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Unraveling a Mystery

March 23rd, 2015
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Unraveling a Mystery

 Kristi Brantley

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

2012_white_map_01.small

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

Technical Research Bulletin. 6: 47-54.

 

British Museum Collection Database.  “1906,0509.1.3” www.britishmuseum.org/collection

British Museum. Accessed 18/02/2015.

 

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

Foundation. Last modified May 3, 2012. http://www.firstcolonyfoundation.org/news/2012_white_map.aspx

 

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

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

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Missing Artwork

March 23rd, 2015
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Missing Artwork

James Kinsella

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

Marchesano, L. “An Art Historian’s Perspective.” National Archives and Records Administration. Revised June 24, 1999. Accessed February 18, 2015. http://www.archives.gov/research/holocaust/articles-and-papers/symposium-papers/an-art-historians-perspective.html.

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Patience is a virtue when Conservation is the goal: “The Ozette Village”

February 26th, 2015
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Patience is a virtue when Conservation is the goal: “The Ozette Village”

Lori Kay Gross

          As archaeologists we have all learned the delicate and deliberate methods of excavation, recovery and cataloging of artifacts. Time limitations, Mother Nature and funding often dictate the methods of excavation creating a dilemma between archaeologists and conservators.   The Ozette Village is an example where conservators and archaeologists worked as a team to preserve one of the most extensive collections of artifacts through careful excavation utilizing unusual yet appropriate methods to ensure maximum preservation in a challenging environment.

The Pacific Northwest is rich in archaeological discoveries. Among these discoveries is a particularly interesting archaeological site located on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. This site, nestled on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, represents one of the most important North American archaeological sites. The significance of this site is demonstrated by the large number of artifacts recovered their unprecedented preservation and is often referred to as ‘A North American Pompeii’ (Steury 2008). This site is called ‘The Ozette Village’.

This Makah Indian fishing village, occupied from the Middle Pacific to the Early Modern time, was buried by a mud slide in the mid 1700’s, preserving the site and its artifacts nearly unaltered. In the late 1960’s, during a survey of the entire Pacific Coast of Washington, Ozette was identified as an important site by Richard D. Daugherty when he performed a test trench survey revealing radio carbon dating data correlating to approximately 2,000 years ago. He encountered well preserved artifacts which supported its significance but without funding the excavation did not continue. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s, after a series of storms battered the coast that large portions of this ancient village began to emerge (Kirk 2007). The exposure of well-preserved artifacts reignited the interest in saving this important archaeological find and with the support of the modern day Makah Indians and the Washington Archaeological Research Center excavation began (Steury 2008).

Geological evidence and historical records indicate that the most probable cause of the massive mud slide was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that dislodged a water saturated hill above the village. Although devastating, the composition of the soil contained large amounts of oxygen free clay combined with the water. Excavation findings confirm that these conditions created an up to 10-foot thick clay covering that aided in the preservation of the predominately wooden artifacts. Excavation would require the use of water to continue the careful exposure of the artifacts from the clay and for transportation and final conservation (Daugherty 1977).

Getting the delicate artifacts out of the slide in the first place provided the initial challenge. Most of the wet site was excavated hydraulically. The Ozette archaeologists pumped seawater at various pressures for different stages of excavation. Initial clearing was with high pressure. Once artifacts started to show, lower-pressure garden hoses were used to clean and remove the artifacts. At the end of a nearly eleven year excavation, the artifact inventory exceeded 50,000 items including wooden structural remains, harpoon shafts, hooks, canoe paddles, wooden bowls, whale bones, whetstones, woven baskets and mats (Daugherty 1977).

 

 

Whale Bone Club 2

 

Wood and Whale Bone Fishing Hook

 Photos courtesy of www.makahmuseum.com

 

Many of the artifacts recovered from Ozette are much the same as they were when they were buried. Once they’re exposed to oxygen, however, they begin to get brittle and disintegrate. So everything that came out of the excavation immediately went into a preservative bath of polyethylene glycol which forces the water out, solidifies it and begins the conservation process (Steury 2008).

In reviewing the process and procedures that Richard D. Daugherty followed from his first knowledge of the Ozette village in 1947 through the nearly 40 years of investigation, research and excavation his involvement reveals a very ethical and conscientious archaeologist. Even when faced with this exciting discovery Daugherty knew that disturbing the site before procuring the necessary support could result in artifact decomposition upon exposure.   Although it was certain that this location was rich in artifacts and history his complete evaluation of the site and advanced preparation to ensure the safe and effective recovery was inspiring.

As unique as the Ozette excavation was it also stands apart in that no artifacts from the site left the Makah reservation. Everything discovered is either displayed in the cultural center or stored in a state-of-the-art storage warehouse. The museum is expertly curated and the artifacts are mesmerizing. This is the result of Daugherty’s collaboration with the members of the Makah Nation and his belief that the excavation work should be accessible to the public to participate in the revealing of the collective history of the Ozette Village (Steury 2008).

References

Daugherty, Richard D. The Ozette Archaeological Expedition: A Cooperative Project of Makah Nation, Washington State University, National Park Service, National Science Foundation, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Washington (State): S.n., 1977-. Print.

 

Steury, Tim. “The Home of My Family: Ozette, the Makah’s and Doc Daugherty.” Washington State Magazine (2008): 1-8. Abstract. Print.

 

Kirk, Ruth, and Richard D. Daugherty. Archaeology in Washington. Seattle: University of Washington, 2007. Print.

 

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What’s it Worth Part 2: Monetary Value

February 26th, 2015
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What’s it Worth Part 2: Monetary Value

William Fleming

In my last post, I breached the topic of the values placed on objects, and I introduced three main types: monetary, cultural, and personal. As part of a continuing series, I will present each of these values in more detail, and I’d like to begin this week with the monetary value.

When someone asks another person what an object is worth, more often than not they mean the monetary value of the object. While it is certainly true that every object can probably be assigned a monetary value, based on a number of defining factors (which are readily available online), most professional conservators and archaeologists will refuse to place a price tag on an artifact. To do so would be to doom one’s reputation among professional and amateur archaeologists (Hranicky 2014:6). On top of that, the Society for Historical Archaeology, one of the leading professional organizations for archaeologists, definitively states that it is unethical for archaeologists to establish any “commercial” value for archaeological artifacts, or to trade, sell, buy, or barter artifacts as commercial goods (SHA 2007). Any persons who do engage in such activities are appropriately deemed treasure hunters, and regrettably, any artifacts acquired illicitly by such outfits are essentially blacklisted (along with those who acquired them and anyone who attempts to help) from conservation. Despite the stigma, it is still important to understand the monetary value behind an object, as money is typically the driving force of society, and artifacts are the physical manifestation of any given society.

In general, the monetary value of an artifact will be highest immediately after its creation, and will decrease over time until it has outlived its usefulness. However, some artifacts reach a point at which their monetary value begins to increase once again. Generally, this takes several decades or generations, and depends upon several other factors as well. For example, older artifacts that are well preserved are considered to be worth more money, and collectors will be willing to pay greater sums to acquire them. Similarly, as the number of a certain type of artifact decreases over time, the rarity increases, and therefore the value does as well; an artifact can fetch a king’s ransom regardless of its condition if it’s the final known example, or a unique work, such as those of artists.

Fleming Blog 2 image

This one-of-a-kind 18th century Florentine ebony chest, known as the Badminton

Cabinet sold for $36 million in 2004, the most expensive piece of furniture ever auctioned.

Source: Time Magazine

 

Whether an artifact has a distinct price tag or not as far as being an artifact in and of itself is concerned, the monetary value of the artifact must also be considered for one other important reason: conservation. As unfortunate as the reality is, not every artifact can be conserved. Therefore, several criteria must go into the selection of worthy artifacts, and several agencies consider the most “expensive” items worth conserving over those which may hold more cultural or informational value (Appelbaum 1994:185-191). Not only that, but artifacts can sometimes only be acquired through purchase, and afterwards continue to cost money to the conservator due to the necessary routine maintenance. It is tempting, then, to consider it necessary to appraise an artifact so that its conservation worth can be assessed, however it is important to keep in mind that the artifact itself is not being appraised, but the time and effort of the conservator assigned to preserve the artifact.

Monetary value is typically the first and foremost thing that comes to mind when someone wants to know the value of an object, especially to the general public. Trained archaeologists, however, understand that there are more important values in artifacts, and will refrain from placing a price tag on any artifacts brought to them. Next time, I will look at the cultural value of artifacts and how that has an impact on their conservation.

 

References

Appelbaum, B. (1994). Criteria for treatment of collections housed in historic structures. In

Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 33(2):185-191.

 

Hranicky, J. (2014). North American Projectile Points . Bloomington, Indiana. AuthorHouse.

Society for Historical Archaeology. (2007). Ethics statement.

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

 

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

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

Lori K. Gross

 

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

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

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

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

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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).

E

 

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

 

 References

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

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

Image credits: Daily Herald, Stuff.co.nz

 

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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.

 

References

Al-Mahmoud, Husam. “King Tut’s Death Mask Glued Together in Botched Repair.” Alaraby. January 22, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2015. http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/features/69173f9e-ffe8-488e-bcdf-d9f677fcc53b.

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

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/how-tourism-cursed-tomb-of-king-tut-8280603.html.

Cascone, Sarah. “King Tut Damaged in Botched Repair Attempt.” January 22, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2015. http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/01/2http://news.artnet.com/art-world/king-tut-damaged-in-botched-repair-attempt-2294042/beard-of-egypts-king-tut-hastily-glued-back-on-with-epoxy?page=2.

“Conservation and Management of the Tomb of Tutankhamen.” Conservation and Management of the Tomb of Tutankhamen. March 1, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2015. http://www.getty.edu/conservation/our_projects/field_projects/tut/presentation.html.

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

https://www.campbellsci.com/king-tut-tomb-monitoring.

 

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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

Conservation actions:

  • Facing: applying a solid support to the surface of an object for the purposes of providing strength for lifting or manipulating it

General locations:

  • Pronounced: visible in numerous places
  • in situ: found in place, as originally designed
  • Interior/exterior
  • Obverse/Reverse

Shapes:

  • round
  • flat
  • square
  • rectangular
  • bulbous

Surface Features/Decorations:

  • convex (curving outwards, bulging)
  • concave (curving inwards, dip)
  • 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
  • Relief: decoration stands out on surface, (high-relief: higher than surface, bas-relief: lower than surface)

Condition:

 

If something is flaking/detaching:

  • “structurally unstable”
  • Crack: separation of two sides that were originally a whole piece
  • Cohesive: stuck together as originally intended, uniform

If something is broken:

  • Dislodged: not in the original position, but still attached
  • Fractured: damaged by being split, but still attached
  • Fragmented: detached and in pieces
  • “loss of surface”/”surface loss”

 

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?

 

Not sure?

  • “appears to be”
  • “possibly”

 

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

http://www.museumtextiles.com/uploads/7/8/9/0/7890082/sample_condition_report.pdf

http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabularies/aat/

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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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