire time from the moment the artifact leaves the ground to when it leaves the conservation lab. As a result, better communication is needed – on both sides – so that the history that is embodied by excavated artifacts can be preserved in the best way possible. Part of this communication needs to include demystifying what a conservator does, as well as how archaeologists can work with conservators to make both sides’ jobs easier.

            Much of the work conservators do takes place in an environment that is very different from where archaeologists work. The equipment needed and the vocabulary used to describe conservation can also prove to be a gap in a non-conservator’s knowledge. Once someone understands how and why a certain treatment is done and what the terms used to describe it are, it’s no longer so foreign. To that end, conservators should make an effort to show archaeologists more of what they do, while still cautioning that treatment shouldn’t be undertaken without proper training.

Because artifacts deteriorate so quickly, care must be taken from the very moment that the artifacts are uncovered on the site. Of course, the ideal situation includes a conservator working with the archaeologist before the excavations begin, and continuing through until everything is cleaned, stabilized, and safely stored or displayed (Singley 1981). But rarely does the ideal situation become reality. More often, artifacts sit in storage for a long time before a conservator can assess and treat them. Therefore, it is necessary for conservators to keep an open line of communication with the archaeologists in the field as to how best to clean, package and store their artifacts (Singley 1981). This means that there needs to be more information available to those outside of the field of conservation as to how to manage the basic needs of artifacts – those of stability and protection. While there are plenty of sources of information and supplies available, we need to bring those sources to the attention of archaeologists. We also need to account for the fact that not every project will have unlimited funds, so less expensive, but still appropriate, options for collection management should also be explained to our colleagues.

            Before an artifact can be stored, however, it needs to be cleaned, and each type of material has different needs. The cleaning methods needed for ceramics, for example, are different than those for metals (Singley 1981). A basic understanding of these methods will greatly improve the conditions that artifacts are in after excavation. Dirt left behind can provide an environment that allows decay to begin or continue, especially if the environment the artifact is housed in is unstable (Cronyn 1990). And while many archaeologists know the basics of cleaning artifacts, changes in best practices may have occurred since they were in school. By communicating well, conservators can keep archaeologists abreast of the changes that are occurring in our field, which will help collections survive to provide more information to future generations of conservators and archaeologists alike.

 Cronyn, J. M. 1990. Elements of Archaeological Conservation. New York, New York: Routledge.

 Singley, Katherine A. 1981 Caring for Artifacts After Excavation – Some Advice for Archaeologists.  Historical Archaeology 15(1): 36-48.

Archaeological Conservation

Conservation Conversation: Conservation Within the Discipline of Anthropology

February 4th, 2013

Conservation Conversation: Conservation Within the Discipline of Anthropology

Taryn Ricciardelli

Archaeologists have always been a problem for the field of anthropology. They are crass and red-faced, most of them, dirty, but, if we want to be frank, archaeologists travel, drink, and crunch numbers with the best of them. They are scientists and theorists as much as they are shovel-bums; sinking into labwork just as quickly as they hurry into the field. In essence, archaeologists fall in love with past societies and imaginary individuals. They can start from the most basic material remains and uncover the beautiful, complex connections that make human beings so fascinating. But as archaeology continues to expand, recognize new specialties, and delve into even more intricate forms of questioning, the conservation of artifacts, both on-site and off, becomes an essential part of the discipline. I sense that soon there will be discussions similar to the debate surrounding archaeology since the rise of processualism: is conservation a subspecialty or its own discipline? Should archaeological conservation become part of the discipline of anthropology? Is archaeological conservation directly related to the study of people and how people behave? My argument would be that, yes, the conservation of artifacts can tell an important diachronic, and truly cultural, story about the people behind the objects.

Marcel Mauss wrote in The Gift that objects possess the spirit of the maker, which is then manifested in different ways through the acts of giving and receiving. As a distinguished cultural anthropologist writing about egalitarian societies, Mauss invested strong social value into all human-made objects. Although the context is different in archaeology, I still find that Mauss gives a lot of credence to why archaeologists do what they do. They find objects in order to understand the people associated with them, to highlight humanity, finding (or disproving) patterns on a larger scale. Conservators are not solely focused on the object, either. The intrinsic spirit of the object is what drives the conservator to conserve, and it is that intrinsic spirit which comes from the maker of the object, the culture surrounding the artifact, and the life history of the object (conditioned by the conservator’s culture) after it has been excavated.

Some archaeologists might argue that conservators are constantly in labs, tucked away from the field, pouring over chemical analysis and not worrying about the larger social and cultural implications of the objects they are saving. However, this accusation largely arises from a lack of communication between archaeologists and conservators, which, in my opinion, should end immediately. As Singley (1981) acknowledges, misinformation on either the archaeologists’ or conservators’ part (about the other) can lead to inherent problems in the object’s long-term survival and also in the analysis of the culture of the artifact. If archaeological conservation were part of the anthropological discipline, much of this misinformation could be avoided. Archaeologists would be required to learn at least the basics of conservation, and conservators would be required to learn some archaeological methods supplemented by some anthropological theory. Although I can hear the groans and the indignant outbursts from the scientists in the room, anthropological theory is largely underrated in the sciences, yet it offers a unique perspective that is beneficial to developing research questions and understanding artifact patterns, excavation techniques, and, hopefully soon, conservation techniques. All in all, conservation is about humanity. (Now whether more conservators or anthropologists disagree with this statement, I am not sure, but the comments section is below.) Whether or not conservation ends up in anthropology, it is the cooperation and understanding of conservation and archaeology that is most beneficial to the progress of anthropological academic research.

 

Works Cited

Mauss, Marcel. 2000. The Gift. W.W. Norton & Company.

Singley, Katherine R. 1981. Caring for Artifacts after Exacavation— Some Advice to Archaeologists. Historical Archaeology 15(1): 36-58.

Archaeological Conservation, Ethics and Theory ,

Is Conservation its own field or a subfield of Archaeology?

February 4th, 2013

Is Conservation its own field or a subfield of Archaeology?

Hannah Piner 

            Conservation sprung from the need to protect and conserve our past; it is hard to say that conservation came from archaeology, or any other major discipline specifically. It is the daughter of art, history, archaeology, architecture, and museum studies, just to name some of the influential fields. With advances in technology, artifacts come from a wider variety of places (family homes, private collections, archaeological sites) and with advances in science there are new ways to study these artifacts.  Virtually every advance made creates a new subfield of conservation in the American Institute for Conservation: object, wood, paper, painting, etc.

Even if one eliminates many of the subfields of conservation, and focuses solely on object conservation, it is hard to say that object conservation is merely a subfield of archaeology. Often, conservators do not work in the field with the archaeologists which eliminates the conservator from a majority of an archaeologists work. Instead the conservator spends most of their time in the lab after the artifacts are brought out of the site. Archaeologists may employ the conservator, but conservators are still left out of the process until the archaeologist has gathered all possible visible information and has to call on the conservator to preserve or reveal data that has become hidden by concretion and dirt. This puts a wedge between the two fields and, purposely or accidentally, separates two fields that should work very closely together.

The conservator also has to deal with the wants and needs of other museum professionals.  The reasoning and logic of a museum curator (for example) will be very different from the reasoning and logic of an archaeologist. The archaeologist wants to collect data and research what the artifacts mean. The museum curator, on the other hand, is more interested in using artifacts to demonstrate to the public information about the past. Curators are looking for aesthetic or educational qualities that may not be in the forefront of the archaeologists mind. An objects conservator has the difficult task of balancing these two goals. Their goal is to use the artifact for research and educate the public. The conservator has a responsibility to take an object and stabilize it while keeping the integrity and originality of the artifact for the continuing education of future generations, while answering research questions.

When working with archaeological materials, none of these three fields could survive alone. They work together and must rely on the research and knowledge of each other to gain the most information. Archaeologists have to carefully excavate the artifacts out of the ground. Museums and curators present these findings to the public. And conservators bridge these two, add research and data, and conserve and preserve the artifacts for future generations.

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When Conservation is not the Answer

January 28th, 2013

When Conservation is not the Answer

Lucas Simonds

Although any reasonably pragmatic conservator accepts that, due to many considerations, the conservation of material culture is not feasible in every situation; Time, cost, level of deterioration, and other factors can often combine to make conservation efforts impractical. It is generally accepted that material culture and cultural heritage are intrinsically valuable, and should be preserved whenever possible. As an archaeologist, I would have to, in most situations, agree with this sentiment, as the profession of archaeology is based on the notion that cultural heritage holds an intrinsic value. This assumption of value, however, ignores the fact that the culture whose heritage is being preserved may in fact place a higher value on factors other than the preservation of cultural heritage. Competing viewpoints on value are especially likely to come to a head on the issue of the preservation and use of landscapes which contain cultural heritage. Be it a shipwreck in the middle of a highly fished area or a prehistoric settlement under a cornfield, the reality is the same that to people in the present day, their profitable relationship to the landscape is likely to hold a higher value than the archaeologist’s preservation oriented relationship.

This complex interplay of relationships has been dealt with at length in a recent article by Chris Dalglish, in which he argues in favor of what he calls “landscape justice.” To Dalglish, landscape justice is a theoretical framework in which all relationships to a landscape, past, present, and future, must to be taken into consideration alongside the preservation of cultural heritage for its intrinsic value, so that good relationships to the landscape can be promoted (Dalglish 2012). Furthermore, Dalglish proposes that rather than possessing any sort of intrinsic value, material cultural remains draw their value not from within themselves, but from groups living in the present who believe that those remains reflects their cultural heritage (Dalglish 2012, 335). As a result of this, Dalglish comes to a number of conclusions that would be somewhat shocking to most archaeologists and conservators, the most blunt of which is found in his third principles of  archaeological landscape ethics, which states,

Adopting an approach that connects the past, present and future tenses of the relational

landscape requires us to move away from a position where conservation actions are our

stock response to any situation. Conservation of the status quo, its relationships and its

material elements, is an option which remains open to us, but it is only one of many

possibilities (Dalglish 2012, 338).

While suggesting that complete preservation may, at times, be the wrong choice comes as an offense to the sensibilities of those of us who work in the preservation of cultural heritage, I believe Dalglish’s theory of landscape justice exposes an inherent narrow-mindedness in our profession. Despite the value which we place on cultural heritage, our relationship to the landscape in which material cultural remains lie is not the only one that matters. Those who draw their livelihood from the landscape or reap other benefits from it must have a say in the management plans of that landscape, as their relationships to it are no less legitimate than those of archaeologists and conservators.

A word of caution must be given, however, as this is not meant to suggest that the potential of a landscape to produce a profit must take precedence over its cultural significance. This is meant to suggest though, that the prioritization of conservation in every situation without regard to other relationships to the landscape is not only unjust, but leads, more often than not, to a poor relationship between the archaeological community and the public, as well as to the possible mismanagement of landscapes. I would suggest, therefore, that Dalglishs’ theory of landscape justice be given careful consideration as plans for landscape management and conservation are developed, and that both archaeologists and conservators should attempt to take a more open minded view when dealing with the complex interplay of relationships surrounding landscapes containing cultural heritage.

 

Dalglish, Chris. 2012. Archaeology and landscape ethics. World Archaeology 44 (3): 327-341.

 

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