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  Managing Archeological Collections Curation in the Field and Lab Distance Learning

Laboratory conservation and management

(photo) Lab technician inserting ethafoam supports in baskets.
Lab technician inserting ethafoam supports in baskets. Photo courtesy of the Art Conservation Center @ Univ. of Denver (formerly RMCC), Denver, CO.

After statistical sampling is complete and the contents of a collection have been determined, the material remains and associated records can be processed and conserved for the long term. The necessary activities usually include labeling, object treatment, records arrangement and rehousing, packing, and project cataloging. As has been noted, repositories often charge for this type of initial processing if they do not formally own the collection. Consequently, this work is now often being done in the project lab by the principal investigator and his/her staff rather than at the repository.

Conservation in the lab follows many of the same principles as conservation in the field. The treatments, however, are often more complex and geared towards active stabilization. Therefore, it is wise to seek advice from a professional conservator familiar with archeological material remains before beginning any treatment. Some key principles of lab conservation are:

  • The less done the better. Handle objects and associated records as little as possible. Minimize the use of treatments and interventive materials. Every effort must be made to use treatments that are reversible or as nearly so as possible.
  • Always think about the tools being used to process and conserve objects. Can they damage the object in any way?
  • Do not use any treatments that may contaminate an object used for scientific analysis. If it is likely that future analyses will be conducted, retain a sizable, untouched sample.
  • All conservation treatments should be reversible over the long term. Glues or consolidants should be stable and removable without any negative effects to the object and its constituent materials. Acids that remove concretions or additions of foreign material always permanently alter the object.
  • Use only treatment materials that have been tested by professional conservators over time and their aging properties are well known.
  • All treatments must be fully documented, especially materials used (i.e., percentage of solution, type of acid, etc.). This information is very important for future conservators and researchers.
  • Treatment records need to become part of the permanent record of the project.
  • Treatments often use chemicals that must be properly and carefully transported, stored, and disposed. It is essential to properly train staff in the use of such chemicals.
  • Be aware of potential health and safety risks involved in all treatment work and with many materials that may have acquire mold, hanta virus, etc.

After objects have been analyzed and stabilized, they should be labeled, cataloged, and then packed in containers for long-term care and management. This should be done in a manner that is consistent with the standards of the repository where the collections are to be housed. Details on packing, labeling, and cataloging of both material remains and associated records are discussed in a later section. Once these procedures have been completed, the collection is ready for long-term storage and management. Again, it is important to make sure that all procedures have been fully documented along the way. All the associated records must be given to the repository along with the collection.

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