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Posts Tagged ‘objects’

Examining and Describing Objects in a Condition Report

August 8th, 2014

When examining objects, it is important that conservators describe them in great detail. This can help document what condition an object is in before treatment, identify any changes that have happened to the material over time, or to just provide a record in the event the object is damaged or lost. Photographs can also be helpful in this process, but sometimes areas of damage aren’t visible.

When you are examining an object it is important to record your observations about what the object is, what it is made out of, how it was constructed, and what condition it is in. Are there any attached pieces? Is there any evidence of previous repairs?

Here is a guide to help identify the types of terms that conservators use:

Methods:

  • visual examination: viewed with your eyes
  • microscopic evaluation: viewed using microscopic tools
  • macroscopic: viewed with your eyes

Shapes:

  • round
  • flat
  • square
  • rectangular
  • bulbous

Surface Features/Decorations:

  • convex (curving outwards)
  • concave (curving inwards)
  • pitted
  • entire surface: a feature that is present on the whole object
  • localized: a feature that is present in only one or two areas
  • sporadic: a feature that is present in a few areas with no apparent pattern

Condition:

  • cracked: still held together, not split all the way through
  • split: the material has separated through each layer, can still be joined or totally separated
  • fragmented: broken apart into pieces
  • detached: completely separated from
  • folded: one layer that has been folded over another
  • discolored: a change from the original color
  • abraded: surface has been worn away
  • delaminated: separated into layers
  • flaking: separated into layers and detaching
  • Also see: http://www.aiccm.org.au/resources/visual-glossary

 

It is also important not to use words that are too general. If you were reading your description in 100 years, would you be able to picture the object without an image? Here are some words not to use!

  • Broken: Where? How? In what way?
  • Damaged: Where? How? In what way?

 

Other useful resources:

http://mgnsw.org.au/sector/resources/online-resources/collection-care/condition-reports-how-guide/

http://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/MHII/mh2appc.pdf

http://www.aiccm.org.au/resources/visual-glossary

http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/skill-of-describing.html

http://cityofangelsconservation.weebly.com/blog/how-a-conservator-sees

General Conservation, Research and Experiments , , , , ,

Placing a Value on the Past

April 6th, 2014

Placing a Value on the Past

Alex Garcia-Putnam 

As archaeologists we place certain values on the objects we work with; these values often differ with those placed on artifacts by the public.  Archaeologists and conservators do not place monetary value on artifacts and objects, instead, we value objects from the past based on the information we can gain from them about the people who used them.  The public often values objects from the past based on their monetary value. Examples of this can be seen on popular television programs across numerous networks.  Many of these programs ‘dig’ for artifacts and give dollar amounts to the objects they remove, with little to no regard for the valuable data that can be gained by the less glamorous analysis involved in the archaeological and conservation process.

As previously discussed in my blog “Ethical Principles in Conservation and Archaeology”, the Society for Historical Archaeology sets out a number of ethical principles to guide its members.  One of the critical components of this document is Principle Six, which states that archaeologists must not profit monetarily from the sale or trade of artifacts, and should discourage the placing of financial values on archaeological specimens (Ethics Statement, SHA 2007).  We have a duty to protect the past, and placing financial values on artifacts could easily contribute to the illicit antiquities trade. Archaeologists and conservators desire to learn about past cultures through an analysis of the material remains they left behind.  We value artifacts not for their rarity or beauty, but for their ability to better inform our interpretations of the past.

Contrary to reality, television shows and films portray archaeology as a financially driven hunt for artifacts, skewing the public’s perspective of what professionals do. This extends back to the founding of archaeology in popular culture: Indian Jones, where he is shown as essentially a glorified looter, plundering ancient sites for treasure to put in a museum (Hall 2004).  This trend is upsetting, and made tougher to stomach by current programs that follow television personalities with metal detectors that hunt for artifacts.  Inserting a measure of true archaeology into these programs, although not as glamorous, could really help alter the public’s evaluation of archaeological sites and specimens.

All that being said, these programs do provide a crucial service to archaeology: public awareness.  That value cannot be overlooked.  The public is at least being made aware of archaeology, even if it is a skewed version.  Archaeologists and conservators should strive to work with these programs to insert as much actual archaeology into them as possible, while maintaining viewership and interest.  In this way we can attempt to alter the public’s interpretation of archaeology, and potentially get our values all in line: to help understand and preserve the past.

Work Cited

“Ethics Statement”, Society of Historical Archaeology (2007). http://www.sha.org/about/ethics.cfm

Hall, M.A., 2004. “Romancing the Stones: Archaeology in Popular Cinema” in European Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 7(2): 159–176.

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An Ode to Fieldwork

August 26th, 2013

An Ode to Fieldwork

Taryn Ricciardelli

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

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

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

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 Photograph 2. The Mediterranean as seen from Ashqelon

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

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

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Photograph 4. The Negev Desert

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

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

 

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

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Past as Propaganda, Part One: Nazi Artifacts in Museums

January 30th, 2013

Past as Propaganda, Part One: Nazi Artifacts in Museums

Chelsea Freeland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

 

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The Appreciation of an Artefact and the Different Lenses of Value

January 30th, 2013

The Appreciation of an Artefact and the Different Lenses of Value

Kelci Martinsen

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

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

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

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

References Cited

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

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