Archive for the ‘Ethics and Theory’ Category

Research Paper Assignment #1

August 25th, 2015
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Research Paper Assignment 1: Outline and Thesis Statement 
Page Goal: 1 page. Prepare an outline of the research paper. Components of the paper should include a title, thesis statement and an outline that includes an introduction, background, discussion and conclusion.This is an example of what you should submit (critical elements highlighted in blue):

The Role of Artifacts in Terrorism Activities

Susanne Rawson

Thesis Statement: Local populations experience increased poverty due to the loss of their cultural heritage through sale of artifacts by ISIS.


  • 1.0 Introduction (2 pages)
    • 1.1 Who is ISIS?
    • 1.2 Problem of antiquities sales in the Middle East
  • 2.0 Literature Review (1-2 pages)
  • 3.0 Background (2 pages)
    • 3.1 History of looting in Syria
    • 3.2 Other terrorist groups that have sold artifacts
    • 3.3 Outcome of previous looting
  • 4.0 Discussion (3-4 pages)
    • 4.1 ISIS sale of artifacts
    • 4.2 How ISIS uses the money
    • 4.3 Effect of artifact sales on locals
  • 5.0 Conclusion (2 pages)
    • 5.1 How this impacts the world
    • 5.2 Future work

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Starting a Research Paper

August 25th, 2015
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The beginning of a research paper can seem like an overwhelming task, not to mention that they can vary from discipline to discipline. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

In the beginning….

1) …there was an idea. What is a problem you are interested in? What are current events affecting history, archaeology, or cultural heritage? Find a topic that genuinely interests you or the paper will be a VERY long and painful process.

2) After you have identified a problem or a research question, come up with 5-8 keywords that summarize the topic and that can act as a guide for reviewing the literature.

3) Jot down some of your thoughts or ideas related to the topic.

4) Come up with a possible thesis statement. Don’t discount this step! This is the most critical part of the paper as you will constantly refer back to what you are trying to accomplish!

5) Make an outline of how your paper could be structured.

6) Start with a title that illustrates your paper topic. It should not be so vague that the reader doesn’t understand what you are writing about. Think of it as an abbreviated thesis statement that you can keep coming back to as you write.


Then you read, and read, and read!

This is the longest part:

1) Find 3-5 peer reviewed and/or published sources that form the main body of literature on your topic.

2) Browse them to identify how they relate to your topic and summarize them in 2-3 sentences. Your “most critical” references will evolve as you go through readings and you may find some that are better than initially found.

3) If you find a specific reference useful, look at the references used in that source. These will lead you to even more (and possibly better!) information! Think of it as information sleuthing.

4) When you are reading, make a note of the idea or block of text that you are interested in. Also note what source and page number you are getting it from. Bibliography software can help you keep track of all of your references and notes and even generate a bibliography in the citation style of your choosing. Most are free! Check here for a list!

5) Insert supporting statements or idea references into your paper text.


Then you write, and write, and write!

1) Break your paper into sections and focus on a section at a time if you need to.

2) Create a more detailed outline of each section to help formulate your thoughts.





Idea: ISIS is using the sale of artifacts that they have stolen to fund weapons acquisitions and terrorist activities. Has this occurred in the past? Does armed conflict encourage looting? Why do people do this!? What laws are in place to prevent this from happening!? How does the sale of artifacts impact the local people?

Keywords: looting, illegal sale of artifacts, archaeology, ISIS, funding terrorism


  • I can’t imagine that ISIS makes that much money off of artifacts.
  • Who is buying the objects? Locals?
  • Heard from Prof. Rawson today about the Red List, google it
  • I wonder what they are finding or looting that is of value?

Possible Thesis Statement: Local populations experience increased poverty due to the loss of their cultural heritage through sale of artifacts by ISIS.


Title: The Role of Artifacts in Terrorism Activities

  • 1.0 Introduction (2 pages)
    • 1.1 Who is ISIS?
    • 1.2 Problem of antiquities sales in the Middle East
  • 2.0 Literature Review (1-2 pages)
  • 3.0 Background (2 pages)
    • 3.1 History of looting in Syria
    • 3.2 Other terrorist groups that have sold artifacts
    • 3.3 Outcome of previous looting
  • 4.0 Discussion (3-4 pages)
    • 4.1 ISIS sale of artifacts
    • 4.2 How ISIS uses the money
    • 4.3 Effect of artifact sales on locals
  • 5.0 Conclusion (2 pages)
    • 5.1 How this impacts the world
    • 5.2 Future work


Main Sources:

  • 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
  • All the King’s Horses: Essays on the Impact of Looting and the Illicit Antiquities Trade on Our Knowledge of the Past, edited by Paula K. Lazrus and Alex W. Barker. American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 2  (April 2014)
  • Looting and Theft of Cultural Property: Are We Making Progress?:


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Earthquakes, Floods, Tornadoes, Oh my! Disaster prevention in Museums

April 9th, 2015
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Earthquakes, Floods, Tornadoes, Oh my! Disaster prevention in Museums

Kate Thomas

            Considerations for adverse effects on artifacts are often concentrated on transporting the item. From the field to the lab or a touring exhibit, a car or plane ride is the most immediate cause of concern in artifact conservation. However, once at a museum the artifacts can still be subject to physical destruction. Some of these can be caused by people, but this can also be done by environmental causes. These causes can vary based upon location, but a common destructive one is earthquakes. These generally affect the western United States, Asia, and parts of the Middle East. They are, however, becoming more common in other parts of the world that do not normally experience them. Earthquakes can vary in size, with a majority of them being difficult to feel. The destruction of major ones is evident. The 1906 earthquake in San Francisco caused a fire that ravaged the city, another in 1989 collapsed parts of the Bay Bridge. The 2011 in Japan caused massive amounts of destruction. Many of these large side effects are becoming easier to mitigate. Improvements in building technology have started to relieve the stress of earthquakes, mainly by using building materials that let the building shake but not topple it. This is great for preventing fires and city destruction, but does nothing for the objects inside. The secondary side effects beyond the shaking include fire, flood, tsunami, and others. Ergo, earthquakes present a complex and multifaceted problem for museums and conservators.

Planning for earthquakes can be uniquely challenging. Depending on the type of fault line a museum is located near, the shaking of the earthquake can change. Additionally, earthquakes are impossible to predict. In recent decades, museums have started to take preventative measures against earthquakes. Recent research into museums in Istanbul has shown many of the problems of preparing for earthquakes. Istanbul has been a center of seismic activity, with the Hagia Sophia being famously destroyed by an earthquake. The proceeding Hagia Sophia museum has also had to contend with artifacts (Ozil). The solutions displayed in this research can be as simple as moving heavier objects to a lower shelf. However, there are a few problems that can arise (Ertük 2012).

Exhibit concerns also play a factor in earthquake preparedness. Items in storage are much easier to mitigate, as they do not rely heavily on aesthetic principles. Objects on display face both the issue of aesthetic and preventative care. Cost becomes a major concern in dealing with the artifacts on display. Some of the methods can involve securing cases and displays to the building structure, which are inexpensive. Technological research has looked into base isolation and display cases. This is the same technology applied to buildings to make them “earthquake proof” (Myslimaj et al. 2003). The solution of securing display cases to the walls and the floor ensures that the case will not topple over, and additional securing of glass ensures it will not break. However, attaching the cases to the floor increases the shaking during an earthquake. Base isolation systems attached to display cases will allow the case to absorb much of the seismic activity and prevent as much damage as possible. This strategy will range in its effectiveness, depending on the fragility of the artifact. Although probably a much more effective strategy, these systems can be cost prohibitive.

Ensuring that artifacts are securely situated in their spots is an important step in earthquake preparedness, but future concerns must be addressed. Furthermore, the earthquake mitigation strategies need to comply with conservation strategies. These efforts needs to be multidisciplinary, as engineers and geologists as well as conservators must address the variety of needs for emergency preparedness for artifacts.


Ertük, Nevra. 2012. “Seismic Protection of Museums Collections: Lessons Learned After the 1999 Earthquakes in Turkey”. Journal of the Faculty of Architecture 2012 (1): 289-300

Myslimaj, Bujar, Scott Gamble, Darron Chin-Quee and Anton Davies. 2003. “Base Isolation Technologies for Seismic Protection of Museum Artifacts”. Paper presented at the 2003 IAMFA Annual Conference, San Francisco, CA

Orzil, R. 1998. “The Conservation of the Dome Mosiac of Hagia Sophia”. In Light on Top of the Black Hill—Studies Presented to Halet Cambel. Edited by G. Arsebuk, M.J. Mellink, W. Schirmer


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Public Interaction and Conservation

April 9th, 2015
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Public Interaction and Conservation

James Pruitt

One aspect of conserving objects is the control of environmental factors that are known to be detrimental. Solutions can be as simple as ensuring objects aren’t displayed in direct sunlight, to as complicated as sophisticated environmental control systems. For objects destined to be displayed in museums or collections, these factors can be largely controlled or dangers mitigated. Objects displayed outdoors lost this advantage, as the weather cannot be controlled. A further danger, and one examined in this blog, exists for those objects displayed in public spaces: the public.



Figure 1. Skateboarder on Curl. < >

            Whether the object in question is a monument, sculpture, or some other preserved historical object, people like to interact with it in some way. Dangers posed by the public range from “innocent” gestures such as touching to deliberate acts of vandalism (Ferrari 2014). These objects look large and sturdy, usually covered with a thick coat of paint. Many people simply do not know how fragile they really are. A simple internet search will produce dozens of images of people interacting with these objects, from people skateboarding in colossal sculptures (Figure 1) to kids playing on preserved munitions and weapons (Figures 2 and 3).


Figure 2. Children playing on abandoned Sherman tank, Saipan. <>


Figure 3. Child on preserved torpedo, Last Japanese Command Post, Saipan. <>

            There seems to be two distinct schools of thought in the conservation community regarding this. One is the “no-touch” policy. The public is discouraged from touching the objects. Education obviously helps towards this end (such as “do not touch” signs), but other methods might include installing natural barriers such as landscaping and security patrols (Williamstown Art Conservation Center 2009:2). I was surprised to see a sign at the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Rodin Garden that went beyond the usual “do not touch” verbiage and actually explained why we shouldn’t touch the art: that touching the sculptures would remove the wax coating that protects them from the environment.

The other school of thought is that touching these objects is inevitable, that it is one way that the public interacts with them. Instituting no-touch policies might actually have the opposite effect and encourage more touching than normally takes place (Bach 2007). It is important to remember that they are also “not master paintings of the sixteenth century,” (Collens 2007). Sturdily-built sculptures are not going to fall apart if people climb on them, and their surfaces will not be damaged from the oils from fingers. They will be damaged if they are treated like playground equipment, however, and legal liability is a concern if such actions are encouraged (Collens 2007). Finally, some conservators realize that “there’s a need people have to touch something, to engage with it,” (Griswold 2007). Whether it is right or wrong, people engage with public objects in different ways. Over time, these can even become traditions, such as the dressing up of the New York Public Library lion sculptures or the “Make Way for Ducklings” statues in the Boston Public Garden (Figure 4) (Griswold 2007).


Figure 4. “Make Way for Ducklings” statues dressed for Bruins’ Stanley Cup finals series, June 2011. <>

            Regardless of whether we thing it is right or wrong, justified or illegal, conservators must take public interaction into account when conserving public outdoor objects. Not only do the environmental factors such as weather and animals need to be taken into account, but we must also think about how the public might engage those objects. One way damage might be mitigated is to institute a do-not touch policy and place signs or landscaped barriers around the object. Perhaps a better method can be taken from CRM theory, and engage the public as stakeholders—make them feel connected to and responsible for the well-being of these objects. Either way, care should be taken to ensure that protective coatings that can stand up to the rigors of public interaction.


Bach, Penny. 2007. “Shared Responsibility: A Discussion about the Conservation of Outdoor Sculpture.” Conservation Perspectives, The GCI Newsletter 22(2). Accessed February 25, 2015.


Collens, David. 2007. “Shared Responsibility: A Discussion about the Conservation of Outdoor Sculpture.” Conservation Perspectives, The GCI Newsletter 22(2). Accessed February 25, 2015.


Ferrari, Roberto. 2014. “Abuse and Preservation of Outdoor Public Sculpture.” Accessed February 25, 2015.


Griswold, John. 2007. “Shared Responsibility: A Discussion about the Conservation of Outdoor Sculpture.” Conservation Perspectives, The GCI Newsletter 22(2). Accessed February 25, 2015.


Williamstown Art Conservation Center. 2009. Technical Bulletin: Annual Maintenance Programs for Outdoor Sculpture. Accessed February 25, 2015.


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Taxidermy – More Dangerous Dead Than Alive? Historical Taxidermy and the Conservator

April 9th, 2015
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Taxidermy – More Dangerous Dead Than Alive?

Historical Taxidermy and the Conservator

Lori Gross


Photos 1

Figure 1 – Chicago Field Museum Bird Taxidermy

While taxidermy is not appreciated by everyone, I have always enjoyed looking at the beautifully colored bird specimens that are on display at the Chicago Field Museum, but how could these incredibly beautiful creatures be more dangerous dead than alive?

Photos 2







Figure 2 – Chicago Field Museum Bird Display

This is a question that conservators and museum curators have begun to ask as the collections age and require conservation. In the 18th century, before the advent of contemporary taxidermy processes and scientific advances, it was common practice to use arsenic to preserve specimens for Natural History Museums throughout the world and was advocated for use on specimens to deter attack from insects as long ago as the 17th century (Hendry 1999; Marte et al. 2006). Taxidermy specimens were brushed with a thick arsenic paste that was applied to the interior skin as a preservative, insecticide and fungicide that continues to be identified in contemporary prepared specimens as recently as the 1980’s (Cockerline et al. 2009). Many of these potentially dangerous specimens were acquired by the Chicago Field Museum that show case thousands of specimens of both common place and extinct bird species.

Today, it is the responsibility of the curator and conservators to educate all individuals that will come in contact with these potentially hazardous elements of the proper handling, care, and disposal of these chemicals This means it is a vital priority to identify which specimens are contaminated so that preventative measures to mitigate exposure can be employed (Marte et al. 2006). When curation records are missing or incomplete, visual inspection of each specimen can provide conservators with some of the first clues associated with the method of preservation (Marte et al. 2006). Specimens that exhibit traces of white powder or crystalline deposits at the base of feathers, surrounding the eyes or bills can indicate that arsenic dust may be present; however, conservators are cautioned that the lack of these traits does not mean the absence of arsenic (Marte et al. 2006). Standard precautions are typically utilized as though every specimen contains arsenic such as nitrile gloves, respirators, and disposable coveralls to avoid direct physical contact or cross contamination (Cockerline et al. 2009).

Photos 3


Figure ‑3: Cleaning and inspection of owl exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum

Testing of specimens has become increasingly more important and inexpensive with the development of specialized spot tests that use paper strips, much like a pH test, that are able to identify arsenic in taxidermy collections (Marte et al. 2006). Once a specimen has been tested a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuum can be used to partially eliminate the danger. Precautions should continue to extend to the storage and handling. Most importantly, the continued display of these specimens must also be managed to reduce the risk of exposure to the general public (Marte et al. 2006). Displays that are sealed in what have been called ‘tight chests’ have proven effective in maintaining not only the preservation of specimens but also decrease the likelihood of pest infestations or exposure to arsenic, allowing museums to continue exhibition of these specimens safely (Hendry 1999).

Photos 4


Figure 4: Chicago Field Museum – Hall of Birds

Although proper handling precautions are relatively easy to implement another potentially hazardous concern is the possibility of a disaster, such as fire (Muething et al. 2005). Burning arsenic releases toxic fumes that are especially hazardous if respiratory exposure is not mitigated and can result in potentially serious health risks and even death (Cockerline et al. 2009). Museums and conservators have responded in earnest to this concern by developing risk management (Muething et al. 2005) and collection disaster plans that provide emergency responders access to curation records that identify those items containing arsenic so proper safety precautions can be assessed to minimize exposure (Cockerline et al. 2009).

After learning about the hidden hazards of bird taxidermy prepared through arsenic preservation methods one might ask “why would museums continue to display or even store such hazardous specimens?” In my opinion the answer is simple: ‘conservators’. Their dedication, knowledge, and expertise make it possible for museums to maintain these specimens for the education and enjoyment of future generations through the practice of responsible methods and treatments that mitigate the risk.



Cockerline, N., and M. Markell. 2009. “The Handling and Exhibition of Potentially Hazardous Artifacts in Museum Collections.” History News 64(4): technical leaflet 248.


Marte, F., A. Pequignot, and D. W. Von Endt. 2006. “Arsenic in Taxidermy Collections: History, Detection, and Management.” Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education Collection Forum 21(1–2):143–150.

Hendry, D. 1999. “Vertebrates.” In Chapter 1: Care and Conservation of Natural History Collections, edited by D. Carter and A. Walker, 1-36. Oxford: Butterwoth Heinemann.


Muething, G., R. Waller, and F. Graham. 2005. “Risk Assessment of Collections in Exhibitions at the Canadian Museum of Nature.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 44 (3): 233-243.

Photos courtesy of:

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How much is it worth?

April 9th, 2015
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How much is it worth?

Amy Dubis

Objects have always been assigned a value, but that value can vary depending on where, when, and who you are. Value can mean a number of things, but some of the more common meanings the general public assign to the word relate to money, cultural heritage, or a certain event or place. Everyone has heard the English proverb “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” which sums up the view that value is subjective. A person’s education, gender, cultural and ethnic background, and even general morals can influence how they view an item’s value. There are several examples one can use to demonstrate how an object can mean many different things to many different people. One of the most notable is an old family quilt example.

Let’s say this quilt was made by a great-grandmother during the Great Depression. To her, this quilt represents a way to keep herself and her family warm. To her daughter, this quilt represents her mother’s strength and how she was able to cope with the hardships during that time, as well as a material connection to her mother after she has died. The great-grandchildren, a couple of generations removed from the realities of the Great Depression, also identify this quilt with the great-grandmother, but not as strongly as their mother did. When they need some extra money to pay for bills, the great-grandchildren consider selling the quilt, because they don’t place the same family value on the quilt as their mother. One of these great-grandchildren volunteers at a museum and refuses to let his siblings sell the quilt, assigning a more historic value to it. Even though the quilt is saved from being sold, the main reason for keeping the quilt in the family has changed from utilitarian use to identifying with family to connecting to a past event. People outside the family might assign a cultural value to the quilt, as the great-grandmother was from Ireland, or they might appreciate the design of the quilt itself. To conservators, the quilt would most likely be associated with a relatable connection to the past, surviving the Great Depression.

The viewpoints of the general public are often times very different from those of archaeologists and conservators. Archaeologists tend to connect artifacts to the site they came from and the people who lived in the area. The public generally views artifacts based on their most well-known association(s). Conservators often provide a way for bridging these differing values by giving the public a little of what they want while still conveying artifacts are more than one-dimensional timepieces. Sometimes an easy mediation is not possible. Museum politics play a large role in determining what the museum should spend its resources conserving and how those objects are displayed to the public (Malkogeorgou 2012). The conservator must balance their own conservator moral with the museum’s requests and still maintain a respect for the culture and procurer of the artifact. With all of these competing variables, conservators can fail to maintain the integrity of the object in question. An example of this is the treatment of the painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue III. The material the restorer used to repair the painting was discovered to not be safely removable, which meant he had not followed conservation protocols to safeguard artifacts in order to fix the painting (Adelman 1994).

The varying views of value between the public, archaeologists, and conservators has a great impact on how objects are displayed. Each group wants to display artifacts in a way that emphasizes their particular values. It is important that displays attempt to portray more than one viewpoint of artifacts so that there are many ways to relate to them. Sometimes, it might even be necessary to focus on different aspects of artifacts through multiple exhibits or tours (Saunders 2014). By providing multiple interpretations, communities can have a greater sense of unity through a shared material culture.


Works Cited

Adelman, Peter. 1994. “Conservator Overreaching and the Art Owner: Contractual Protections against the Overzealous Restoration of Fine Art.” Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal 12: 521-544.


Breneman, Judy Anne. 2010. “Hanna Balster’s Quilts.” (accessed 2/15/15).


Malkogeorgou, Titika. 2012. “Everything Judged on Its Own Merit? Object Conservation and the Secular Museum.” Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies 10(2): 1-7.


Saunders, Jill. 2014. “Conservation in Museums and Inclusion of the Non-Professional.” Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies 12(1): 1-13.

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Conservation Issues

April 9th, 2015
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Conservation Issues

James Kinsella

During the summer of 2014, I was invited to participate in an Underwater Archaeology field school. Out of several applications from across the country only twelve students were chosen to participate, so I was honored to have been selected. This was a four week intense program which focused on scientific diver training as well as proper survey and excavation techniques while underwater. The program also gave the students an introduction to a few archaeological sub-disciplines such as remote sensing and conservation.

I found the entire program very interesting and was very impressed with the way everything was presented. We were very fortunate to have been able to work closely with the principal investigator as well as the organizations conservator. Each day that we went to the site, the conservator came out with us, and provided her expertise and input on the project. The learning experience was great; however I was left with quite a few questions and concerns on the conservation side of things.

During my introduction to the conservation team this past summer, I noticed that the conservation lab was very small. The entire organizations conservation lab was a room that was only about 15’x10’. I also noticed that they had a severe back-log of artifacts waiting to be conserved. Many of these artifacts were stored in old paint buckets or old kitty litter containers. They were all filled with ocean water from where the artifacts and concretions were found but they were stored on shelves outside the facility which is very concerning.

All of these concerns are part of a much larger concern, which is the lack of funding allocated to conservation. Unfortunately this is a trend in archaeology where there is limited funding for conservation of artifacts. This is a big problem if the artifacts are excavated during the project and there is no money to conserve. One cause of deterioration of archaeological sites was attributed to lack of funds and inadequate conservation techniques (Nardi 2010). In other cases, the lack of funding has shut down conservation labs as seen with the USS Monitor conservation lab. The USS Monitor wet lab where the turret is being conserved in a 90,000-gallon water tank will close to the public due to budget constraints and a lack of federal funding (AIA 2014).

Interestingly, there are emerging programs that are lending support to help this issue. One group that is helping is called Conservators Without Borders. This is a volunteer program that provides support to archaeological projects where insufficient funding does not allow for conservation activity (Smirniou 2008). It is great that there are groups and programs that are volunteering to help with this issue. I hope that the organization that I worked with can get some assistance with their conservation issues.

Luckily during the project I created an opportunity for myself to gain more experience with archaeological conservation. I was invited back for the upcoming summer to work one on one with the conservation team. Hopefully by the time I return, the funding situation with the organization I worked with will have improved. I also hope that I can provide a helping hand to get them caught up with their back log of artifacts that need conservation work.



“Lack of Funding Closes USS Monitor Conservation Lab.” Archaeology. January 14, 2014. Accessed March 4, 2015.

Nardi, R. 2010. “Conservation in Archaeology: Case Studies in the Mediterranean Region.” Archaeological Institute of America. November 16, 2010. Accessed March 4, 2015.

Smirniou, M., Pohl, C., and D’Arcangelo, D. 2008. “Conservators Without Borders: An International Archaeological Conservation and Outreach Initiative.” Objects Specialty Group Postprints 15: 147-164. Retrieved from American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Accessed on March 4, 2015.


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Unraveling a Mystery

March 23rd, 2015
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Unraveling a Mystery

 Kristi Brantley

The mystery of the Roanoke Island Lost Colony has fascinated people for the past 425 years. American school children are taught during elementary school that the only clue left by the colonists was the word “Croatoan” etched on a post. Numerous books and articles have been written and a visit to Manteo, North Carolina, will allow an opportunity to attend an outdoor play about the Lost Colonists and their disappearance.

In 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh sent a group of men, women, and children from England to the New World to create a colony. Led by John White, this group of people settled on North Carolina’s Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks. Governor John White returned to England for supplies, but was unable to rejoin the colony in a timely manner because of England’s war with Spain. He finally returned to Roanoke Island in 1590, but found that the colonists had disappeared. Unable to locate the colonists, he sailed back to England.

Recently new evidence, in the form of an old map, has been discovered. This evidence points to the relocation of the colonists to Bertie County, North Carolina, at the mouth of the Chowan River.

The history of the map is an interesting story in itself. Governor John White created a series of watercolors during his five voyages in the late sixteenth century that depicted the people, animals, plants, and maps of the New World. The purpose of these watercolors was to encourage financial support for colonization of the New World.   It is unknown what initially happened to this set, but in 1788 the Earl of Charlemont purchased seventy-five of White’s watercolors mounted in an album. In 1865, the Charlemont family decided to sell the collection through Sotheby’s in London. Unfortunately, a fire broke out in the warehouse next to the auction house and the collection incurred water damage. The damage did not deter potential buyers and the collection was sold to Henry Stevens.   Stevens had the watercolors rebound and then sold the collection to the British Museum in 1866. The collection still remains in the hands of British Museum (Ambers et al. 2012, 47.)


“La Virginea Pars”, map of the east coast of North America (c. 1585-°©‐87) produced by the Elizabethan artist and gentleman, John White. (P&D 1906,0509.1.3), © Trustees of the British Museum



The British Museum’s website,, gives a fascinating history of this collection that includes conservation treatments and past exhibit locations. For instance, the collection was on loan to the North Carolina Museum of History in 1965, 1985, and 2007. Descriptions of conservation treatment that the watercolors received in 2003 are also summarized:

“Lifted from mount by slitting guards with a scalpel. Debris, adhesive and, where necessary old repairs, removed from edges of verso by applying a poultice of Culminal (nonionic cellulose ether), scraping with a Teflon spatula and swabbing with cotton wool moistened with tap water. Paper debris removed from recto with a scalpel. Tears repaired, skinned areas supported and losses infilled using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. (Misaligned tear repositioned.) Infills retouched on recto using Winsor and Newton artist’s watercolours (organic,inorganic pigments,gum arabic). Humidified over capillary matting and Gore-Tex in a chamber. Pressed.”

Source: ( ).

During the conservation process of this collection, the conservators not only had to take into consideration the age of the collection, the material that was used in creating the watercolors, and the water damage from the 1865 fire, but also the “unknown” of the first two hundred years of its existence. These professionals could only guess at the possible scenarios that may have housed these watercolors during their first two centuries. These factors reinforced the reasoning behind using minimum intervention methods to conserve an artifact. Because of both the known and unknown deterioration factors, the conservators had to be careful not to use any methods that would further damage the pieces or prevent them from being analyzed by future scholars. It is because of the professionalism and education of previous conservators in treating White’s watercolors, that one of the pieces was able to be analyzed and possibly lead scholars to solving the mystery of the Lost Colony.



A transmitted light image of the symbol underlying the northern patch on “La Virginea Pars” by John White, produced by lighting it from below. (P&D 1906,0509.1.3 (detail), © Trustees of the British Museum

The First Colony Foundation (FCF), an organization created in 2004 to research the Roanoke Colonies, has been working with the British Museum to study the John White watercolors. In 2012, University of North Carolina professor and FCF scholar, Brent Lane was examining the La Virginea Pars, one of John White’s maps.   White’s La Virginea Pars depicted the area from the Chesapeake Bay to Cape Lookout and had two patches adhered to it. Lane was curious about the area underneath the patches. Two conservators with the British Museum placed a light box under the map and it revealed some changes to the coastline and a distinct red and blue fort symbol. Using non-contact and non-destructive techniques, a team of conservators further examined the map. Microscopes, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and Raman spectroscopy, determined that the spot under the second patch was the possible location of the Lost Colony (Ambers et al. 2012, 47.)

The 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Roanoke Colony was held on August 18, 1937, on Roanoke Island. President F.D. Roosevelt attended the celebration and made a prediction that “someday someone would find evidence of the Lost Colony’s fate” (LaVere, 265).  It is exciting to think that because of careful conservation practices of an old map, Roosevelt’s prediction, almost eighty years ago, may be realized during our generation.



Ambers, Janet, Joanna Russell, David Saunders, and Kim Sloan. 2012 “Hidden History?:

Examination of Two Patches on John White’s Map of ‘Virginia.’” The British Museum

Technical Research Bulletin. 6: 47-54.


British Museum Collection Database.  “1906,0509.1.3”

British Museum. Accessed 18/02/2015.


Lane, Brent. 2012. “Hidden Images Revealed on Elizabethan Map of America.” First Colony

Foundation. Last modified May 3, 2012.


LaVere, David. 2009. “ The 1937 Chowan River “Dare Stone”: A Re-evaluation.” North

Carolina Historical Review. 86 (3): 251-281.

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Conservation And Native American Beliefs: The Totem Pole

March 23rd, 2015
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Conservation And Native American Beliefs

“The Totem Pole”

 Lori Gross

                  Totem poles are one of the world’s greatest monumental expressions of the Northwest Coast Native Americans. Most commonly we think of them as tall, carved, freestanding, outside poles depicting animals stacked one upon another. As a child I had the opportunity to travel to British Columbia and I was mesmerized by the totem poles. I recall tilting my head back as far as I could to take in their immense size, intricate carvings and bold colors but like most I never wondered about the ‘what’, ‘why’ or ‘who’ that led to the creation of such masterpieces.

Given my experience it is no wonder that these beautiful artifacts have been coveted by museums and private collectors for centuries. I have to wonder is that what Native Americans intended when they crafted them? Were they meant to be moved, conserved, displayed and used as tourist attractions without fully understanding their meaning and intention (Mawani 2005)? Seen as a symbol of the Northwest Coast Indian during the late eighteen hundreds it was thought that no anthropological museum was complete without at least one pole so procurement was set as a priority employing the reasoning that those poles that were not sent to museums were at the mercy of natural processes and would rot, fall and be lost forever (Darling, et al., 1980). What museums did not take into consideration was the Native Americans perspective “…objects are created to be used and when those objects are damaged or worn out, they are thrown away and new ones are made. This applies to everything from small masks to large totem poles. For example, many Indian people feel that once a pole has served its purpose it should be allowed to go back into the ground. The objects themselves are not important; what matters is what the objects represent” (Cramner-Webster 1986).

In recent years more attention has been focused on understanding the perspective of the Native American Culture in regards to totem poles, especially by conservators. Instead of approaching the conservation of a totem pole with mere intellect some have turned to understanding the spiritual and ceremonial significance as well (Rhyne 2013).

One such totem pole ‘The Tongass Island Raven’ owned by a Tlingit Tribe was approached for conservation utilizing more than traditional conservation techniques. Recognizing that when a totem pole is originally raised, a great ceremony is held to honor the significance of the totem. The conservator came to understand that it was also important to perform a similar ceremony prior to the restoration. He learned that the purpose of the Raven for the tribe was to link them to their ancestors. Before the conservation was begun a Tlingit elder sang a blessing in their native language to explain the purpose of the intervention (conservation) to the Raven. The Raven was asked to understand that no harm was meant and that the effort to preserve the wood and stabilize the materials was so the Raven could continue to remind the native people of their culture, their symbols and the past (Rhyne 2013).

Gross Blog 3 Pic




Pictures Courtesy of the Ketchikan Museum Heritage Center


I was very touched and encouraged when I read the quote from the conservator following the ceremony “For myself as the conservator responsible for the treatment, the experience was a reminder that spirits and ancestors from the past were associated with the Raven and were understood to be involved with my work” (Rhyne 2013).

For me The Raven project signifies respect for not only cultural heritage and conservation but a new beginning. I hope in the future that conservators around the world embrace new approaches like the one described above and experience what I believe was a life changing experience for both the Tlingit and Rhyne.



Rhyne, Charles S. 2013. “Changing approaches to the conservation of Northwest Coast totem poles.” Studies in Conservation 45(Supplement-1): 155-160.

Cranmer-Webster, Gloria. 1986. “Conservation and Cultural Centres: U’Mista Cultural Centre, Alert Bay, Canada,” in Symposium 86: The Care and Preservation of Ethnographic Materials, ed. R. Barclay, M. Gilberg, J.C. McCawley and T. Stone, CCI, Ottawa (1986) 77-79.

Darling, David and Cole, Douglas. 1980. “Totem Pole Restoration on the Skeena, 1925-30: An Early Exercise in Heritage Conservation.” BC Studies 47: 29-48.

Mawani, Renisa. 2005. “From Colonialism to Multiculturalism? Totem Poles, Tourism and National Identity in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.” Social and Legal Studies 14 (3): 315–340.

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What’s it Worth Part 3: Cultural Value

March 23rd, 2015
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What’s it Worth Part 3: Cultural Value

William Fleming

Last time, I discussed the monetary value of artifacts, and the various effects that particular number can have associated with it. While monetary value is typically the first (and often the only) concern when artifacts are considered for recovery or conservation, it is definitely not the only value that should be taken into account. Cultural value is another important aspect of an artifact’s worth, and one that can be quite complex.

The cultural value of an artifact is, as the name somewhat implies, the value placed on an artifact by a specific culture. Often times, this can be intertwined with the monetary value of the artifact, as artifacts bearing a greater significance to a society tend to be worth more money to that society or even others. Indeed, cultural value often mirrors the cyclical nature of monetary value, and is rather subjective. An excellent example of this can be seen in the tombs of Egypt. Built thousands of years ago during the reigns of the various pharaohs, the tombs contain artifacts of great significance. It was believed that the men and women buried within these tombs would require these items in the afterlife, and while some of the items may seem rather mundane (jars, plates, etc.) they would not have been chosen by the Egyptians if they were not culturally important. From that period, flash-forward to the nineteenth century and the birth of modern Egyptology, and the cultural value of these artifacts seems to have dwindled among the Egyptian people. However, their significance has greatly increased to foreign explorers, particularly the leading academics of British culture. During this time the artifacts, while displayed in the British Museum, were not only a symbol of ancient Egypt and the mystery it held to modern society, but they also served as a symbol of Britain’s heritage and colonial power (Tuan 1980). Now, if we jump forward again to the past few decades, we see a resurgence of the artifact’s importance to the Egyptian people. Egyptian leaders constantly call for artifacts to be returned to their country from the British Museum, such as the Rosetta Stone. This example holds true for many other countries, as well, not just Egypt; Greece, Nigeria, and China are among several other nations with claims to artifacts within the British Museum collection. It is clear, then, that cultural value can vary widely depending on the object and who claims its ownership, and that is why it often gets overlooked. It is much easier for a nation or society to place a price tag on an object, thereby creating an argument that they can afford to retain and conserve the artifact, while others cannot. Or, even worse, these countries can demand compensation or a fair value trade from other countries claiming ownership in order to hand it over (Henry 2013). Many of the claiming countries are under-developed or in dire economic straits and cannot “afford” the ransoms demanded (not to mention the ethical quagmire of overriding cultural value to make a profit).

Due to this generally capitalistic nature of society today, the notion of cultural value has essentially (and unfortunately) become impractical and outdated. It is important, however, that professional archaeologists and conservators continue to keep cultural value in mind when working with artifacts. Artifacts are the remaining vestiges of past civilizations and can tell us so much about the people and their values. When it comes down to preserving these artifacts, conservators must carefully decide which artifacts are worth their time and effort. Is a common household spoon, of which there are thousands of examples, worth conserving as opposed to a temple deity figurine, of which of a few are known? Both have cultural value, but to different degrees and regarding different information. In any event, conserving and studying an artifact is the best way to learn about a culture and share their values (Brumfiel 2003).



Brumfiel, E. M. 2003. “It’s A Material World: History, Artifacts, and Anthropology.” Annual review of Anthropology 32:205-223.

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

Tuan, Y. 1980. “The Significance of the Artifact.” Geographical

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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should: The Case of Reversibility

March 23rd, 2015
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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should: The Case of Reversibility

Stephanie Byrd

One of the key rules in the conservation of artifacts is that the work must be reversible. However just because something can be reversed does not mean it should be reversed or that the reversing process could actually damage the artifact. This becomes a judgment call for a conservator to determine if the process of reversing a past conservation effort will damage the artifact more than leaving it with its current treatment.

Resins and polymers are often used in the conservation of organic material to add structural integrity to the internal system of weakened artifacts. The question becomes can a resin or polymer be reversed without the internal system of an artifact collapsing on itself. This collapse may actually be part of the re-treatment process because the removal of the old resin or polymer must take place before the artifact is treated with the new resin or polymer. To understand the treatment process a person must appreciate that often organics such as bone, wood, and even types of paint (egg-temper base) will have microscopic holes throughout their structure as they deteriorate. As the organics decay the holes widen and the structure becomes weak. Resins or polymers can fill in the holes left from decay adding support. Often during the reversibility of treatments the solvents used can cause damage to an artifact. In some cases, these must first be applied to remove the old resin and polymer buildup so that new conservation methods can be used. One example is related to the treatment of a painting. Gelatin was injected under loose paint but this treatment is really not reversible as the paint would come off once a solvent was applied to remove the gelatin (Appelbaum 1987). In this example, it is clear that the gelatin used by conservators to help stabilize the painting would ultimately damage the painting. This becomes an ethical issue for conservators when considering if reversing a treatment with possible damage to an artifact outweighs the damage of leaving it in its current condition with old methods of stabilization.

Another example is related to the conservation of bone. This has its own issues not only for long-term preservation and for stabilization, but also because bone is used for forensic analysis (Johnson 1994). It is important that the conservator take this into consideration that any resin or polymer used on ancient bone has the potential of changing the results from any chemical analysis used by archaeologists. However, it is possible that the chemical analysis can still be done if the archaeologist is aware of the chemical makeup of the resin or polymer that is used in the conservation or stabilization of ancient bone.

Once a conservation method has been determined and used on an artifact for display, it is also important to remember the display environment can have an effect on the stabilization. In situations where humidity and temperature are not controlled properly, artifacts can retain moisture that can damage or break down the resins adding further damage to the artifacts (Sanford 1975). If an artifact does get wet from humidity and temperature fluctuations, biological growth can occur, adding further decay to an artifact. If this were to happen the artifacts would need to be retreated which might add to further damaging the structure of the item.

Conservators are faced with a tough job when it comes to finding the balance between artifact stabilization and treatment methods versus whether a treatment is truly reversible without further damaging the artifact itself. It might be in the artifacts best interest to not reverse a past treatment and risk the integrity of the structure if the past treatment is still stable. As new technologies become available, old treatments might become obsolete, however new techniques have not stood the test of time yet so their longevity is still questioned.


Appelbaum, Barbara. 1987. “Criteria For Treatment: Reversibility.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 26 (2: 1): 65-73.

Johnson, Jessica S. 1994. “Consolidation of Archaeological Bone: A Conservation Prespective.” Journal of Field Archaeology 21 (2).

Sanford, Elizabeth. 1975. “Conservation of Artifacts: A Question of Survival.”


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Missing Artwork

March 23rd, 2015
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Missing Artwork

James Kinsella

During World War II (WWII) many cherished works of art were either lost or stolen. Several great pieces of art were deliberately destroyed during the war and there is also the high likelihood that a good portion was destroyed during acts of war or in battle. This blog is going to focus on the art that was stolen during this period of history.

The Nazi party rose to power in the early 1930’s under Adolf Hitler. During the Third Reich’s regime of power they confiscated twenty percent of all artwork in existence and plundered hundreds of thousands of pieces (History of Nazi Plunder 2013). By some accounts about, one-third of all art works in Europe were acquired by the Nazis (Marchesano 1999). This act coined the term Nazi plunder which refers to the art theft and organized looting of European countries during WWII by military units known as Kunstschutz (History of Nazi Plunder 2013).

This occurred because of Nazi ideologies and beliefs during this time, which were influenced by Hitler. In some cases the Nazi’s did this because they believed these to be cultural artifacts that had been stolen from them. The other reason for their looting and plundering behavior was because they felt certain types of art were offensive. They wanted to stop these pieces of art which they termed “degenerate” from entering the country (Grimes 2010).

The Nazi’s not only looted artwork, they also looted and plundered other items such as gold, silver, and ceramics. Many of these items that were stolen by the Nazi’s during the war were actually recovered by the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA). They later became known as the Monuments Men. This group was comprised of volunteer agents who were tasked with locating these items. They consisted of museum employees, curators, art professors and architects whose goal it was to inspect, repair, and prevent looting from Allied troops (History of Nazi Plunder 2013). Even today, there is an ongoing effort to locate pieces of artwork that have not been accounted for. Many of these could very well be in private hands as thousands of looted objects were never properly returned to their lawful owners (Marchesano 1999). There is a high likelihood they are scattered all over the world.

Now that I have given somewhat of a synopsis on the issue of lost artwork I would like to address the danger this artwork is in. When I say danger, I am referring to the effects of time and deterioration. Several of the pieces of art are historic and date to hundreds of years old. I would assume that the individuals that have these pieces of art are not well versed in art or artifact conservation. This brings up other questions as well. How are they currently displayed? Are they in proper cases to protect them from the elements? Is a painting just carelessly hung on a wall? If these individuals are concerned about conservation do they have the money to afford it? If they can afford conservation, how can they do it and stay under the radar?

I wonder if any of these individuals would even come forward. If I was in that situation I would be worried of potential legal action being taken against me or my family. Another concern would be the family name being tarnished and losing credibility. Hopefully this lost artwork can be found and properly conserved. This would allow others to enjoy them.


“Nazi Plunder of Art During World War II: Resources.” History of Nazi Plunder. December 9, 2013. Accessed February 18, 2015.

Grimes, J. 2010. “Forgotten Prisoners of War: Returning Nazi-Looted Art By Relaxing the National Stolen Property Act.” Roger Williams University Law Review 15(2): 521-536. Retrieved from LexisNexis Academic. Accessed February 18, 2015.

Marchesano, L. “An Art Historian’s Perspective.” National Archives and Records Administration. Revised June 24, 1999. Accessed February 18, 2015.

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Gendered Conservation

March 23rd, 2015
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Gendered Conservation

Kate Thomas

Gender and feminist studies have become an important research framework to a variety of disciplines in the past few decades. Although Gender is a discipline in its own right, it can be applied and used in combination with disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, history, biology, and others. Similarly, conservation can be gendered in multiple ways. The gendered connotation of the objects themselves, the public interest in gendered objects, and the gender divide within the field of conservation. Gender is also a cultural construct. In regards to conservation, the cultural constructs of gender are influenced by a few things: the culture of the viewer and the culture of the depositor. Furthermore, gender influences the profession of conservation, from its demographics to its target audience.

The most basic and present issue in gender and conservation is the cultural values concerning those doing the actual conserving. Field work, although strides have been made to reach some sort of gender equity, is still gendered as a masculine job and Conservation is connoted as a feminine job, as women make up the majority of conservators (Mathias 2003). Field work is still gendered as a masculine job, although strides have been made to reach some sort of gender equity. Historically speaking, women’s jobs are valued less than men. This is apparent in a look at wages. Teaching was originally considered a male profession, but as more women became teachers the wages began to drop (Blau and Kahn 2000). The only exception to this is nursing, but for other jobs it holds true. Furthermore, we often see women as being able to navigate masculinity and men unable to be associated with femininity. This can be seen in the acceptability of girls to play with boy’s toys, but not vice-versa (Kane 2006). By existing in a patriarchal society, these gendered job connotations create a hierarchy between conservation and other aspects of archaeology. This gendering of the job itself becomes more complicated once the gender of the objects themselves is taken into consideration.

Historical archaeology began by focusing on famous people within history. Given the history of gender roles, this was often men. For example, one of the first historical excavations took place at Abraham Lincoln’s house (Orser 2004). It was not until recently that historical archaeology began to focus on the rest of humanity. Ergo, many of the objects that exist to conserve are men’s objects. In the case of prehistoric archaeology, research questions have shifted towards gender recently, but preservation has made some of this difficult. For example, research in the archaic period focused mainly on hunting, a male activity, as stone tools were often the only material remains from sites in this period. Rarely a site was preserved well enough, like in the case of the Paleoindian site Dust Cave, to gain insight into women’s roles (Hollenbach 2007). Prehistorically, material culture associated with men is preserved better, as well as given more importance by the archaeologists themselves (Conkey and Spector 1984). This results in a gendered bias in what objects are available to conserve. In the past two decades, this focus of research has shifted towards women’s roles, but the disposability of their activities still makes it difficult to have a significant amount of material remains.

Even if more of women’s material remains could be recovered and conserved, what the public finds interesting is culturally dictated. In the United States, battleships are popular tourist attractions, an example being the USS Arizona in Hawaii. These battleships are impressive feats of engineering and important to the country’s history and they would be gendered as masculine. Countless cultural attractions in the United States are directly focused on or considered to be masculine. Alcatraz, Mount Rushmore, the Washington Monument, and numerous other popular attractions are associated with men. The most widely known feminine attraction would be the Statue of Liberty, but that is not representative of women’s lives. Rather, the gender of the statue is used to invoke associations between the United States and maternal feelings to those entering the country (Silverman 1988). The popularity and knowledge of cultural heritage such as these show a clear proclivity towards men’s, rather than women’s, work. Although a debate could ensue about whether the popularity is actually representative of cultural values or simply a lack of women’s objects to conserve, the popularity and focus on men’s achievements create a status quo of objects to conserve and display

In conclusion, gender is an integral part of conservation studies. From the objects to the conservators, effects of cultural gender expectations reverberate throughout the discipline. Addressing these issues and attempting to change the cultural connotations to make conservation a more inclusive discipline, as well as the disciplines surrounding it, is a laudable goal for the discipline. With a more well-rounded gender distribution, the ultimate goal of conserving a protecting cultural heritage can be more fully completed.



Blau, Francine and Lawrence M. Kahn 2000 “Gender Differences in Pay”. Journal of Economic Perspectives (14) 4:75-99

Conkey, Margaret and Janet D. Spector. 1984. “Archaeology and the Study of Gender”. Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory (7)

Hollenbach, Kandace D. 2007 “Gathering in the Late Paleoindian Period: Archaeobotanical Remains from Dust Cave, Alabama” In Foragers of the Terminal Pleistocene in North America, edited by Renee B. Walker and Boyce N. Driskell, pp. 132-147. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Kane, Emily W. 2006 “No Way My Boys are going to be Like That! Parental Responses to Children’s Gender Nonconformity”. Gender and Society (20) 2:149-176

Mathias, Cathy. 2003 “The Impact of Conservation on an Archaeological site in Ferryland, Newfoundland”. Material History Review (57)

Orser Jr., Charles E. 2004 Historical Archaeology. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education

Silverman, Kaja 1988 “Liberty, Maternity, Commodification”. New Formations (5)

Spector, Janet D. 1991 “What This Awl Means: Towards a Feminist Archaeology”.

Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory. Edited by Joan M. Gero and Margaret W. Conkey, 388-406. Oxford: Basil Blackwell

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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


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).


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.


            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.


            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.


            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?



American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

2015 AIC. Find a Conservator. Accessed 3 February 2014.


Commemorative Air Force

2014 CAF Bombers. Accessed 4 February 2015.

2014 CAF Mission and History. Accessed 4 February 2015.

2015 CAF Airpower History Tour.!history/c66t. Accessed 4 February 2015.


Institute of Conservation

2015 ICON Conservation Register. Find a Conservator. Accessed 3 February 2015.


PBS Nova

2015 B-29: Frozen in Time. Accessed 3 February 2015.


United States Air Force

2013 Air Force Instruction 23-101. 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.



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.



David, Leonard

2013     Space Archaeologists Call for Preserving Off-Earth Artifacts,, <> Accessed 3 February 2015.


Freitas, Robert A.

1983     The Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA), The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 36:501-506 <> Accessed 3 February 2015.


Space Archaeology

2015   Space Archaeology, “our future is in ruins,” <> 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.




“Code of Ethics,” American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works: 2014.         Accessed February 2, 2015.  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- 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.



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.


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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).


“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).



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.



Alton, Elizabeth. “Touch Tours: The Penn Museum Offers Hands On Programs for Blind Visitors”. Entertainment Designer, January 3, 2014.

Plamondon, Judith. “Hands on art for blind at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts”. London Free Press, January 11, 2015.

Image credits: Daily Herald,


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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.



Al-Mahmoud, Husam. “King Tut’s Death Mask Glued Together in Botched Repair.” Alaraby. January 22, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2015.

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

Cascone, Sarah. “King Tut Damaged in Botched Repair Attempt.” January 22, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2015.

“Conservation and Management of the Tomb of Tutankhamen.” Conservation and Management of the Tomb of Tutankhamen. March 1, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2015.

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


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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.

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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.




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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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.




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




American Institute for Conservation

1992 Code of Ethics. Electronic Document,, 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,, 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.

[1]  Ryan E. Smith, “Preserving Auschwitz,” Jewish Journal. 30 January 2013. Accessed 19 January 2015. http://  

[2] Andrew Curry, “Can Auschwitz be Saved?” Smithsonian Magazine. Feb. 2010. Accessed 19 Jan. 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Smith, “Preserving Auschwitz”.

[5] “Auschwitz-Birkenau.” Auschwitz-Birkenau. Accessed January 19, 2015.

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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 ( 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.




“Fifth Amendment.” 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.


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


Batson, Bill. 2012. “Nyack Sketch Log: Helen Hayes MacArthur.” Nyack News and Views.


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.


“Takings Clause.”


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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.

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.

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.


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


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.




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.

Travel for Aircraft Blog
2011     Seaplane Walkaround — Consolidated PB2Y Coronado. Travel for Aircraft. May 25.

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

2002     Military Aircraft Crash Sites. English Heritage.


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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.


National Park Service. “Secretary’s Standards–Preservation Terminology.” National Parks Service. Accessed January 21, 2015.

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.


Ethics and Theory , ,

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).

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


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




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. <>. Accessed 18 March 2014.


Kloor, Keith 2012    Archaeologists Protest ‘Glamorization’ of Looting on TV. Science Insider, Washington, D.C. <>. Accessed 18 March 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.


Europae Archaeologiae Consilium

2011    Archaeological heritage management in Sweden. Archaeological Heritage Management in Europe, Europae Archaeologiae Consilium <>. Accessed 10 February 2014.


Lunden, Staffan

2004    The Scholar and the Market. De nasjonale forskningsetiske komiteene <>. 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  < 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).

“Ethics Statement”, Society of Historical Archaeology (2007).


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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.



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.

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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).

Ethics and Theory, General Conservation ,

Ethical Conservation Concerns

March 20th, 2013

Ethical Conservation Concerns

Alyssa Reisner

            There are many ethical considerations within the discipline of conservation. One such consideration involves the publication of unprovenanced archaeological objects. Some archaeologists think that these objects should never be published or cited in print because it “indirectly supports illicit trafficking of antiquity” (Argyropoulos, Charalambous, Polikreti, & Simon 2011:214).  Others, however, believe that “conservators’ technical and/or scientific study of such material helps to fight against criminal activity by identifying fakes and forgers” (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011:214). 

            Today, the illicit antiquities trade is considered to be one of the largest illegal businesses worldwide (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011). Falsified documents made to demonstrate authenticity are not often questioned or are hard to expose, and this often results in illegitimately obtained items being displayed in privately or publicly funded museums (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011). Conservators use scientific studies of objects in order to obtain results that may authenticate them or “increase their monetary value through publication” (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011).

            These outcomes seem to warrant a set of standards or an ethical code to be drafted and ultimately ratified concerning ethics of the practice of conservation. In 2011, it was noted that “research and publication in conservation currently do not provide ethical reviews when studies involve such problematic material in order to ensure scientific integrity of the results” (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011).

With every controversial topic, there are pros and cons of each opinion involved, and it is important to consider the different viewpoints. Though it is important to discourage illicit antiquities trafficking, it is also important to identify authenticity from forgery. Possibly, ethical standards could be established to try to safeguard against antiquities trafficking. Although the questionable practice of publishing information concerning unprovenanced objects may continue, there could also be information published about the importance of prohibiting illicit trafficking of antiquities. Perhaps a system could be introduced in order to verify whether documents certifying authenticity are genuine. Bearing all of this in mind, it seems important to set ethical standards concerning research and scientific publication of information regarding cultural objects.


Argyropoulos, Vasilike, Dimitris Charalambous, Kyriaki Polikreti, and Stefan Simon. “Ethical Issues in Research and Publication of Illicit Cultural Property.” Journal of Cultural Heritage. 12. no. 2 (2011): 214-219.



Ethics and Theory

What is worth conserving: Preventative conservation today or Conservation tomorrow

February 14th, 2013

What is worth conserving: Preventative conservation today or Conservation tomorrow

 Hannah Piner

There are two types of preservation methods that can be applied to objects: interventive, which interacts with and potentially changes the artifact in conserving it; or preventative, meaning conserving artifacts by doing everything but interacting with it, mostly by changing its environment. Both have their benefits and their failures, but, once the object becomes historically or archaeologically relative, which one is better suited for future analysis of the artifact using science and for future historical interpretation?

Cost becomes a problem no matter when the object is conserved; if it is conserved using preventative measures there are upkeep costs, if the treatment is interventive then there is the cost of time and treatment. Which of these is more cost efficient depends on the condition of the artifact and the financial state of the museum or patron. It is initially less expensive to use preventative conservation, because the artifact does not have to be handled, cleaned, or otherwise tampered with. If the artifact is in bad condition (i.e. is cracking, corroding, or flaking away), however, the cost of interventive conservation will only increase with the degradation of the objects condition.

Another part of preventative conservation is keeping objects from today, that are in good condition, so that they can be used as teaching tools and artifacts for future generations. This way a museum would have a concrete history of the object and could keep it in working order, however, we do not know significance of every object in use today and deciding what is significant enough to keep is subjective. There also needs to be a large storage area to house the objects that are in this limbo period of use and historical significance.

Preventative conservation is also popular because so many scientific methods are destructive to the artifact; with more advancements in the field come new and better ways to study artifacts that have not been tampered with.

This is contrasted with interventive conservation, where artifacts have survived and (in most cases) outlived their technological descendants. These artifacts are relevant upon discovery, and can be n a variety of conditions, from excellent to poor. These objects have had years to interact with their environmental surroundings uninhibited and unprotected. They are rotted, corroded, disintegrated, and in pieces. The conservator must spend time and money to restore this artifact to a stable condition. Unfortunately, stability and aesthetic authenticity are not always the same. Often times an artifact will look very different after burial or submersion. The object will, also, most likely never be able to be used for its original and intended purpose again.  This makes the artifact an excellent teaching tool, but takes away its functionality.

I would argue that interventive conservation is more logical overall. This allows the artifacts more immediate stability, which in turn provides the object  a longer life and provides researchers with easier access, because it is more accepted for people to access and touch stable artifacts. Preventative conservation, on the other hand, should be used on artifacts that are originally in excellent condition and are low risk for becoming unstable. This is also a decent option for organizations that do not have the money to interventively conserve an artifact right away.

The view on preventative conservation is changing. The more the field grows and the more advanced science becomes the more it is accepted to leave artifacts like they are, but interventive conservation is still the most accepted and practiced form of conservation.

 Caple, Chris. Conservation Skills: Judgment, Methods, and Decision Making. New York: Routlege; 2000.


Ethics and Theory, Museum Studies

The Conservation of Heavily Visited Cultural Heritage Sites

February 14th, 2013

The Conservation of Heavily Visited Cultural Heritage Sites

Lucas Simonds

             While visiting the site of Butrint in Albania over the summer, I was disappointed to discover that one of its most stunning features, a mosaic pavement on the floor of a Byzantine period baptistery, was being kept out of sight due to conservation concerns. Like many heavily visited sites, the baptistery pavement would be prone to the wear and tear of thousands of tourist’s feet, and for the sake of preservation, the Butrint management had resorted to the rather inelegant solution of covering over the mosaic with sand. While I was upset at the thought of only seeing the mosaic through a faded picture on a nearby sign, I was reminded also of the ever present danger to such works of art, as a young couple jumped over the fence surrounding the mosaic area to have their picture taken among the columns of the baptistery.

At Butrint, as at many other heavily visited cultural heritage sites, conservators have to walk the fine line between preserving cultural heritage and displaying it to the public, for whom it is being preserved. In situations such as this it is difficult to devise a single best practice, as each site has not only different deterioration factors, but different amounts of funding available for preservation work. While the sand covering the mosaic at Butrint certainly serves as a functional barrier to the effects of trampling tourists, sites with more available funding are able to employ more labor intensive methods. At the Lascaux caves in France for instance, where carbon dioxide produced by visitors had begun to degrade the cave paintings within ten years of their opening to the public, a replica of the original caves has been made nearby to allow tourists to experience the cultural heritage without damaging the fragile original work (Dupont et al. 2007, 526). Similarly, at Pompeii in Italy the famous mosaic of Alexander the Great has been removed to the museum in nearby Naples, and replaced by an exact replica on-site. These replica solutions allow for greater access to cultural heritage by tourists while also protecting them from both those, like the couple I saw in Pompeii, who ignore barriers and trample over ancient floors without a thought, and from the inadvertent damage caused merely by the presence of tourists, such as the situation in the Lascaux caves. Although this is an effective method for both presenting and preserving cultural heritage to the general public, it also removes the key element of genuineness from the experience. While the lack of genuineness may not be a concern of the average tourist, I personally felt its absence when viewing the Alexander mosaic, and I am sure informed visitors to most sites would have a similar experience.  

            Unfortunately, authenticity is only one of the many factors which weave into the complex web of the conservation of cultural heritage on heavily trafficked sites. While the experience of the visitor must be taken into account, as it is for them that our heritage is being preserved, the preservation of the object has to take precedence, as without that, the site would not be worth visiting. Yet, as mentioned, the replacement of fragile artifacts with replicas only serves to lessen the experience for a large portion of the visitors. Even worse, however, are the simple solutions, such as that employed at Butrint, which eliminate any sort of personal encounter with cultural heritage, and are bad for all types of visitors. What then, should be done to preserve cultural heritage, while also allowing it to be viewed by as many as is reasonable?

            In an article on the conservation of rock art, Janette Deacon stresses both the complex nature of conservation on heavily visited sites, and the need for detailed management plans for such sites, which encompass all of the intricacies involved. This would include assessments of the advisable visitor capacities for each area of the sites, as well as considerations of more natural deterioration factors. More importantly, however, she advises the use of tour guides to prevent the many sorts of damage that can result from tourists interacting with the site (Deacon, 2006). While this may again cut into the enjoyableness of the experience; I certainly would have found a guide at Pompeii to be a damper to my exploration; the fact remains that staff on the ground near sensitive areas will the most effective control of visitors in that area by far. Signs can be ignored and barriers can be jumped, but an employee will be able to stop any reasonable visitor from doing something that they should not.

            As mentioned, the preservation of cultural heritage in highly visited sites is far from being a straightforward or simple issue. Natural deterioration factors such as weathering must be taken into account, and sometimes the only solution may be to remove an object, such as a mosaic, to a more controlled environment. Whenever possible, however, I believe it would be best to leave original objects on site. Of course this still exposes our heritage to the damage, both intentional and unintentional, caused by tourists, but strategic placement of staff or mandatory tour guides, can stop any reasonable visitor from touching things they shouldn’t. While this may be a more expensive solution, the fact that it can allow for genuine artifacts to remain on site makes it worthwhile when possible.


Deacon, Janette. 2006. Rock Art Conservation and Tourism. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13(4): 379-399.

Dupont, Joelle, Claire Jacquet, Bruno Dennetiere, Sandrine Lacoste, Faisl Bousta, Genevieve Orial, Corinne Cruaud, Arnaud Couloux, and Marie-France Roquebert. 2007. Invasion of the French Paleolithic Painted Cave of Lascaux by Members of the Fusarium solani Species Complex. Mycologia 99(4): 526-533.

Ethics and Theory ,

Conservation: Using Others Mistakes to Avoid Our Own

February 14th, 2013

Conservation: Using Others Mistakes to Avoid Our Own

Kate Clothier

Conservation involves multiple fields coming together in order to better protect and understand artifacts. A combination of archaeology, chemistry, even biology can all be called upon at the same time by the conservator whilst they are working on the said object. Since conservation efforts require so many different fields of knowledge, the conservator must be aware of what is going on in other fields. By expanding their gaze, information can flow easier and benefit their effort. The information that can be gained from other fields is not limited strictly to data concerning decay or material makeup, but it can also involve ethical questions.

One such question is where to draw the line at examining artifacts. What is meant by this is how much of an object are we willing to remove and potentially destroy in order to gain information.  Conservators must walk a fine line in determining what is acceptable to “sacrifice” for the good of the entire collection. For example, taking a few coins from a collection of over a thousand and then breaking them down (as in removing a section of it or cutting into the coin) to better understand their process of decay. However, once those coins are broken down, they can no longer be part of the collection.  How is it decided what is ok to take away from the collection since it will no longer be available for future use? In conservation the size of the collection and the potential benefits of ‘sacrificing’ the object are weighed out before anything irreversible is done. This helps to ensure that what is lost is not more than what will be gained.

A prime example of the damage that can be done if the cost vs benefit ratio is not properly followed is highlighted in a University of Arizona Environmental department article concerning the Prometheus Bristlecone pine. A geology researcher eager to get results concerning glacial features decided rather than taking a small sample from the Bristlecone pines to gather his information he would cut an entire plant down for more immediate results. Soon after he cut down one of the Bristle cone pines, it was learned that the plant selected was the oldest tree alive, dating nearly 5000 years old (UA Communications, 2013. “Keepers of Prometheus: The World’s Oldest Tree.” University of Arizona Research & Discovery in Environment & Sustainability, Accessed: Web. 5 Feb. 2013). The article explains that the same results could have been gathered from the plant, dubbed Prometheus, if the researcher had followed the approved methods of dendrochronology by taking small samples of the core, which would not have hurt the plant. This would have allowed future researches the chance to monitor and learn more about the plant survival strategy in addition to the plant yielding the needed information for the geologist in his glacial research, but there was no way to undo what had been done.

This same concept can be applied to the conservation world. The conservator must be careful in what they select to break down and examine in an irreversible way. If the object is one of a kind then it cannot be treated in the same manner that something like a large collection of coins would be treated, or else future information can be lost, similar to what happened with the Prometheus Bristlecone pine.  Taking small core samples can yield useful information without damaging the entire collection. It can explain the material makeup of the object, why or why not it is decaying, what type of decay is happening, and what the best method to protect the object would be. Looking into other fields and the mistakes they have made can help emphasize why conservators need to be so diligent and practical in their art. The information and materials they work with is one of a kind.


Ethics and Theory, Science ,

A Fine Balance: Presenting Conservation to the Public

February 6th, 2013

A Fine Balance: Presenting Conservation to the Public

Stephanie Croatt


            In the conservation field’s struggle to become more visible and better understood by the general public, there exist some difficulties in how to present the profession to the layperson. It seems that museums may be the key to this dilemma. Museums are often viewed as places for learning and offer the perfect venue for seeing the end results of conservation. Examples of museums that have made attempts to give visitors a glimpse of how conservators stabilize and prepare objects for display and how the museum environment is specially designed and maintained to ensure the objects’ well-being include:



The discussions of conservation in each of the museums above exhibit a variety of methods of attracting the public’s attention and eliciting thought about conservation. It seems that the three most effective devices by which museums can present conservation to the public are making the information accessible to the viewer, offering concrete and hands-on examples, and cutting romantic stereotypes of the field.


            That conservation is a very technical field with its own extensive set of jargon is undeniable, and presenting the key concepts and techniques to the layperson in an intelligible way is a sizeable task. Nonetheless, museums should strive to unpack the language and ideas for the average person. Adding layers of information that go from simple to more complex might be a good way of adding detail and complexity for viewers who want more information or detail about a certain idea or technique. Having trained “facilitators” that can discuss elements of the exhibit in more detail or give out bibliographies for further research might also be an effective way of deepening the subject for those that are interested and not overwhelming those who are not interested in more detail (Podany and Maish 1993, 102).


            In addition to making the ideas easy to understand, having concrete examples and hands-on activities may help to reinforce the main message of a certain part of the exhibit, as well as engage visitors who are otherwise not attracted to reading. In their exhibition, entitled Preserving the Past, Jerry Podany and Susan Lansing Maish included interactive opportunities for visitors. One such hands-on activity invited visitors to reassemble broken pottery sherds and then identify the vessel from a chart of Greek vessel shapes (Podany and Maish 1993, 104). Such interactive opportunities allow the public to experience some of the techniques used in conservation, and may excite the interest of more visitors.


            Hands-on opportunities that allow the viewer to follow the step by step procedure to conserving artifacts may also work to dispel unrealistic and romantic perceptions of conservation. Indeed, simplifying language for the layperson sometimes leads the exhibit creator to draw analogies between the conservator and the noble doctor, or present before and after photographs that may give the public a false notion about the realities of conservation (Podany and Maish 1993, 105). While sometimes attractive, the romantic view of conservation tends to lead the public to think that the conservator’s job is to swoop in and permanently save objects from certain deterioration. This perception tends to lead discourse away from the sometimes mundane reality of the field and the ideas of reversibility and minimal intervention, which are the main tenets of conservation.  


            Although it may seem that any public education about conservation is good, there are certainly pitfalls that can lead the public to misunderstand the field. Pitfalls may be avoided by making information accessible to the visitor, offering hands-on activities, and by dispensing of romantic notions of conservation. While these extra steps may increase the expense of creating and running exhibitions focusing on conservation, it is well worth the cost because a public that is better informed about the importance and realities of conservation is a public that is better prepared and more willing to fund conservation projects in the future.




Podany, J.C. and S.L. Maish. 1993. Can the Complex Be Made Simple? Informing the Public about Conservation through Museum Exhibits. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 32(2): 101-108.

Ethics and Theory, Museum Studies , , ,

Displaying the Dead: Disrespecting or Honoring the Past?

February 4th, 2013

Displaying the Dead: Disrespecting or Honoring the Past?

Kate Clothier

Going to museums has always brought me happiness. After spending countless hours lost in their different exhibits I would come out feeling more connected to the past cultures and curious to learn about the different societies on display. This interest led me to become an avid history reader and museum patron. When I was older I was shocked to learn that there was one specific controversial issue surrounding museum exhibits internationally. The ethics of displaying human bodies. Should museums be able to put the deceased on display for the public and who has the rights to the bodies once they are discovered?

I was always torn on the answer to these questions. For me, the people on display spurred reverence and curiosity, for others the displays served as symbols of disrespect to our ancestral heritage. This division of thinking persists today and was even the subject of ethical debate at the 2010 conference of the International Council of Museums (ICOM)- Committee for Conservation conference. Large nationally recognized organizations are facing the ethics of displaying the deceased in attempt to find common ground but the debate rages on. There is no ‘cure all’ for the questions at hand.

It has been suggested that the direct descendants should get the finally say on whether the bodies should be on display, but what if there are no direct descendants? Who then has the right to decide? Where is the quest for information on the human past to stop and, would we dig up cemeteries for knowledge? To me, the best solution is to stick to the ethical guidelines created by organizations like the ICOM in reference to past societies and what they left behind (Brajer, I. 2010. “Human Remains in Museums.” International Council of Museums- Theory and History of Conservation Working Group, Accessed: Web. 21 Jan. 2013). These bodies can offer us insight to the past that would otherwise be unknown and can even spark interest the societies themselves, as was the case for me. I believe the bodies should be treated with upmost respect and if a direct link to a current society is found or known of, those people should get the final say in whether the body can be displayed or not. The ethics surrounding human remains being put on display is sure to persist for many years to come and museums will continue to be at the forefront of this debate.



Ethics and Theory, Museum Studies , , ,

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 ,

Cultural Heritage: A Reasonable Right?

February 4th, 2013

Cultural Heritage:  A Reasonable Right?

Alyssa Reisner

When one is asked to think of what qualifies as a human right, images of necessary means of survival, such as water, food, and shelter, are often conjured.  However, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) states that cultural heritage qualifies as “an essential human right” (Logan 2012).  This may seem like a simple declaration, but it actually carries larger implications. To further explore this assertion, one must consider what exactly qualifies as “cultural heritage.”  UNESCO also states that cultural heritage has changed meanings throughout time. It once only referred to “monumental remains of cultures,” but the definition has now been expanded to include different categories, such as ethnographic, intangible, and industrial heritage (UNESCO 2008). The concept of intangible heritage has been paid special attention, as it includes languages, traditional music, dramatic arts, and philosophical and spiritual systems that are the base of creations.

The concept that our cultural heritage, including intangible heritage, is a human right may seem simple enough and therefore acceptable to many people. This heritage may be the way that certain cultures identify themselves; it could be the foundation upon which they build their beliefs, lifestyles, and infrastructure. However, one could also find problems related with the sort of unwavering stability that these pillars of culture imply.

Maintaining a collective cultural heritage is indeed important, as a group often needs to maintain a sense of identity and cohesiveness. These aspects are important for a society to survive and prosper. However, if these feelings are overly or solely emphasized, it can lead to a sense of xenophobia or ethnocentrism. As a species, all humans have certain aspects in common, and, while it is important for a group to be cohesive and have a strong identity, it can become counterproductive when these different cultural groups with strong individual cultural heritages clash. While it is important to recognize and learn from the past, it is also important to move forward and not only focus on the differences but the vast similarities between groups of people. Overly idolizing the past can create a barrier to moving forward if not seen from an open-minded point of view. While certain disciplines may focus more on learning about and from tribalism of past and more traditional times, the future involves more globalization and therefore more cohesiveness between different cultures and groups of people, so it is important to not only focus on the past but also on the present and future.

Another important aspect to consider is that material or intangible aspects of past cultural heritage cannot be understood in the present in the same manner as the original producers intended. Sociological theorist Fredric Jameson refers to a loss of historicity in postmodernity; he claims that “we cannot know the past” and that “all we have access to are texts about the past, and all we can do is produce yet other texts about that topic” (Goodman, Ritzer 2004:475). He claims that this leads to the “random cannibalization of all styles of the past” (Goodman, Ritzer 2004:475). Though this view may seem somewhat extreme, it is still worth consideration. While knowledge of the past is undeniably valuable, with this sort of distortion due to modern interpretation should it necessarily be considered a right?

A contrasting opinion in this debate could argue that cultural heritage is so important for people to feel solidarity in a group and grounded with their identity that it should be considered a right and that great measures should be taken to preserve and / or conserve all types of cultural heritage. Author C.S. Lewis stated that “friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival” (Lewis 1960). Could cultural heritage be one of those things that might not be necessary for living yet give meaning to having life? The question about whether cultural heritage should be considered a human right seems impossible to clearly answer. The best answer is one that balances both points of view, a compromise between the extremes. While overemphasizing the importance of cultural heritage could lead to undesired outcomes, conservation of cultural heritage has significance. Though it is important to consider all viewpoints and disadvantages concerning the topic, people desire and deserve to have a connection to their past, culture, and identity, and preserving cultural heritage in its many forms is one means to achieve this sort of stability.



Goodman, Douglas, and George Ritzer. Modern Sociological Theory. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1960.

Logan, William. “Cultural Diversity, Cultural Heritage and Human Rights: Towards heritage management as human rights-based cultural practice.” International Journal of Heritage Studies. 18. no. 3 (2012): 231-44.

UNESCO. 2008. Culture. (accessed 01/19/13).

Ethics and Theory ,

Ownership and the Reasons for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage

January 30th, 2013

Ownership and the Reasons for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage

 Jeremy Borrelli

            One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from family and friends is why do archaeologists do what they do? This is a central theoretical question all members of the field inevitably ask themselves and leads to much debate within the discipline. The most useful answer describes members of the anthropological community as stewards or ‘interpreters’ of culture and cultural heritage. But what about the people whose culture is being ‘interpreted’?

In an article discussing the politics of cultural heritage management in Australia, Smith (2000) argued that as scientific experts, archaeologists were often seen by governments as the `rightful’ body of people to act as stewards for heritage, disregarding Aboriginal and other interest groups (311). Aboriginal control of their own heritage was dismissed by policy makers in favor of a body of ‘experts’ who made claims to objectivity and the production of value-free knowledge. In this case the author leads the reader to question the role archaeologists play in management strategies for cultural heritage, and how stakeholders have been incorporated into those strategies.

            This issue plays into the managerial debate between governments, stakeholders and international organizations like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that recognizes cultural heritage as an essential human right (Logan 2012:235). Archaeologists and the conservators who maintain and preserve cultural heritage are needed to play a key role in the management of cultural heritage as they are trained to manage that material for a broader audience. It is important not to overlook the reasons why these people are employed, which is to serve as the intermediary between different cultures. To own one’s cultural heritage is a human right, and it is part of the ethical guidelines for all people who make their living dealing with culture to respect those rights of the people whose culture is being displayed or examined. The role of the archaeologist is then to find the balance between respecting the rights of cultural heritage and interpreting or presenting that heritage in a way that makes sense to others while maintaining minimal deviations from what that culture means to those who participate in it. Archaeologists, conservators, and all who deal in culture are trained experts in managing this balance and should be used to do so. Therefore, the use of these professionals by governments or international organizations is justified so long as the archaeologist remembers their role as mediators between cultures and adheres to the ethical principles that govern the discipline.

Ethics and Theory

Past as Propaganda, Part One: Nazi Artifacts in Museums

January 30th, 2013

Past as Propaganda, Part One: Nazi Artifacts in Museums

Chelsea Freeland

             Christopher Caple briefly discusses the inclusion of Nazi war memorabilia in his book, Conservation Skills: Judgement, Method and Decision Making.  He uses the notion as an example of the dangers of using the past as propaganda, asking if the artifacts “celebrate their views or remind of the dangers of a totalitarian regime” (20). 

             When I visited the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna, I was struck by the images of Nazi propaganda throughout the World War II hall: not because I felt they didn’t belong there, but because I had never seen anything like them before.  As a war museum, rather than a history museum, the Heeresgeschichtliches has less of responsibility to the overall history of Austria and Vienna, instead focusing on the Thirty Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the two World Wars.  In this context, Nazi propaganda greatly explains how and why Austria came under German rule early in the conflict, making it an integral part of Austrian war history.

             What about other places in Europe, or even across the world?  Is it important to include Nazi propaganda in a museum of a country that did not experience the Holocaust, or does it detract valuable time and energy away from a more tragic chapter in world history?  Caple asks two questions in his book:

  1. Should they [Nazi artifacts] be collected and preserved as a record of the period and what happened at that time?
  2. Should they be displayed and brought to the attention of people? (2003: 20)

These are difficult questions, particularly for museums in Europe.  Coming from a background in history, I would argue that collecting and preserving artifacts for future generations, regardless of their sensitive nature, is an important job of museums in general.  Whether or not they place those artifacts on display, is another question entirely.

            For countries in Europe, particularly those directly affected by Nazi occupation, these artifacts are a part of their country’s heritage.  They form an integral part of the story of World War II that many people forget, or choose to ignore, giving precedence instead to the tragedy of the Holocaust.  An interesting point to make is that Nazi artifacts and memorabilia are part of the story of the Holocaust as well. 

            For me, the jury is still out on what priority these artifacts should have in a museum.  Should museums withhold limited resources from these types of sensitive artifacts, simply because of their nature?  How do curators decide what percentage of their museum to use for these artifacts?   Are they less important to display because they represent a chapter in history the world would like to forget?  Genocide memorials and exhibits across the world speak to this last question.

            As a world traveler, I remember being shocked that the first, and last, place I saw that much Nazi memorabilia was in Austria.  There were posters, plaques, journals, clothing, and pamphlets: all painstakingly preserved to show part of the story.  I will tell you that they made a huge impact on how I viewed the German conquest of Austria and the subsequent events of World War II.  I believe that is the goal of the museum: to expose the public to things they have never seen or thought about before, and in doing so, give them a broader historical experience.


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


Ethics and Theory , , , , , , ,

The Appreciation of an Artefact and the Different Lenses of Value

January 30th, 2013

The Appreciation of an Artefact and the Different Lenses of Value

Kelci Martinsen

               When working with material culture, it is important to consider the various values that can be placed on artefacts, both by professionals and the public. The meaning an artefact has to someone can be based on many different factors including the object’s economic value, historical value, and artistic value. The value of an object is very subjective and one object is able to have many different meanings to various people. Professionals such as archaeologists and conservators strive to understand the importance an artefact had to a culture. But, conservators and archaeologists often need to balance their own values that they place on an object with the cultural reasons for valuing the same object.

               The public and professionals that work with artefacts, such as conservators and archaeologists, tend to value objects in different ways. The public is more likely to place an emotional value on an artefact than a conservator. Emotional values are based on sentiment and memories and objects that are given an emotional value evoke feelings from the viewer. An heirloom is an example of an object with emotional value. Those members of the public that decide to have an artefact conserved based on the object’s emotional value are often attempting to protect their own cultural history.  In contrast, as Elizabeth Pye (2000) in Caring for the Past, suggests, conservators often value objects for their material heritage which includes historic values, artistic values, scientific values, cultural values as well as values based on condition. Conservators also value an object based on the artefact’s authenticity. The authenticity of an object is very important because it determines whether an object is able to be used to make conclusions about the culture that produced the artefact. Art conservators value an artefact for the skills and techniques that were used to produce an object. Finally, archaeologists and conservators also base their appreciation of an object on its age and rarity and both of these factors can be used later to determine which artefacts are placed on display in museums.

                Additionally, artefacts are appreciated for their worth by both the public and conservators. Although, these separate groups focus on an object’s economic value for very different reasons. The public appreciates an artefact’s economic value for the sheer monetary worth of the object as well as the status that comes with owning an expensive artifact. However, archaeologists and conservators often deem the economic value of an artifact necessary in order to obtain insurance for the object. The public also determines the worth of an object based on the artefact’s utility.  Those artefacts that are no longer useful lose their value to a member of the public. In contrast, conservators and archaeologists often value objects that have been disposed of and therefore, do not base their appreciation of an object on its use.

                Most often, the interpretation of value is translated though exhibition and display of the material culture. Artefacts, which represent aspects that were valued by the culture of origin, should be selected for display. If a professional were to choose an object based on his or her own valuation system, the display would not properly educate the public.  Professionals need to extremely careful when displaying artefacts because when an artefact is displayed improperly, the public develops incorrect assumptions about the artefact’s culture.

References Cited

Pye, E. (2000). Caring for the Past: Issues in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums. London: Maney Publishing.

Ethics and Theory , , , ,

Skeletons in the Closet

January 30th, 2013

Skeletons in the Closet:

A Blog about Ethical Handling and Storage of Human Remains in the Conservation Community

Eva Falls

I was shocked that when I visited the AIC (American Institute for Conservation) website’s ethics page, there was hardly any mention of the complex and sensitive concerns that surround the treatment of human remains.  Just a call for conservators to obey applicable laws:

“The conservation professional should be cognizant of laws and regulations that may have a bearing on professional activity. Among these laws and regulations are those concerning the rights of artists and their estates, occupational health and safety, sacred and religious material, excavated objects, endangered species, human remains, and stolen property.” (AIC 1994)

This four part series will discuss the conservator’s role in the treatment and storage of human remains in museum and archaeological settings, as well as the ethical implications.  This is also a call for the AIC to use stronger language and address the treatment of human remains specifically in their code of ethics.

“Laying Down the Law”

             In order to discuss how conservators should approach human remains in accordance with the AIC’s code of ethics, it is important to be aware of the laws and regulations already in place in the United States.  The most influential piece of legislation that has affected the treatment of human remains would have to be NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) that was passed in 1990 (McGowan and LaRoche 1996).  This law was passed in response to Native American activist groups that demanded the return of their ancestors’ remains that were being stored in universities and museums across the country.  NAGPRA forces these institutions to catalog their collections and determine whether they are affiliated with a recognized tribe (Owsley and Jantz 2001).  That tribe can then determine the fate of the remains, most choosing reburial.

            This law was initially met with serious criticism by some members of the academic community, especially physical anthropologists that believed they were being robbed of valuable research.  It has politicized osteology and led to lengthy and expensive court battles (Rose et al. 1996).  The law does not protect African American cemeteries and other minority groups, nor does it protect Native American groups that have not been federally recognized (McGowan and LaRoche 1996).  Sometimes anthropologists cannot determine the tribal affiliation in cases such as Kennewick Man where the remains are extremely old.  This can and has led to contentious court battles over these remains (Owsley and Jantz 2001).

            Of course, this law has not actually led to the end of the world in the academic community.  NAGPRA has had some positive results and contributions.  It has provided funding and jobs for physical anthropologists to analyze collections, as well as funding for better storage facilities. Collections that have not been looked at in decades are now being closely examined using new techniques.  It has actually led collaboration and a new level of trust between academia and many Native American groups.  Anthropologists now have access to oral traditions, and Native Americans are participating in more archaeological projects than ever before. (Rose et al. 1996)

           Of course, the big question is: what has this to do with conservation?  Conservators should be assisting archaeologists and physical anthropologists in determining the proper care, handling, and storage of human remains as ethically as possible (which I will visit in the next installment).  They can add their expertise to the interdisciplinary teams that work with human remains in collections across the country.  Conservators can be advocates for the remains themselves.


Works Cited

AIC. 1994. Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.\ColdFusion9\verity\Data\dummy.txt. (Accessed 01/21/2013).

McGowan, Gary S. and Cheryl J. 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.

Owsley, Douglas W. and Richard L. Jantz. 2001. Archaeological Politics and Public Interest in Paleoamerican Studies: Lessons from Gordon Creek and Kennewick Man. American Antiquity 66(4):565-575.

Rose, Jerome C., Thomas J. Green, and Victoria D. Green. 1996. NAGPRA:  Osteology and the Repatriation of Skeletons. Annual Review of Anthropology 25: 81-103.


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Question of Salvaged Artifacts

January 30th, 2013

Question of Salvaged Artifacts

Sara Kerfoot 

            The first mention of salvagers in a room full of conservators and archaeologists is sure to bring scowls due to their unethical methods of excavating archaeological sites. Salvagers destroy the context, integrity, and potential that an artifact has to offer to trained professionals; they are more persuaded by what an artifact’s monetary value is on the market than an artifact’s potential to tell about the past. The academic world shuns talk of salvagers in hopes of stamping out the potential allure to budding academics. This piece in no way condones what salvagers do. The reality of the situation is that they destroy numerous sites in search for a couple high profile artifacts; however, they are still part of a site’s history.

            On occasion, salvagers donate a collection to a museum. Some museums reject the offer, while others take the items and put them in museum storage facilities to collect dust. Charlotte Andrews is a museum curator in Bermuda and advocates for collaboration between archaeologists and salvage divers (Andrews 2007). Salvagers in Bermuda are attempting to get rich off Bermuda’s cultural heritage. Museum curators are trying to display a site’s story for the public. These two groups have opposite goals, though there is an opportunity for them to work together for the public and site’s interest. If salvagers choose to donate their collection to a museum, the museum should consider it an opportunity to educate the public (Andrews 2007). Salvagers should be prepared to tell curators and conservators everything they know about the collection donated and curators should do their best in compiling a display of the salvaged items to be viewed close to, but separate from the artifacts ethically recovered by archaeologists.             Salvagers have a chance to share part of a site’s history and the museum has an opportunity to make the salvaged items be viewed separately from the ethically recovered artifacts. In the salvage display, there is ample opportunity to explain how salvaged items are part of a site’s history but can never be as telling as artifacts found in context. The exhibit may go on to explain how information found from salvaged artifacts can only be speculative because a complete record was not obtained while it was first being excavated. Curators can go on to explain how in order to find “tantalizing” artifacts, salvagers destroy numerous sites in the process. This is the perfect way to explain that salvaging is destructive to impressionable children while still allowing all parts of a site’s history to be seen.

            Salvaging is an unfortunate part of many site’s history and while it is considered a “dirty” word by professional archaeologists, that does not mean it should be ignored. Museums come in contact with salvaged collections; since public outreach is goal of museums, they should take salvaged collections as an opportunity to educate the public. Salvagers and archaeologists have occasionally excavated on the same sites. The site’s collections should be divided between ethically recovered and salvaged artifacts. If the public can understand why archaeologists and conservators view salvaging as taboo, maybe then salvagers will lose their public support.


 Andrews, C., 2007. Tricky Listening: Museological Inclusion of Archaeologically Alternate Identities relating to Bermuda’s Underwater Cultural Heritage. In: Museological Review 12, pp.17-43.


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