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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.

References

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.

Figure1_skateboarder

 

Figure 1. Skateboarder on Curl. <https://blogs.cul.columbia.edu/outdoorsculpture/2014/06/03/abuse-and-preservation-of-public-outdoor-sculpture/ >

            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).

Figure2_Tank

Figure 2. Children playing on abandoned Sherman tank, Saipan. < http://www.saipanservices.com/page009.aspx>

Figure3_Torpedo

Figure 3. Child on preserved torpedo, Last Japanese Command Post, Saipan. < http://www.saipanservices.com/page009.aspx>

            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).

Figure4_Ducklings

Figure 4. “Make Way for Ducklings” statues dressed for Bruins’ Stanley Cup finals series, June 2011. <http://www.boston.com/yourtown/boston/backbay/bbgallery/ducklings_are_cute?pg=2>

            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.

References

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

http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/22_2/dialogue.html.

 

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

http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/22_2/dialogue.html.

 

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

https://blogs.cul.columbia.edu/outdoorsculpture/2014/06/03/abuse-and-preservation-of-public-outdoor-sculpture/.

 

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

http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/22_2/dialogue.html.

 

Williamstown Art Conservation Center. 2009. Technical Bulletin: Annual Maintenance Programs for Outdoor Sculpture. Accessed February 25, 2015. http://www.williamstownart.org/techbulletins/images/WAAC%20Outdoor%20sculpture.pdf.

 

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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.

 

References

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: http://www.fieldmuseum.org/science/blog/ronald-and-christina-gidwitz-hall-birds

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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.”

www.womenfolk.com/grandmothers/balster.htm (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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Mission to Mars Body Farm

April 9th, 2015
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Mission to Mars Body Farm

Stephanie Byrd 

            With 100 individuals scheduled for a one-way trip to Mars, the idea of studying body decomposition and preservation of the body on reentry would be possible. An understanding of Mars atmosphere would be a valuable study planet; if bodies exposed to the environment were allowed to decompose outside of the earth-like artificial environment, a new body decomposition study could be conducted.

The atmosphere on Mars to Earth would be the first point of comparison. According to the Phoenix Mars Mission from the University of Arizona (Smith n.d.), Mars atmosphere is made of 95.32% Carbon dioxide, 2.7% Nitrogen, 1.6% Argon, .13% Oxygen, .03% Water vapor, and .01% Nitric oxide; compared to the Earth atmosphere that is made of 77% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 1% Argon, and .038% Carbon dioxide. The largest elements that could affect human decomposition would be the differences in the Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, and Oxygen levels.

Human decomposition is aided by the destabilization of the human body; the living body is kept in balance with the live bacteria in the body. Once the body is dead, the bacteria growth is uninhibited, helping the decomposition process internally. Oxygen and insect activity aids in decomposition on the outside of the body (Vass 2001). The lack of insects and oxygen on an exposed body in Mars could show how external forces impact remains. In order to understand the rate of atmospheric effects on the body, a closed camera feed would be part of the study based on the camera used in the current Mars project. The Mast Cameras used currently on Mars have the ability to take video at 10 frames per second or color snapshots and can house thousands of images and hours of high-definition video (NASA n.d.) This camera is used to photograph and record land, rock, soil, and other environmental factors on Mars, and could easily be used to record stages of human decomposition in color images.

One of the more difficult challenges would be ethics: should the bodies be brought back to study or left on Mars? In this unprecedented situation, the ethical thing to do would be allow the individuals on the project to say beforehand how their body should be handled at the time of death. If individuals waive their rights, the next of kin should have the right to request the body from Mars or have the remains left on Mars. Should a request that the remains be brought back to earth made, the complication of reentry and the effects of the body would need further study. The best case would be to work on preservation or mummification in flight back to Earth, working in a controlled similar atmosphere and slowly alter the atmosphere to mimic Earth This would be an atmospheric stage bath, much like a staged water bath for fragile organic materials. In order to know how this works in a Mars-like atmosphere, it could be produced in a laboratory setting and human remains set up for a Body Decomposition Laboratory and Reentry study.

It might be years before the human decomposition study on Mars will be done, but with the 100 individuals set to leave in the coming years for Mars, it will be important to understand all stages of life included death on a foreign planet. With the ongoing technological advancements, it might even be possible to take samples for study at the different stages of decomposition. Time will be the biggest factor in determining how the advances in science, conservation, and outer space will play out.

 

References

Unknown author. (N.D) Mast Camera (Mastcam) http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/instruments/cameras/mastcam/

Smith, Peter H. (N.D.) The Phoenix Mission. University of Arizona. http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/mars111.php

Vass, Arpad A. 2001. “Beyond the grave-understanding human decomposition”. Microbiology Today. 28. 190-192.

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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.

 

References

“Lack of Funding Closes USS Monitor Conservation Lab.” Archaeology. January 14, 2014. Accessed March 4, 2015. http://www.archaeology.org/news/1720-140114-monitor-ironclad-lab.

Nardi, R. 2010. “Conservation in Archaeology: Case Studies in the Mediterranean Region.” Archaeological Institute of America. November 16, 2010. Accessed March 4, 2015. http://www.archaeological.org/news/hca/3328.

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. http://www.conservation-us.org/docs/default-source/periodicals/conservators-without-borders-an-international-archaeological-conservation-and-outreach-initiative.pdf?sfvrsn=1.

 

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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.)

2012_white_map_02.small

“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, britishmuseum.org, 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: (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=753203&partId=1 ).

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.

 

2012_white_map_01.small

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.

 

References

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” www.britishmuseum.org/collection

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. http://www.firstcolonyfoundation.org/news/2012_white_map.aspx

 

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

 

A

 

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.

 

References

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).

 

References

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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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.

References

“Nazi Plunder of Art During World War II: Resources.” History of Nazi Plunder. December 9, 2013. Accessed February 18, 2015. http://libraryschool.libguidescms.com/history.

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. http://www.archives.gov/research/holocaust/articles-and-papers/symposium-papers/an-art-historians-perspective.html.

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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 www.makahmuseum.com

 

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).

References

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.

Image http://www.airpowersquadron.org/#!b29-schedule/c1yws

            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.

Image http://forum.flitetest.com/showthread.php?7046-quot-Kee-Bird-quot-B-29-failed-recovery

            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.

Image http://forum.flitetest.com/showthread.php?7046-quot-Kee-Bird-quot-B-29-failed-recovery

            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?

 

References

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

2015 AIC. Find a Conservator. http://www.conservation-us.org/membership/find-a-conservator/results/?specialty=05&travel=True&radius=all. Accessed 3 February 2014.

 

Commemorative Air Force

2014 CAF Bombers. http://commemorativeairforce.org/airplanes/91-caf-aircraft/126-caf-bombers#. Accessed 4 February 2015.

2014 CAF Mission and History. http://www.commemorativeairforce.org/aboutus/history. Accessed 4 February 2015.

2015 CAF Airpower History Tour. http://www.airpowersquadron.org/#!history/c66t. Accessed 4 February 2015.

 

Institute of Conservation

2015 ICON Conservation Register. Find a Conservator. http://www.conservationregister.com/PIcon-SpecialismSearch.asp?UserType=1. Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

PBS Nova

2015 B-29: Frozen in Time. http://novabeta.wgbh.org/wgbh/nova/military/b29-frozen.html. Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

United States Air Force

2013 Air Force Instruction 23-101. http://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_a4_7/publication/afi23-101/afi23-101.pdf. 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.

 

References

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.

 

References

David, Leonard

2013     Space Archaeologists Call for Preserving Off-Earth Artifacts, Space.com, <http://www.space.com/20743-space-archaeology-artifacts-preservation.html> Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

Freitas, Robert A.

1983     The Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA), The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 36:501-506 <http://www.setv.org/online_mss/seta83.html> Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

Space Archaeology

2015   Space Archaeology, “our future is in ruins,” <http://spacearchaeology.org/> 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.

 

References

 

“Code of Ethics,” American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works: 2014.         Accessed February 2, 2015.http://www.conservation-us.org/about-us/core-  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-        eu.org/ 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.

 

References

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.

http://www.sha.org/index.php/view/page/ethics

 

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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).

E

“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).

E

 

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.

 

 References

Alton, Elizabeth. “Touch Tours: The Penn Museum Offers Hands On Programs for Blind Visitors”. Entertainment Designer, January 3, 2014. http://entertainmentdesigner.com/news/museum-design-news/touch-tours-the-penn-museum-offers-hands-on-programs-for-blind-visitors/#sthash.zCOEPpGa.dpuf

Plamondon, Judith. “Hands on art for blind at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts”. London Free Press, January 11, 2015. http://www.lfpress.com/2015/01/11/hands-on-art-for-blind-at-montreals-museum-of-fine-arts

Image credits: Daily Herald, Stuff.co.nz

 

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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.

 

 

References

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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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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

website, http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/attractions/aircraft-exhibits/item/?item=pb2y_coronado

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.

 

 

References:

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. http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/attractions/museum/.

Travel for Aircraft Blog
2011     Seaplane Walkaround — Consolidated PB2Y Coronado. Travel for Aircraft. May 25. https://travelforaircraft.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/seaplane-walkaround-%e2%80%94-consolidated-pb2y-coronado/.

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

Wessex
2002     Military Aircraft Crash Sites. English Heritage.

 

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Inside Tips from Museum Professionals

October 23rd, 2014

One of the most valuable courses that ECU offers is HIST5920 Techniques of Museum and Historic Site Development. The class includes readings and discussions in museum theory, as well as, several field trips to a variety of museums and organizations. The field trips are often the best environment to see how our theoretical discussions are applied…the “real world” of museums.

This year we have been touring the Department of Cultural Resources/ State Historic Preservation Office (Eastern Branch), Greenville Museum of Art, Tryon Palace, Bentonville Battlefield, Tobacco Farm Life Museum, NC Museum of Art, The Mariners’ Museum (VA), Colonial Williamsburg (VA), Jamestown (VA), and Yorktown (VA). Museum professionals have given us a variety of tips so we thought we would share them here!

What are the #1 skills/experiences that museum professionals should have?

  • Project management: The ability to manage multiple projects and budgets at the same time.
  • Ability to communicate with a variety of levels: Everything from school groups to board members to politicians.
  • Writing skills: Grant writing is increasingly more important.

 

Since grant writing has featured so prominently in our discussions with museum professionals, we asked for three tips for those who are starting from scratch. They are:

  1. Read the guidelines carefully and make sure that our project is compatible with the type of projects they fund!
  2. Contact the granting agency early and often!
  3. Keep your project descriptions and goals concise, but general. Don’t restrict your project so much that you can’t be flexible in getting what the project needs (within the limits of the grant).

We also asked an exhibit designer that we spoke to, what his top three tips were for museum professionals that have to design exhibits with no formal training. His top three tips are:

  1. Really know your content. Know the subject matter and truly understand what the exhibit is about and the overall message.
  2. Really know your visitors! Too much text causes fatigue and too many artworks or objects can be overwhelming. Provide areas to sit and reflect.
  3. Color and lighting are the two most important features to an exhibit. Consider these carefully!

 

Nothing beats first hand experience and as we are reminded by Dr. Tilley, Director of the ECU Public History program:

“Any experience is better than no experience!”

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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

old_shoeVase

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

Vase: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/tools/pottery/painters/keypieces/redfigure/niobid.htm

Shoe: http://www.armenianow.com/features/25224/world_s_oldest_leather_shoe

 

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 , , , , , , , , , ,

The Need for More Archaeological Conservation Programs in the U.S.

February 12th, 2014

The Need for More Archaeological Conservation Programs in the U.S.

Michell Gilman

            Within the United States, there are select programs designed strictly for archaeological conservation.  Historically, conservation has been viewed as a designation for the fine arts and most programs in the U.S. are geared towards the preservation of artworks.  Archaeological conservation is as necessary and important as art conservation.  Archaeologists often find organic and inorganic objects in dire need of preservation.  They find things made of leather, textiles, wooden objects, paper, basketry, and various metals, to name a few kinds of materials.  It is likely many archaeologists do not realize some of the artifacts they excavate need specialized care in order to preserve those objects’ integrity, and either simply neglect to provide the attention necessary or do not plan for this possibility within their research design.  This can be because they do not think they will find materials needing conservation, or do not know of the necessity of conserving some things until it is too late.

Currently, the only educational opportunity specific to archaeological conservation is at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.  This is a three-year program and applications are accepted every other year.   Other opportunities include New York University History of Art and Archaeology, the University of Delaware, an Archaeological Conservation program at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, and a few courses at ECU.  Admissions requirements vary with each institution and studies are closely aligned with a focus on artworks or build upon the existing training of conservators and archaeologists.  With the abundance of artifacts and collections already housed in museums, universities, and other laboratories, it is clear that additional prospects are required in order for these materials to have a chance at being conserved.

An increase in the amount of educational opportunities is necessary for archaeologists to learn how to properly excavate and care for these objects due to the fact that they are typically untrained in conserving the delicate artifacts they sometimes excavate.  Granted, most artifacts excavated from archaeological sites are inorganic materials that do not require the degree of protection as organic materials such as wood which can deteriorate almost immediately after being extracted from the soil.  Better preparing students seeking degrees in archaeology would ensure fewer losses of unexpected finds that need specialized treatment.  Additional programs would also bring a greater awareness to students interested in pursuing archaeology and archaeological conservation, as well as allow undergraduates to better prepare themselves for this career goal.

When undergraduates are contemplating a graduate education in archaeology, they are typically focused on learning excavation methods, the laws governing archaeology, or learning more about particular cultures of the past.  It would be safe to say that archaeologists are typically concerned with saving past material culture and knowing that archaeological conservation is a possible education and career focus would more likely lead them to taking the proper courses in chemistry and art history while studying at the undergraduate level.  This would better prepare them for applying to archaeological conservation programs upon completion of their undergraduate degrees.  More archaeological programs would likely provide more volunteer and internship opportunities, further preparing students for graduate work and eventually careers in archaeological conservation, or at the very least better prepare them as archaeologists in general.  It is not reasonable to suggest nor is it necessary that every archaeologist be trained in archaeological conservation, however having the greater availability of accessing archaeological conservators would surely ensure fewer losses of delicate artifacts.

More programs designed to focus on archaeological conservation would benefit the field of archaeology in the U.S. because this would lead to an increased awareness of the specialized care needed to preserved artifacts in danger of eroding away.  It would also lead to more archaeologists conducting fieldwork capable of implementing the proper procedures for beginning the conservation process upon discovery of fragile artifacts.

 

Sources:

http://blog.ecu.edu/sites/eastcarolinaconservationlab/blog/2013/09/03/conservation-advising-faqs/

http://www.ioa.ucla.edu/conservation-program/

http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/fineart/academics/index.htm

http://www.si.edu/mci/english/professional_development/archaeological_conservation/index.html

Archaeological Conservation, General Conservation, Museum Studies , , , ,

Tips on Exhibition Design

December 28th, 2013

On a recent tour to the North Carolina Museum of Art, we were able to meet with some of the “behind-the-scenes” staff including conservators and the exhibition designers. In North Carolina, we have  a large amount of small museums with small staffs that have to fulfill numerous roles including exhibit design, but many times staff don’t have prior training in this area. We asked what the top four tips are when designing a new exhibit! They are:

1) create connections w/ vendors

2) everything you purchase should be an investment that you can reuse

3) everything is a learning experience

4) you always need a scope, schedule, and budget for a successful project

 

Excellent words of advice! What are some of your tips? Other good advice we received was that teamwork in project management is a major part of museum work. So taking courses on project management and teamwork will help you in any workplace. Also consider the type of museum you are working with. Art museums are all about the visual, history museums are about the experience and science museums are about the process.

Additional Resources:

http://www.collectioncare.org/pubs/Dec152013.html#LETTER.BLOCK11

 

Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , ,

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

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.

 

References

 

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.

 

 

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