Archive for the ‘Public Outreach’ Category

A Brief Analysis of Conservation Disparities in Italian Heritage Sites

November 22nd, 2015
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A Brief Analysis of Conservation Disparities in Italian Heritage Sites

Mia S. Willis 

During the early hours of the morning on Saturday, November 6, 2010, the House of the Gladiators – a building thought to have been used to train men in gladiatorial fighting tactics – at the ancient city of Pompeii collapsed into rubble. The collapse of the structure came on the heels of accusations by field professionals that the Pompeii site was being mismanaged; Antonio Varone, the site’s director of excavations, claimed that the damage was caused by faulty restorations conducted in the 1950s which were compounded with the heavy rain in the area at the time. However, many site officials were of the belief that the lack of funding for excavation and conservation was to blame. Culture Minister Sandro Bondi released an indignant statement to address this claim, stating that “I stand by the work that has been done here”, and if there was evidence to support his responsibility for the collapse, he would gladly resign. He did survive a no-confidence vote against him based on accusations of neglect and mismanagement in January 2010, but resigned from his position in March of the same year (Belenky, 2010).

Decades of neglect have contributed to Pompeii’s disrepair; frescoes are marked with graffiti, plant life overtakes walls and permeates buildings, and many of the most famous attractions are marked “lavori in corso” – “work in progress”. Even the plaster casts of ancient Romans who were preserved by the hot ash and pumice of Mount Vesuvius are encased in filthy glass with rust legged platforms. While there are a multitude of factors that contributed to the House of Gladiators’ ultimate destruction, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to cut heritage funding was likely the spark which set the archaeological world ablaze. Between 2007 and 2009, the funds allotted to care for Italy’s cultural sites dropped from 30 million euros to 19 million, a deficit that the 20 million euros made in revenue cannot absorb without great strain on resources. This wide margin, however, does not appear to impact the procedures of Herculaneum, Pompeii’s sister Roman city that was also destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (Belenky, 2010).

In fact, in January of 2015, it was announced that a set of ancient scrolls incinerated in the eruption could be read and studied for the first time in almost 2,000 years due to a new X-ray technique. The documents were recovered 260 years ago in the ruins of a large domus believed to be that of Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, who was consul of Rome in 15 BC. The scrolls were burned black by a surge of superheated gas during the eruption and, similarly to the collection found at Qumran, were initially presumed to be unreadable as any attempt to unroll the fragile papyri would cause irreparable damage.

However, due new advancements in imaging technology, the first lines of two previously indecipherable scrolls are being analyzed by scientists in Naples, Italy. The X-rays are reportedly so powerful that researchers were able to conduct handwriting analysis in order to discern its author, leading to the attribution of one of the scrolls to Philodemus, an Epicurean philosopher at the time. The results of the process were detailed in scientific journal Nature. “It holds out the promise that many philosophical works form the library of the ‘Villa dei Papiri’, the contents of which have so far remained unknown, may in future be deciphered without damaging the papyrus in any way” (Jaggard, 2015).

The conservation disparities within the Italian material culture is driven by monetary gain. Herculaneum generates a larger amount of revenue for the Italian government, therefore securing the site’s access to resources and advancements in research within the archaeological community. Pompeii, however, is larger in surface area (40% of the remains at Pompeii have yet to be examined) and requires enormous sums of capital that it does not recuperate in crowd traffic. The site fell into disrepair because it was not as profitable for Italy as it was previously anticipated; in 2007, a state of emergency was declared for Pompeii, and two years of extra funds and special measures still did not return the site to its desired integrity. The cyclical nature of neglect in the prominent archaeological sites in Italy should be cause for concern all over the globe. As respected periodical Corriere della Sera stated in its editorial regarding the issues of Pompeii, “this archeological area, which is unique in the world, is unfortunately the symbol of all the sloppiness and inefficiencies of a country that has lost its good sense and has not managed to recover it” (October 2010).



Belenky, S. (2010, November 7). “Pompeii’s ‘House Of The Gladiators’ Collapses, Italy’s Government Accused Of Neglecting World Heritage Site”. Retrieved November 19, 2015.

Jaggard, V. (2015, January 20). “Ancient Scrolls Blackened by Vesuvius Are Readable at Last”. Retrieved November 19, 2015.

Ethics and Theory, Museum Studies, Public Outreach, Research and Experiments , , , ,

Public Interaction and Conservation

April 9th, 2015
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Public Interaction and Conservation

James Pruitt

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



Figure 1. Skateboarder on Curl. < >

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , ,

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.



Unknown author. (N.D) Mast Camera (Mastcam)

Smith, Peter H. (N.D.) The Phoenix Mission. University of Arizona.

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.



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

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

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


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Conservation Challenges for Museums: Tactile displays for the Visually Impaired Patron

February 26th, 2015
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Conservation Challenges for Museums: Tactile displays for the Visually Impaired Patron

Lori K. Gross


While visiting museums I’ve often wondered how it would be possible for persons with disabilities, specifically visually impaired individuals to have the same opportunity to ‘experience’ the artifacts that are displayed. For instance, at the Field Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute in Chicago they have elaborate collections of artifacts on display but they are encased in glass surrounded by velvet ropes or labeled ‘Do Not Touch’. For those of us that have the gift of sight these barriers are rarely questioned and it is understood, on some level, that the items displayed are rare, valuable or irreplaceable and their safe keeping is important to ensure that others can enjoy them as well. During my visits I have observed visually impaired patrons accompanied by another person who describes the displayed items, often in great detail, but I have to wonder – is that enough?

While researching this topic I found out I’m not alone. Museums have begun to recognize the need for a more interactive experience for visually impaired patrons. Tactile interactions are becoming more popular at museums in an effort to provide enriched opportunities to these individuals. One of these museums is The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts that has incorporated a guided tour allowing blind patrons to touch a select group of ‘contemporary’ sculptures. Utilizing cotton gloves individuals can experience the art form ‘first hand’ feeling the fine details and recreating its shape in their mind (Plamondon 2014). After reading this article I was glad that there was some effort being made towards tactile displays but it seemed limited to those items that were easily recreated, identified as popular and held little diversity. No ancient artifacts were included, which led me to think – “Are conservators too conservative – is there another way?”

Basic conservation techniques of artifacts recognize that merely touching an artifact can begin a destructive process through the transfer of oils, salts, moisture, bacteria etc. from a human hand. These concerns must be addressed when the conversation turns to tactile displays with ‘ancient’ artifacts. Professional conservators understand that it is a far more complicated process to maintain the vast collections displayed in museums. Lighting, humidity, acidity and even bacteria can damage an object that appears to the lay person as ‘just sitting on a shelf’. Most patrons have no idea of the hours of conservation treatments, techniques and decisions required to merely display the artifact let alone the actual handling. However, if museums and conservators are dedicated to the education and enrichment of every individual then they must overcome these challenges.

The Penn Museum is also taking an important step to address the issue of how to provide vision impaired guests with meaningful experiences in museums, where touching the objects has been traditionally discouraged. The conservators and curators of the museum launched an initiative called the ‘Touch Tour’ a two hour guided and innovative approach to dealing with issues of vision and accessibility in the museum context. A program called Insights into Ancient Egypt” combines education and gallery tours where patrons are invited to explore replicas of smaller ancient Egyptian artifacts and enhance the experience with tactile diagrams and opportunities to smell some of the oils used in mummification: frankincense, myrrh, and cedar oil. The experience evokes a range of senses that are often neglected in museum experiences. In the gallery portion of the tour the patrons experience through touch, ancient artifacts that include Egyptian stone artifacts, including a seated statue of Ramesses II, the Goddess Sekhmet, and two sarcophagus lids.   To mitigate the impact on the artifacts, each participant utilizes hand sanitizers to remove dirt and oils (Alton 2015).


“Not many people, either sighted or visually impaired, would ever have the opportunity to place their hands where craftsmen’s hands toiled thousands of years ago” (Alton 2015).



Museum programs with interactive and tactile approaches will continue to bring new challenges to the professional conservator. However, if our goal is to educate, inspire and enrich the lives of the museum patrons, then it is a challenge that conservators must embrace.



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

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

Image credits: Daily Herald,


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Shaving a Beard? How Tourism Hurt the Boy King

February 26th, 2015
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Shaving a Beard? How Tourism Hurt the Boy King

Stephanie Byrd

           Tourism can bring an added economic boost to a country that has a national treasure. However, this can also affect conservation efforts for these national treasures. This is the case with many famous artifacts in Egypt with the latest being the beard of King Tutankhamen. This has not been the first issue between conservation and public display; much of the Egyptian past was exported during the Victorian age and the spread of British colonialism. One of the biggest issues facing conservators is that the process of conservation can take time to do the job properly, which presides over the wants, need, and desire of the public and sometimes the museum for a faster turnaround time.

In a recent cleaning disaster, the beard of King Tutankhamen’s funeral mask was bumped and broken (Cascone 2015). An epoxy was used to reattach the beard to the mask but in doing a fast job, the epoxy was visible between the beard and mask. Part of the mask also had epoxy found dried on the surface and this was scraped off leaving a mark on the mask. There has been conflicting remarks as to whether the epoxy is reversible but there is a larger issue here (Cascone 2015). The issue becomes when public interest scrutinizes the work of conservators and can witness and put pressure on conservator. Conservators feeling pressure to return items for public viewing or working in the view of the public can increase the likelihood of errors and rushed jobs. This shows just how much power the public has over on going conservation projects.

One example of a site that draws a lot of public interest is the tomb of King Tutankhamen, where in 2012, a replica of the tomb had to be made due to the damage seen by tourism. Since first being discovered, humans have done more damage in less than 100 years than thousands of years of forgotten time (Beach 2012). Additions include stairs, handrails, and lights all to show the public what was meant as a sacred tomb. Tombs were meant to be sealed and left in the dark but have become modified to hold modern technology and human traffic, all of which increase the rate of deterioration (Getty 2013). While some of the technology has damaged the artifacts alternatively, some technology is used to monitor the climate of the museums and tombs to help keep a stable environment (Getty 2013). The ongoing issue with the Egyptian artifacts comes down to finding a balance between the need to preserve the past and serve the public who wants to see the artifacts. The making of the replica tomb is a start but acting hastily in repairing the mask shows that the balance is a work in progress. As for now the mask is in a low light display, said to minimize the noticeable damage to the mask (al-Mahmoud 2015), but with the public knowledge of the damage this low light method seems to be a little too late to stop the public from criticizing the museum for a poor repair job.

The hope with this latest, and very public repair job, is that it can show how the public needs to be made aware of the time and energy that are required for a good conservation process. Once something is in a museum it does not place the artifact in a vacuum, and demonstrates that damage from human traffic and cleaning can affect the life of an artifact. The museum is needed to show that the public can trust that the conservation work completed with all artifacts is up to ethical standards, but being honest with the public can be one way to grow a relationship between public and professional groups regarding conservation projects moving forward.



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

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

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

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

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


Archaeological Conservation, Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Public Outreach , , , , , , , ,

Rights of the Owner Versus Rights of the Public

February 4th, 2015

Rights of the Owner versus Rights of the Public

Stephanie Byrd

 The rights to own property is part of the American dream, but what if the property has a past that is ties with a historic person from the community, and a new owner wants to alter the property? Can the town try to preserve the legacy of the former owner, over the rights of the new owner? The issue becomes a topic of discussion over the “Pretty Penny” house from the late Helen Hayes. The public wanted the home to remain visibly the same from Helen Hayes’ time, but the new owner wanted to restore the home to the original architecture and add a privacy wall in the process. The new homeowner was within their rights to alter the home, as long as the proper paperwork was submitted, even if the alteration angered the residents. In the case of historic homes, can a balance of owner’s right and historic appearance and legacy of the property meet to accommodate all parties involved?

On the Hudson River in a small and beautiful town of Nyack, New York, stands the former home of Helen Hayes, a woman known as the “First Lady of American Theater” (Arader 2013). To the village of Nyack, or to those who knew her well, she was Helen or Mrs. MacArthur. Her home was shared with her husband Charles MacArthur who nicknamed the home “Pretty Penny” due to the joke he told that it cost a “pretty penny” to keep up (Geist nd). I have a unique history with this house, or at least my family does. The Hayes family and my mother’s family grew up together from the early 1930s to 1993, when Mrs. MacArthur passed away.

Celebrities living in Nyack are nothing new. The town is small with large expensive homes and is located an hour from New York City, making it a perfect fit to get away. However, the town’s ability to treat celebrities as normal people is what I remember as a child. My family would drive back to visit my Grandfather and I loved the homes that lined River Road and N. Broadway that had always caught my eye. My first look at Pretty Penny took my breath away, a large white house shaped like a wedding cake. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the home had a metal fence that allowed the residents and visitors of Nyack to see the home while driving by. The home was built in 1856 in the Italianate style with little history prior to the MacArthur’s purchasing of the home in the 1930s. After the MacArthur’s bought the home, improvements and changes were done, most notably the moving of the front door, which could be seen from N. Broadway. Much of the interior was changed, but the appeal is in the architecture and gardens that surround the home since it was the outside that passer-byers wanted.

After Helen’s death, the home was placed on the market and sold to Rosie O’Donnell. The front door was placed back to the original location and the interior brought back to the 1850s appearance with some modern touches. Sadly, the 8-foot brick wall (Cary 2014) was built around the home that angered the residents of Nyack. As “Pretty Penny” was her private property, she had the right to change the home and the land, as long as she had gone through the village council and gotten the permits. However, due to the historic nature and its ties to the MacArthur family, much of the village did not want the wall because it changed the town’s appearance. It was a balance of private property, historic preservation, town aesthetics, and the MacArthur family legacy that needs to be reconciled.

If the local government of Nyack wanted to “own” Pretty Penny for a museum, it most likely could under the Fifth Amendment ( While most people know the Fifth Amendment as protecting individuals from incrimination, other components relate to eminent domain and the ability of the government to take private property for public use. Since the home is still private property and the wall still stands some part of the village has had to come to terms that “Pretty Penny’s” wall is now part of her past, but not the past people want to remember. It is the MacArthur’s home that is remembered but even they made changes that the public considers historic not because it was original but because of who made the changes. In changing the front door back to the original and adding a wall, did Rosie O’Donnell add value in restoration or devalue it by finding the historic home beyond the brick wall?

As much as I would like to argue that the wall is unnecessary, if all legal paperwork was completed for the wall construction then Rosie O’Donnell is fully within her rights to add a wall and alter the home. The residents can voice their displeasure, which is within their rights, but Rosie was the owner at the time and can add, modify, and change the home per the permits. The right to keep the home ultimately comes down to city hall issue permits on historic homes and if the governing body approves the permits to change the home the local residents have no choice but to allow the changes to occur. It is possible that the homeowner of any historic property could take into account the feelings the community has towards the property but that is not something the owner must do. Reconstruction of historic homes can be a challenge to obtain materials and even records of the original work to restore it properly. Materials used today are not the same material quality or type from the original work. Building codes have changed, making permits requires ensures safety and compliance, with the exterior being visually similar but safer for the current owners. Owning a historic property with community ties comes with a special set of challenges between the owner rights, community options, and preservation law that a person should not enter into lightly when thinking of buying a historic home.




“Fifth Amendment.” Fifth Amendment.


“Graham Arader: A Great Story about My House in Nyack – Pretty Penny.” Graham Arader: A Great Story about My House in Nyack – Pretty Penny.


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


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


Cary, Bill. 2014. “Pretty Penny: Helen Hayes’ Former Home Is on the Market Again.” Pretty Penny: Helen Hayes’ Former Home Is on the Market Again.


“Takings Clause.”


Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Public Outreach , , , , , , ,

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


Which is more valuable?

We see them everywhere behind glass in museums, in a dim room with a spotlight on them, a guard standing around telling you not to touch: historical objects and artifacts on display for our viewing pleasure. To a museum visitor, the objects may be nice to look at or learn about from the brief informational placards. To a conservator or archaeologist, the objects may be a key to unlocking information about our human past and need to be preserved for future study. Different people view historical objects in various ways, and sometimes this can cause problems, especially when objects are seen for their monetary value only.

To an archaeologist, the context of an object is just as important as the object itself. After all, one can only learn so much about a single ceramic pot. If that pot, however, is found within a burial an archaeologist can make interpretations about the culture that made the pot: ritualistic behaviors, societal hierarchies, and the function of the pot can all be gleaned from its context.

The general public is less likely to understand the importance of context. This is understandable since most of their interactions with historical objects occur when they are standing in front of a glass case in a museum. They see the object at the end of its journey: after it has been removed from the field and been cleaned, preserved, and placed on display. The public sees these objects as valuable: they know they are behind glass cases for a reason and that museums pay (sometimes large) amounts of money for certain objects. The very circumstances surrounding museums place value on the object alone, rather than historical context (especially since accompanying informational text is brief).

In line with this concept is the idea that mundane or common objects are less worthy of being studied, collected, or placed on display in museums, which creates a bias of what is seen behind glass cases, as Caple mentions in “Reasons for Preserving the Past” (2003, 21). Unique, famous, rare, or beautiful objects are prized over everyday objects and are sought after for their monetary value. They are also more likely to be displayed in a museum in the hopes of attracting more visitors.

One example of highly sought after objects are those classical artworks such as Greek or Roman marble statues and vases. The modern aesthetics of these types of objects is sometimes seen as more highly prized than the object’s original context. The objects, according to Sarah Scott in “Art and Archaeology,” are displayed “as art rather than archaeology” (2006, 629). This has caused, and is still causing, looting or damage to archaeological sites as people try to find and sell such objects (628). They know there is a market for them and market value is given more importance than contextual detail (629). Archaeologists should stress the importance of context lest looting occur. Placing a high value on objects can lead to the “continued prioritization of a select range of objects, most notably classical sculpture” (636). Our modern view of what is considered “art,” such as classical statues, causes them to be considered as commodities to be bought and sold, rather than ancient objects that can lend information about the past societies in which they existed.

In conclusion, keeping objects in their original context, rather than applying value and aesthetics to them, is ideal. Archaeologists and conservators alike have a responsibility to make the acquirement of objects without context unacceptable both academically and socially. For example, archaeologists can refuse to help treasure hunters or salvors with excavation. Similarly, conservators can refuse to work on objects that have been obtained through less desirable means. Museums must be very careful when buying objects and place an importance upon integrity of objects. Finally, placing significance upon the study of seemingly mundane or common objects also helps to decrease the mindset of historical objects as commodities. 

Photo credits




References Cited

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

Scott, Sarah. 2006. Art and the Archaeologist. World Archaeology 38(4): 628-643.

Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , , , , , , , , ,

Ethics of Artifact Hunting Reality TV Shows

April 3rd, 2014

Ethics of Artifact Hunting Reality TV Shows

 Allison Miller

With the rise of popular reality TV programs showcasing artifact hunting, such as Spike TV’s American Diggers, The Travel Channel’s Dig Wars, and National Geographic’s Diggers, a new venue for ethical concerns from the archaeological community has been created. Questions arise not only about the artifact damage the individuals on these shows are directly causing, but also about the damage these shows could be creating by failing to inform the public of proper excavation processes and the legalities surrounding such searches (Kloor 2012; Ewen et al. 2013). These shows, particularly American Diggers, highlight the monetary value of such “found” artifacts, as well. It would seem that this placement of a dollar value on artifacts could only further encourage amateur enthusiasts to begin their own searches for artifacts. “Diggers” searching only for items of value will discard items, such as nails, that could lead to larger finds for archaeologists. How much of our cultural heritage is being lost because of these shows and the individuals they are encouraging, inadvertently or not, to search for artifacts of their own?

Once these valued items have been unearthed, it also raises questions for conservators. Whether or not these artifacts have been obtained illegally, or at least unethically, the conservator must then make the choice on whether or not to conserve such an item. An artifact that has been illegally retrieved can create legal questions for the conservator. If he/she chooses to conserve an object that has been illegally obtained, the conservator can be considered an accessory to the crime. The conservator also has an ethical responsibility of reporting any artifacts they know to have been illegally excavated. Many of artifact hunters may know that their artifact has been unearthed illegally, and therefore do not take it to a conservator. Instead, they will attempt their own conservation methods, which may ultimately create more damage to the item.

Artifacts that have been unearthed within the terms of the law but not with best archaeological practice also create ethical questions for the conservator. It can cause conflicting interests between the desire to conserve the artifact for its own sake and not conserving the artifact in order to not be affiliated with questionable archaeological practices. Ethical codes and guidelines provided for conservators by organizations such as the American Institute for Conservation leave such ethical decisions to the determination of the individual conservator.

Works Cited

Ewen, Charlie, Dan Sivilich, and Paul Mullins 2013    National Geographic’s Diggers: Is It Better? Society for Historical Archaeology Blog, 1 February 2013. <>. Accessed 18 March 2014.


Kloor, Keith 2012    Archaeologists Protest ‘Glamorization’ of Looting on TV. Science Insider, Washington, D.C. <>. Accessed 18 March 2014.

Ethics and Theory, Public Outreach , , , , , ,

Preservation at Pompeii

February 6th, 2014

Preservation at Pompeii

Sophia Carman

Image 1

Image 1: Map of the Bay of Naples, Italy. Image from:

The ancient city of Pompeii, located in the Bay of Naples, maintains a rich history as a vibrant city during the Roman times (Image 1). Nevertheless, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 led to the total destruction and preservation of the site. Pompeii laid untouched for almost 2000 years, until excavations began in 1748 and continued to the present day (Slayman 1997). During these excavations, the daily life of the citizens who had been frozen in time was revealed in the form of residential architecture, wall frescos, household objects, and casts of the people themselves (Image 2). Although the information collected from these excavations remains valuable to the history of the site, the integrity of the newly exposed architecture, art, and objects are continually being threatened by both natural forces and human activity. Therefore, one must ask themselves if it is appropriate to excavate a site, such as Pompeii, if the current preservation techniques may not be sufficient in caring for the materials uncovered? Such a question is constantly on the minds of conservators and addresses an ethical issue that is prevalent in the field of archaeology and conservation today.

Image 2

Image 2: Archaeological plan of Pompeii. Image from:

Once structures and objects are exposed by excavations, the deterioration process begins. Factors that affect the integrity of the archaeological materials can be natural and/or anthropogenic (Slayman 1997). Natural deterioration factors include exposure to sun, wind, rain, erosion, or even fluctuation in temperature. Botanicals also play an active role in the deterioration of structural elements of the city by growing within the matrix of the walls, causing them to collapse, or behind the plaster frescos, forcing them from the wall. On the other hand, humans have a hand in the destruction of the site. International wars have destroyed parts of the site in addition to priceless objects, both of which were unable to be recovered. Tourists visiting the site cause daily wear and tear, especially when theft or vandalism is involved. Archaeological excavation itself is a destructive technique that does not necessarily allow for re-excavations in the future. It is these deterioration processes that are a prevalent issue in the preservation of the site today.

Image 3

Image 3: House of Amarantus. Left: Photo from the 1950s excavations showing the amphorae. Right: Photo from the 1994 excavations showing the same amphorae. Image from: Picking Up the Pieces

Early excavators of Pompeii gave little notice to the care and maintenance of the site (Slayman 1997). Once unearthed, various features were directly exposed to environmental conditions and have not survived to the present day. For example, a group of amphorae in the House of Amarantus, which was initially documented in the 1950s, remains today only as shattered vessels (Image 3). In other parts of the site, frescos have lost their pigment color and some walls have collapsed altogether. Essentially, these early excavators were not able or did not have the means to handle the maintenance needs of the site after it was exposed.

Although conservation techniques are far more advanced than what they were in the 1700s, there are still some conservation issues that they are difficult to address today. The restoration and maintenance of Pompeii is a top priority, but is hindered not only by the sheer size of the city, but also by the availability of manpower and the amount of funds that are able to be accessed. When a new section of Pompeii is exposed, both support and protective structures have to be constructed in order to care for that portion of the site. Further restoration needs to be enacted to maintain the structural integrity of the walls and floors. All objects uncovered in the excavations need to be properly cared for and stored, which requires space in a storage facility or museum. Therefore, undertaking an excavation does not stop when the field season has finished, but continues for many years to come. If the resources, manpower, and funding are not available to care for and maintain the site once the excavations are completed, it would seem to be unethical to excavate the site in the first place. However, since the time of the first excavations of Pompeii, the techniques of conservation, preservation, and restoration have improved dramatically and are able compensate for the earlier shortcomings.

Digital archaeology has allowed conservators to effectively care for, maintain, and document the remains of Pompeii today (Bruschini 1991). Digital databases preserve various features and objects from the site by documenting the more technical information associated with their state of preservation. Such information can include general descriptions, a history of restorations, damage analyses, graphic documentation, etc. Databases also allows archaeologists and conservators to gain information on the distribution patterns of features and objects in order to learn more about city planning and daily life at Pompeii. Additionally, photographic documentation allows for the condition of various features to be monitored over time by noting any changes that may be caused by deterioration processes. Such images also permit conservators to simulate restoration techniques digitally, prior to implementing the modifications on the feature itself. Furthermore, three-dimensional modeling enables conservators to reconstruct objects and architectural features which can assist them in the restoration process. It is clear that these recent technological advances in digital archaeological has dramatically improved the way in which a site, such as Pompeii, is documented and maintained.

Pompeii has a rich history that is preserved in a layer of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Since the first excavations in 1748, the techniques to preserve, conserve, and restore the site have significantly improved. Digital archaeology has opened up additional avenues in maintaining the site by enabling the conservator to observe changes in features and objects over time through databases and photographs. However, there is still much to be uncovered and learned from the two-thirds of the exposed Pompeii, as well as further advances in conservation techniques before the last third of the site is exposed and excavated.



Bruschini, Stefano

1991 Imaging Pompeii. In Archaeology. 44(2):32-35.

Slayman, Andrew L.

1997 Picking Up the Pieces. In Archaeology. 50(6):34-36.


General Conservation, Public Outreach , , ,

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:


Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , ,

Out of the Ivory Towers and Into the Field: A Glowing Example of Public Conservation at Montezuma Well

February 14th, 2013

Out of the Ivory Towers and Into the Field: A Glowing Example of Public Conservation at Montezuma Well

 Sara Kerfoot

            Conservation is a science. There are specific consequences if conservation is done poorly; a lack of knowledge can be devastating to artifacts and sites. Not everyone has the opportunity to go through training that would adequately prepare an individual to properly handle and preserve artifacts from future deterioration, but not all conservation work needs to be done in a lab. There are certain aspects of conservation that the public has an opportunity to take part in given the right direction. Montezuma Well is an exemplary case of when public outreach and conservation can work together to create an ongoing example of cultural heritage. Montezuma Well National Monument has an active thousand-year-old irrigation system and uses the public to help maintain it.

            One of the National Park Service’s main goals is to preserve cultural heritage for future generations. Conservation is the act of preserving nomenclatural resources; conservators are not always conserving pieces of waterlogged wood and broken ceramics, they are stewards to heritage and in some cases that heritage is still active. Montezuma Well National Monument in Camp Verde, Arizona is a huge sinkhole; human modification can be seen in cliff dwellings and an active thousand-year-old irrigation ditch (National Park Service 2013). The ingenious Sinagua people of the Verde Valley created this canal; it pumps 1.5 million gallons of water from the sinkhole (Montezuma Well) every day at a constant 74 degrees Fahrenheit (National Park Service 2013). The site, as a whole, is protected and preserved by the park service. The maintenance crew, the park archaeologists, and park rangers work together to survey this ancient ditch on a daily basis; the maintenance crew preserves the site by ensuring the water flow is not obstructed by flora and fauna, they also patch leaky areas. Professionals preserve the integrity of the irrigation canal, but it is not limited to them.

montezumas well Irrigation System at Montezuma Well (Credit: Author)

              Since the irrigation system is still active and brings water to residents in the Verde Valley, each year this ancient water supply is re-directed to the river during winter. During winter, plants and debris encroach upon the area where flowing water runs during the spring and summer months. It takes hundreds of hours to clear out the rooted plants and debris before re-directing the canal back to its original path. One of the ways the park manages this huge feat is by enlisting volunteers to help with the project. Since 2004, the Volunteers of Outdoor Arizona (VOAz) hold an event where they clear weeds and remove calcium and travertine deposits from the ditch. Each year around mid-April, for one weekend, these volunteers help anywhere between 300 to 500 working hours (VOAz 2012). Their dedication and effort, with the park’s assistance, is a valuable component to the park’s goal of preserving cultural heritage. In order for the public to understand conservation, they need to have opportunities to get involved with conservation. Programs that allow for an interested public to participate in conservation work are integral for creating a learning environment. Public outreach is necessary for the discipline of conservation to thrive.

            Archaeologists and conservators are uncovering a story. But if the story is still going, professionals have a duty to not put a “no touch” sign on it and bar it from public access. There are multiple cases when conservators must protect an artifact so it survives, however, that is not the case for everything re-discovered. As tempting as it is to allow conservators to preserve all aspects of cultural heritage, that is not a feasible task. And in some cases, it may not be a desired role for a conservator. Where the public can play a role in conservation, they should. It allows for the public’s knowledge to grow and for them to create a connection enough to have care and concern for a site. The only way to safely do this is to create a link between the public and conservators.  As long as there is a strong enough connection to cultural heritage, it will continue to be preserved.


 National Park Service, 2013. Exploring Montezuma Well. In: Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona. National Park Service. <>. Accessed February 2, 2013.

 Volunteers of Outdoor Arizona, 2012. Montezuma Castle Conservation Work. In Volunteers of Outdoor Arizona. <>. Accessed February 2, 2013.

Public Outreach