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Gendered Conservation

March 23rd, 2015
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Gendered Conservation

Kate Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 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).

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“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).

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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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Public Conservation

February 4th, 2015

Public Conservation

Kate Thomas

What is public conservation? To answer this we must look at a more discussed relative, public archaeology. Public archaeology is involving the public in the excavation, interpretation, and dispersal of archaeological inquiries. This takes many forms, from public days at national parks and on excavations, to tours around current excavations, to engaging the community at a local town hall, to Congress making laws about material culture, to relying on the public to contact you with sites of interest (McManamon 1991). Public conservation, although requiring far fewer bodies to complete, operates in the same way. It involves getting the public to understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and getting them involved in the conservation of artifacts.  For my own thesis, I believe that both public archaeology and public conservation are and will be integral portions. The artifacts that I am using will be transferred back to the community they came from, to be displayed in the county museum. It will be up to the members of the community to care for these artifacts, and involving them in the process allows them to display these artifacts and their history without a conservator on staff.

The pros and cons of a public conservation are very similar to those of public archaeology. The biggest pro is that the involvement of the community allows us to access more and more artifacts. Archaeologists and conservators cannot be in all places at once, and having the public bring artifacts to our attention makes our jobs slightly easier. The other pro is that the public is inherently interested in what we do. By getting them involved in the care and knowledge of their own history, it improves our work as they have valuable knowledge to add to the conversation. This is especially true in cases of the disenfranchised, as their involvement in their own history should be a necessity.

The most obvious con is that giving the public the knowledge of conservation methods may cause them to completely skip using professionals and do it on their own. Without the help of a professional, they could damage an object or handle it improperly. This con may be mitigated by incorporating lessons about contacting local conservators or universities combined with basic conservation lessons. One could argue that this will also lead to a devaluation of the field if they no longer need professional conservators, but I think this perspective is pessimistic. By educating the public, we are giving them the tools to recognize when they need the help of the professional, and can help the conservator once they become involve. They may also be more likely to heed the advice of a conservator if they have a basic knowledge of conservation.

With so many specialized degrees related to archaeology and conservation, the question becomes why we should even have a public conservation. Beyond the fact that the items we produce are consumed by the public in museums and that the public seems interested in many of the topics related to both these subjects, it is also vital to our survival (Borque et al 1980,796). Pragmatically, there is a question of funding. Earlier this week Senator Rand Paul and Representative Lamar Smith criticized the National Science Foundation for funding projects that the public does not care about, and provided examples involving archaeology and anthropology projects (Altschul and Heller 2015). Based on personal experience, I would disagree that the public is not interested in any of these projects, but the suggestion by our representatives makes it clear that large portions of the public neither understand nor care about the projects that conservation and archaeology can tackle. This directly affects our funding, making our projects more difficult to complete.

Financial reasons, however, are not the only consideration. As an archaeologist, I have instances of relying on the public for my data. A personal example would be my thesis, where I became involved after members of a community found artifacts and reached out to East Carolina University. This is what we want the public to do when they find artifacts, and we need to work with them rather than alienate them from the process. Archaeology took a while to start in America, really not coming into its own until the late 1800’s, and because of this collecting is a popular activity by many people. Although unethical according to a variety of societies in archaeology, these collectors hold important information that archaeologists can still use (Kelley 1963). Do we completely ignore the data they have collected, or do we work with them to parse what data we can? Conservation has to answer the same question. Is it better to refuse to work with the public because they do not have the same level of education or do we work with the public to ensure the preservation of artifacts? Archaeologists need to work with collectors and the public in order to gather data and maintain sites, and so do conservators. A public conservation is the optimal way to do this.

 

 

References

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

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/american-anthropological-association/research-in-the-public-interest_b_6489564.html (accessed 1/19/15)

 

 

Borque, Bruce J, Stephen W. Brooke, Ronald Kley and Kenneth Morris. 1980. Conservation in Archaeology: Moving toward Closer Cooperation. American Antiquity. 45(4):794-799.

 

Kelley, Jane Holden. 1963. Some Thoughts on Amateur Archaeology. American Antiquity. 28(3): 394-396

 

McManamon, Francis P. 1991. The Many Publics of Archaeology. American Antiquity. 56(1): 121-130

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Ethics 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. <http://www.sha.org/blog/index.php/2013/02/national-geographics-diggers-is-it-better/>. Accessed 18 March 2014.

 

Kloor, Keith 2012    Archaeologists Protest ‘Glamorization’ of Looting on TV. Science Insider, Washington, D.C. <http://news.sciencemag.org/2012/03/archaeologists-protest-glamorization-looting-tv>. Accessed 18 March 2014.

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What Can be Learned from the Swedish Heritage Conservation Model

February 24th, 2014

What Can be Learned from the Swedish Heritage Conservation Model

 Allison Miller

            Kristin Huld Sigurdardottir’s article (2003) on the conservation-education challenges facing archaeologists and conservators today, led to an exploration of the laws governing archaeological finds and excavations in the Scandinavian countries. In her article, Sigurdardottir stated that the five Scandinavian countries all have well-developed laws governing archaeological heritage management with strong systems of enforcement in place. In a broader statement, she claimed that within these countries “all excavated objects are the property of the nation” (2003:221), which sounds like an ideal environment to deter treasure hunters and salvers, both on land and sea, especially with an effective penalization system in place. The investigation into these Scandinavian laws and what archaeologists and conservators might learn from them began with Sweden.

In Sweden, cultural environment and cultural heritage sites are overseen by the National Heritage Board, which in turn answers to the Ministry of Culture. The current legislation stems from the Heritage Conservation Act of 1988 (Europae Archaeologiae Consilium 2011:1). Chapter 1, Section 1 of the Act begins with, “The care and preservation of our cultural environment is a matter of national concern” (Swedish National Heritage Board [SNHB] 1988:1). This is a telling statement, which many countries, particularly America, could take a lesson from.

Recognizing the cultural heritage that belongs to people as individuals and as a nation should be at the forefront of the minds of archaeologists and conservators as they seek to protect the sites and artifacts that can be used to learn about the past. The support of the government and politicians is crucial in assisting with this effort. Without adequate laws and the enforcement of them to prevent the destruction and looting of archaeological sites, and to protect those sites and artifacts that have been properly excavated, archaeologists and conservators are fighting a losing battle. There will always be individuals who seek to gain from the selling of artifacts , but minimalizing their effects would provide a more solid foundation on which to develop our views of the past.

Sweden’s Heritage Conservation Act helps to prevent such looting and selling of artifacts by providing reimbursement to individuals who report their finds to the state (SNHB 1988). Though some information may be lost from the artifact not being found in context and with its provenience, it is not without value of its own. The practice of paying for such artifacts may encourage individuals to report their finds to the state, rather than selling them illicitly. The Act outlines measures against such illicit trade activities as well, detailing fines and punishment for various offenses, including the exportation of Swedish cultural goods from the country. Unfortunately, these laws do not protect against the trade of cultural goods from other nations, and such trade, particularly in Chinese artifacts, is quite rampant throughout the country (Lunden 2004).

In conclusion, though the Swedish heritage conservation model is not without its flaws, it has taken many progressive steps towards providing archaeologists and conservators with a well-structured legal guideline in which to work. The National Heritage Board details who is to care for archaeological sites and finds, and cooperates with several other state authorities to protect these sites.  These established avenues serve to protect the sites and finds, as well as the valuable work of archaeologists and conservators.

References

Europae Archaeologiae Consilium

2011    Archaeological heritage management in Sweden. Archaeological Heritage Management in Europe, Europae Archaeologiae Consilium <http://www.european-archaeological-council.org/files/archaeological_heritage_management_in_sweden.doc>. Accessed 10 February 2014.

 

Lunden, Staffan

2004    The Scholar and the Market. De nasjonale forskningsetiske komiteene <https://www.etikkom.no/Documents/PDF/stefanart.pdf>. Accessed 10 February 2014.

 

Sigurdardottir, Kristin Huld

2003    Challenges in Conserving Archaeological Collections. In Of the Past, For the Future: Integrating Archaeology and Conservation, Neville Agnew and Janet Bridgland, editors, pp.220-223. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, CA.

 

Swedish National Heritage Board

1988    Heritage Conservation Act (1988:950). UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws  <http://www.unesco.org/culture/natlaws/media/pdf/sweden/se_ordincehertgeconservat 1998_engtno.pdf>. Accessed 10 February 2014.

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

February 12th, 2014

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

Michell Gilman

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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