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Research TOC

THE CONSERVATION
OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL
MATERIALS
Catherine Sease
W
hen most people go to a museum or see an exhibit, they
look at the artifacts on display. When I go to a museum, I
start by looking at the artifacts, but my attention invari-
ably wanders. I find myself looking at how the artifacts are dis-
played or assessing how well a broken pot has been restored.
While others are reading exhibit labels, I read the humidity moni-
toring equipment. I can’t help it. I am an archaeological conserva-
tor and it is an occupational hazard.
As a conservator, I am concerned with the overall preserva-
tion of the collections under my care. This means that I am
involved in all aspects of collections care and handling. How arti-
facts are stored is of as much concern to me as what materials will
be in the same exhibit case with them or whether they will travel
by truck or airplane to an institution borrowing them for study or
exhibit. I frequently use a medical analogy to describe what I do: I
am a doctor for artifacts. Just like a physician, I am concerned with
the total well-being of my patients. Unlike human patients, how-
ever, mine cannot speak for themselves. They need someone to
speak for them, someone to look out for their needs, and look at
situations solely from their point of view. That is the role of the
conservator.
Conservators are uniquely qualified to do this. In graduate
school we spend several years learning about artifacts: the mate-
rials of which they are made, how and under what conditions
they deteriorate, how to prevent deterioration from occurring,
and how to treat specific problems. We are trained to look at situ-
ations involving collections holistically, taking into consideration
all factors involved in their preservation. This is not to say that
others are not concerned with the well-being of collections, but
they come from a different perspective and the specific needs of
an artifact are not necessarily their first consideration. The con-
servator has no other agenda than what is best for the collections.
This is an awesome responsibility, and it is a crucial job. If we do
not preserve our archaeological collections, their full research
potential will not be realized and our knowledge of history will
suffer as a result. Unfortunately, research based on material cul-
ture is all too frequently hindered by artifacts too deteriorated to
be of any use.
Conservators do not work in a vacuum. It is imperative that
we work closely with archaeologists, both in the field and in the
museum. Teamwork is essential for the well-being of the artifacts;
conservators are not experts in archaeology nor are archaeologists
experts in conservation. Rather, the expertise of both is comple-
mentary and should be used together to address the central chal-

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lenge of preserving collections. It stands to reason, however, that if


conservators have an understanding of basic archaeological proce-
dures and archaeologists of conservation techniques, we will be
able to communicate better and thus form a stronger team.

PRESERVATION
VERSUS RESTORATION
Conservation consists of two main activities: preservation and
restoration. While both are important, one can frequently take on
more importance than the other, depending on the nature of the
collection involved, its specific needs, and how it is to be used.
Preservation involves stabilizing the condition of artifacts; its goal
is to prevent further deterioration or damage from taking place.
This usually involves controlling the environment around the arti-
facts, as well as how they are handled and used. There are times,
however, when stabilization requires active treatment. If the sur-
face of a pot, for example, is powdery and flaking, consolidation
may be necessary to prevent the loss not only of the surface, but of
any decoration that might be on it.
In contrast, restoration involves purposely changing the
material and structure of an artifact. Its purpose is to return an
artifact as closely as possible to its original or previous appear-
ance to make it more understandable. Restoration is usually done
for exhibit or educational purposes, to increase the interpretive
value of the artifact. Thus, sherds pieced together give the
museum visitor a better idea of what that vessel looked like than
does a mere pile of sherds. Restoration can also be done to stabi-
lize an artifact, for example, when missing portions render an
artifact too fragile for handling and study. A collection of pot-
sherds from a site in the Middle East containing water soluble
salts illustrates this distinction between preservation and restora-
tion. These salts can do considerable damage to the sherds if they
are not removed or the relative humidity in the room where the
sherds are kept is not strictly controlled. Either removing the salts
or keeping the sherds in a climate-controlled storeroom is a
preservation activity. Piecing the sherds back together to form a
vessel, however, is restoration. Both fall within the purview of
conservation.
THE CONSERVATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL MATERIALS 5

THE PHILOSOPHY
OF CONSERVATION
While the conservation of archaeological material is governed by
the same principles and procedures as for other types of collections,
its approach differs somewhat due to the nature of archaeological
collections. Artifacts are the tangible, and frequently the only,
remains of past societies. They reflect the ideas, beliefs, and activi-
ties of that society and, as such, are valuable sources of information
about human behavior and can be regarded as primary documents
of history. Even the most insignificant artifact is capable of relin-
quishing some information about its history—who made it or how
it was used. More important artifacts can give us information about
larger issues, such as technological methods and trade. Together, all
artifacts from a site form an assemblage that provides us with a pic-
ture of a group of people who lived in the past.
Most archaeological materials have been collected through
modern excavation techniques, with photographic and written
records documenting their retrieval and associations. This docu-
mentation provides context for artifacts. Without it, our informa-
tion about the artifacts would be diminished and they would lose
much of their research potential, for context is what gives artifacts
their meaning. Recently, a zooarchaeologist analyzing animal
bones from an early Iron Age tomb on Cyprus found a dozen horse
bones. Initially, these bones were thought to be intrusive, having
nothing to do with the burial itself. However, an examination of
the excavation records and artifacts produced horse blinkers indi-
cating that the horse bones were, in fact, interred as part of the bur-
ial of a royal personage. In this instance, knowing the correct con-
text of the bones demonstrated that they were a unique find among
the eight hundred tombs excavated at the site. Thus, artifacts from
a site, along with their documentation, form a valuable systematic
research collection in which the material as a whole takes on a sig-
nificance far beyond the importance of a single artifact within that
collection. The potential research and informational value of the
collection becomes of overriding importance.
Preservation, or stabilization, rather than restoration should be
the primary and ethical aim of archaeological conservation. Any
treatment should be kept to a minimum and, whenever possible,
noninvasive procedures should be used. Everything done to an arti-
6 RESEARCH FRONTIERS

fact must be carefully weighed and justified, for all conservation


treatment alters an artifact in some way. If undertaken without fore-
thought, an ill-advised treatment can mislead interpretation. I am
reminded of an excavation publication many years ago that reported
two distinct types of pottery from the site. The body of one was
dense and strong while that of the other was porous and crumbly.
Great significance was placed on the difference. Some time later, it
was discovered that the conservation treatment the pottery had
received in the field was actually responsible for the difference. The
porous sherds differed from the others only in that they had had a
calcareous temper that was dissolved away when the sherds were
cleaned with acid, leaving the fabric porous and friable.
Deciding on a treatment or course of action, then, is not as easy
or as straightforward as it might at first seem. Compromises must
almost always be made, but they must be made taking all aspects
of the artifact into consideration, including possible uses. As one
noted conservator stated, “What is gained in stability may be offset
by some undesirable change in aesthetic quality, the veiling of a
characteristic feature or the accentuation of something that is unde-
sirable.” 1 Artifacts can also be unwittingly diminished by the
removal of seemingly inconsequential material. The consequences
of this loss may not be obvious to us today, but could well turn out
to be significant to future scientists. For example, pottery has
always been washed with relative impunity. It is only with the
development of certain analytical techniques over the past few
years that we are now aware that not only do food residues exist in
vessels, but they can be identified if they are not washed away.
Respect for the integrity of an artifact also means not imposing
one’s own cultural values on it by making assumptions about how
it should look. Unfortunately, this was frequently done in the past,
when the treatment of artifacts was subject to fashion. In the 1920s
and 1930s, for example, it was the vogue for archaeological bronzes
to be green. If bronzes were not green because of corrosion, great
pains were taken to paint them to simulate corrosion and to make
them look more “antique.”
The conservator must bear in mind that the preservation of an
artifact is not necessarily restricted solely to its appearance or to
the material of which it was originally made. Any technological
information embodied in an artifact is part of the total information
that can be obtained from its study and must be preserved. It is not
uncommon to excavate artifacts that were repaired in antiquity.
These repairs may seem crude and unsightly to us today, but they
THE CONSERVATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL MATERIALS 7

are part of the history of the use of the artifacts and should not be
removed. Repair materials and techniques may indicate that the
artifact was an heirloom, repaired many years after it was made. I
always find it fascinating that some artifacts were of sufficient
value to someone in antiquity that they bothered to repair them
while others were thrown away and replaced.

ACTIVE CONSERVATION
In caring for collections, conservators, like physicians, practice both
active and passive techniques in caring for collections. Active treat-
ment is the equivalent of setting a broken bone. When a pot has lost
its structural stability through burial in the ground, it is necessary to
strengthen or consolidate it in order first to get it out of the ground
and then to enable us to handle, study, and possibly exhibit it.
Whenever we must actively treat artifacts, our work is guided by
the concept of minimum intervention. This means that any treat-
ment undertaken should never be more extensive than absolutely
necessary. Although it may sound peculiar, the best treatment is
always the least, leaving the artifact as close as possible to its origi-
nal condition.
It follows, then, that when treatment is necessary, the adhe-
sives, consolidants, and other conservation materials applied to an
artifact should be used to the least possible extent so as to alter the
artifact as little as possible. Thus, only the smallest quantities
needed to ensure the stabilization of the artifact should be used.
While the practice of minimal intervention is important in all con-
servation work, it takes on special importance when treating arti-
facts that may be used for dating or elemental analysis. We must
always bear in mind that any treatment of an artifact, including
merely cleaning it, can falsify or invalidate any future analytical
techniques. Therefore, if a sherd, for example, is to be used for ther-
moluminescence dating, it is best to leave part or all of it untreated.
Just as the archaeologist frequently leaves part of a site unexcavated
for future researchers armed with better, more effective field tech-
niques, it is wise for the conservator to leave, if not whole artifacts,
at least fragments of them untreated for future studies.
In keeping with this approach, we strive to use only conserva-
tion materials that are reversible. This means that any treatment
materials applied to an artifact, such as adhesives or consolidants,
8 RESEARCH FRONTIERS

should be removable at a later date with no damage to the artifact.


Reversibility, a principle that has long guided all conservation
work, grew out of the recognition that conservation knowledge is
constantly changing. As technology improves, we may find we
need to undo tomorrow what we did yesterday. We have come to
recognize, however, that some treatments by their very nature are
not reversible. For example, if we were to try to remove the consol-
idant from the pot mentioned above, we would not be able to get it
all out. No matter how carefully we try to remove it, traces of con-
solidant will remain. In addition, the pot would suffer considerable
damage from our efforts to try to remove the consolidant.
So reversibility, although no longer regarded as a principle,
remains a goal of conservation treatment and guides our work. It is
of particular importance in excavation work, for here the field con-
servator is frequently forced to carry out procedures under less
than ideal conditions. When the artifact gets to a lab, what was
done in the field must be undone first before it can be properly
treated. If irreversible materials are used in the field, this job
becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.

DOCUMENTATION
Documentation is an integral part of any active conservation treat-
ment that takes place. Careful records must document everything
that is done to an artifact, including justifications for action taken.
Written reports and photographs, augmented with drawings when
appropriate, should fully and accurately describe the condition of
the artifact both before and after treatment, the materials and
methods involved in the treatment, and any technological informa-
tion revealed during the course of treatment. Notation must also be
made of any tests performed on the artifact and their results, even
if inconclusive. Any material removed from an artifact, including
dirt, should also be noted. While this may seem unnecessary, the
fact that something was present could be of significance later; dirt
and other substances removed from artifacts can sometimes pro-
vide valuable clues in determining how an artifact was used or
what activities took place at the site.
Treatment records are just as important to the artifacts as the
excavation documentation. Together with the artifacts themselves,
they form an integral part of the archaeological collection. They
THE CONSERVATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL MATERIALS 9

must remain with the collection and be made accessible to archae-


ologists and conservators alike. Information in the reports could
aid future archaeological research, while treatment information
will certainly facilitate any future conservation work.

RESTORATION
While restoration is generally not an important aspect of archaeo-
logical conservation, there are times when it is appropriate. It is
usually done for exhibit purposes, to increase the interpretive value
of an artifact by restoring its missing parts. These restorations can
serve to strengthen and, thus, stabilize the artifact as well.
The approach to restoration must be in keeping with the princi-
ples that govern other forms of treatment already mentioned.
Restoration must be done as clearly and honestly as possible with a
clear distinction being made between what is original and what is
restoration. Repairs and restorations should not be hidden nor
should the artifact be made to appear to be in better condition than it
actually is. This is not to say, however, that restorations need be
obtrusive or inharmonious. Quite the contrary. When done skillfully
and sensitively, they are readily seen without being a dominant ele-
ment. We usually strive to make a restoration blend in with the orig-
inal parts of the artifact when viewed from a distance of ten feet or
so. On closer inspection, however, they must be readily apparent.
When restoring artifacts, we must be careful not to impose our
own aesthetics, cultural values, or interpretations on them, as in
the case of painting bronzes green. Assumptions should not be
made about how an artifact looked. Missing elements must not be
added unless unequivocal evidence exists of what the shape
should be and where it should be placed. Neither should we guess
at decoration. If half of a painted design is missing on a bowl, there
is no way we can know the artist’s intent and accurately recon-
struct the picture. In this instance, the only thing we can do is
restore the shape of the missing area, but either leave the restora-
tion uncolored or paint it a solid color that blends in with the origi-
nal parts of the bowl. Even when the decorative scheme is repeti-
tive or symmetrical, we must have clear evidence to support its
restoration. Certainly, when the scheme is asymmetrical, it cannot
be restored. The same holds true for an artifact that is part of a
group; we cannot assume that it was exactly like the others in
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shape, surface texture, or decoration. We can only restore that for


which we have definite evidence.
Two silver lyres from Ur (an early city in Mesopotamia) illus-
trate how inappropriate restorations can lead archaeologists into
drawing wrong conclusions about artifacts. These lyres are the
only two with boat-shaped soundboxes and, from the early 1930s
until a few years ago, archaeologists were convinced that they
were unique. It turns out, however, that they were incorrectly
restored. The British Museum lyre was actually parts of two
soundboxes mistakenly put together to form one, while the lyre at
the University of Pennsylvania’s University Museum was restored
to look like the British one. Because the two making up the British
lyre were found squashed together in a burial, it was assumed that
there was only one instrument. As no one had ever seen anything
like it before, they didn’t know what the lyre had looked like and,
therefore, had guessed at the restoration. Given the circumstances
of burial and the rudimentary state of conservation at the time, the
erroneous restoration was not altogether unreasonable. It wasn’t
until recently, some sixty years later, that conservators at both
institutions, using careful examination and modern analytical tech-
niques, discovered the mistaken restorations. The problem with
such restorations, of course, is that erroneous information is per-
petuated in the literature and becomes very hard to correct.

PREVENTIVE CONSERVATION
Over the past decade, we have become much more conservative in
the treatment of artifacts. We have come to rely more heavily on
passive, or preventive, treatment. Preventive conservation is based
on the premise that deterioration can be reduced greatly by con-
trolling its causes. Thus, if we prevent damage from occurring by
removing the causes of deterioration, we will not need to treat arti-
facts using invasive techniques. Again, the medical analogy is a
good one. By taking care of yourself, eating right, and having regu-
lar check-ups, you are less likely to develop conditions that require
intrusive procedures, such as taking medications or having
surgery. Similarly, through proper handling, collection mainte-
nance, and controlling the environment in which collections are
stored, studied, and exhibited, we can achieve the stabilization of
large assemblages of archaeological material. Preventive conserva-
THE CONSERVATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL MATERIALS 11

tion, then, puts the emphasis of preservation on the collection as a


whole rather than on any single artifact within the collection.
Preventive conservation, by its very nature, enables us to care bet-
ter for large numbers of artifacts at the same time, frequently an
important consideration when caring for many archaeological
assemblages. Active treatment is labor intensive and, given the lack
of conservators in museums, only small numbers of artifacts can be
treated actively or invasively. By concentrating on providing the
appropriate overall conditions for artifacts, however, whole store-
rooms of artifacts can be treated at the same time. Thus, preventive
treatment is much more time and cost effective, particularly where
large collections are involved.
So in practicing preventive conservation, we are concerned
with removing as many of the causes of deterioration as possible.
Probably the greatest amount of damage to artifacts comes from
improper or careless handling. Ironically, this is the most unneces-
sary damage that can occur. Thus, conservators have developed
procedures and guidelines for all activities involving artifacts:
proper ways of picking up and transporting them, putting numbers
on them, and mounting them in exhibit cases, to name a few. While
many of these procedures might seem fairly fundamental and obvi-
ous, it is astounding how frequently people who should know bet-
ter take unnecessary risks when handling artifacts.
The majority of archaeological materials, especially sherds, do
not have much exhibit value and will spend most of their existence
in storage. As this storage is usually permanent, we spend consider-
able time and effort overseeing the preparation of artifacts for stor-
age. We make sure that artifacts are appropriately padded and sup-
ported so that they will not suffer physical damage while in storage.
Decisions must be made about which materials can be packed
together in groups and which artifacts should be individually
housed. How do you store large assemblages of lithics (artifacts
made of stone), for example? Ideally, each should be individually
housed, but this is hardly practical. If you store them in groups in
boxes, how do you prevent them from rubbing against and abrad-
ing each other, possibly ruining their surfaces for future studies of
wear? How can hundreds of bags of sherds be stored to take up as
little space as possible? If packed efficiently into boxes, how do you
prevent them from being crushed under their own weight? These
are some of the questions we deal with on a daily basis.
Conservators are also involved with exhibit work, for exhibits
can be regarded as a form of storage. When artifacts are used for
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exhibit, it is the role of the conservator to make sure that the secu-
rity and well-being of the artifact is not sacrificed for aesthetic
effect. Mounting hardware must be designed that is compatible
with the artifact yet provides adequate support. While we do not
generally make mounts, we must advise the mountmaker, commu-
nicating the needs of the artifacts. For example, insufficient sup-
port means poor distribution of the artifact’s weight, which can
lead to warping and breakage, while hard abrasive mount hard-
ware can permanently disfigure the surface of an artifact.
Controlling the environment in which artifacts are housed is
an important part of preventive treatment, but it is also the most
difficult to achieve. We are concerned with the levels of relative
humidity, light, and pollution, all of which can be extremely dam-
aging to artifacts.
Relative humidity can adversely affect all types of material.
High levels of relative humidity can cause metals to corrode, while
low levels allow artifacts made of organic materials to dry out.
Fluctuating levels of relative humidity can be particularly damag-
ing to artifacts containing water soluble salts. These salts go in and
out of solution in response to changes in the relative humidity. As
the salts take up a larger volume in the solid state than in solution,
the constant cycling in and out of solution causes the salts to exert
mechanical pressure against the surface of the artifact, literally
pushing it off.
Light, on the other hand, generally damages only organic
materials. As light damage is restricted to those areas that it
touches, initially it is superficial in nature, taking the form of fad-
ing or bleaching. If allowed to continue, however, it will eventually
result in serious structural damage to the artifact.
The idea of pollution affecting artifacts may seem a bit far
fetched, but, in fact, it is a grave reality. The pollution generally
comes from the very materials meant to protect artifacts, the pack-
ing materials used to house them. Thus, we are adamant in insisting
that only inert, stable materials are used for packing and housing
artifacts. Materials known to emit harmful vapors are avoided.
These include the woods and paints used to make shelving and
drawers as well as the plastic bags, cardboard boxes, tissue paper,
and foams that come in contact with the artifacts, and also the mate-
rials used in making and furnishing exhibit cases. Any harmful
vapors emitted by these materials can be especially damaging as
they are held in a small enclosed space with the artifacts and cannot
dissipate. I recently had to treat some Roman bowls, spoons, and
THE CONSERVATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL MATERIALS 13

vases made out of silver that were badly corroded by sulphur emit-
ted by the rubber gaskets in the case in which they were displayed.
They suffered from a virulent form of sulphur attack that has left
their surfaces permanently pitted and defaced. Had inert gasketing
been used, this damage would have been avoided.
I think one can see that preventive conservation by its very
nature is a long-term commitment, the key to which is careful and
constant vigilance. Artifacts as well as environmental conditions
must be monitored consistently and regularly to enable remedial
action to be taken as soon as possible when the need arises.

INVESTIGATIVE WORK
While archaeological conservators spend much of their time car-
ing for collections, we also do detective work that can play a sig-
nificant role in the study of artifacts. If active and passive treat-
ment are the meat and potatoes of what we do, then
investigational work is the gravy, at least for me. Investigative
work does not entitle us to interpret artifacts; this is the domain of
the archaeologist. However, we can bring an important perspec-
tive to this process and should participate in it. We can also assist
the archaeologist with important research questions, such as those
concerning technology, provenience, and authenticity. Again, our
training makes us uniquely qualified to do this.
Examination is one of the skills we learn early on in our train-
ing. It is just as important an aspect of archaeological conservation
as stabilization and restoration. Examination can be regarded as a
form of investigative work that over time enables us to develop a
familiarity with and understanding of materials and the technol-
ogy involved in the fabrication of artifacts. Examination is the pri-
mary means by which archaeological conservators systematically
extract information from artifacts that helps answer questions
about technology, provenience, and authenticity.
Work I did a few years ago illustrates this point nicely. The col-
lections of the Field Museum in Chicago include a famous copper
alloy rein-ring from the Mesopotamian site of Kish. When first
excavated in 1928, the animal atop the ring was identified as a
Mesopotamian fallow deer. A famous paleontologist, however,
later interpreted the figure as a likeness of an extinct fossil giraffe
called Sivatherium. His theory, based on two small structures on the
14 RESEARCH FRONTIERS

forehead of the animal and the lack of antlers, was widely accepted
by scholars up to the present day. Acceptance meant that this ani-
mal lived at the same time as the people of ancient Mesopotamia
(ca. 2700 B.C.), considerably more recently than previously thought.
A few years ago, a zooarchaeologist studying the rein-ring strongly
doubted the Sivatherium theory. He brought the ring to me, along
with a box of copper alloy fragments from the site, and asked if I
could make any sense out of all the pieces. It did not take long to
recognize antlers in two knobbly pieces. By carefully examining
the head of the animal, it was not difficult to find where they had
broken off the animal’s head. Once re-adhered, it became obvious
that the animal was indeed the more likely Mesopotamian fallow
deer, and a peculiar anomaly was laid to rest.
Our training in materials science has taught us about the struc-
ture of materials and how they deteriorate. Over time, we gain con-
siderable experience in looking at a variety of materials and arti-
facts from different time periods and locations. This experience,
along with our knowledge of materials science, helps us to recog-
nize and identify the materials of which artifacts are made. Our
training in chemistry and analytical techniques enables us to carry
out simple tests to verify our identifications. A recent nondestruc-
tive study of ivory artifacts from Bronze Age Greece used the
researcher’s familiarity and knowledge of morphological character-
istics of different kinds of ivory, along with careful examination of
artifacts, to identify much of the material as being hippopotamus
ivory. Previously, most Aegean Bronze Age ivory artifacts were
thought to have been made only from elephant ivory. This impor-
tant work has led to a reappraisal of Aegean ivories, which has
provided a better understanding of Bronze Age ivory-working as
well as the larger issue of trade.2
On many sites, burial conditions are not conducive to the
preservation of organic materials, such as seeds, leaves, leather, or
wood. Evidence of these materials is preserved more often than
you might think, however, if you know what to look for and
where to search for it. If a piece of wood, for example, is buried
next to a metal artifact, part or all of it may be preserved by or in
the corrosion products of that artifact. The corrosion products
either preserve the wood by acting as a biocide, preventing it from
deteriorating, or by replacing the wood as it disintegrates, forming
an exact replica called a pseudomorph. I once cleaned an Anglo-
Saxon iron sword that was heavily corroded. As I examined and
cleaned the blade, I uncovered preserved bits of wood from the
THE CONSERVATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL MATERIALS 15

scabbard and pseudomorphs of the fleece that once lined the scab-
bard. Always on the lookout for such evidence when cleaning
metal artifacts, I was able to recognize this evidence, document it
carefully, and preserve it. Had the sword been cleaned by an inex-
perienced person, especially with chemicals, this information
would certainly have been lost without anyone ever knowing it
had been there.
Identifying freshly excavated materials in the field can be a
much more difficult task than working in a laboratory. I am
reminded of a field season on Crete several years ago where the
excavators sent up a bag of sherds labeled “fineware.” They were
sent directly to me, bypassing the sherd-cleaning women, as they
were unusual for the trench in which they were found. In cleaning
them, I quickly realized that they were not pottery. Closer exami-
nation, along with having seen the material before, enabled me to
identify the pieces as fragments of imported ostrich eggshell.
Our training has also made us knowledgeable about ancient
fabrication techniques. I don’t know a single archaeological conser-
vator who is not fascinated by how artifacts are made. I personally
get extraordinary pleasure out of cleaning a freshly excavated arti-
fact. To be the first person in thousands of years to carefully exam-
ine it, to reveal fingerprints of the potter in the clay or the metal-
smith’s file marks in the bronze, is tremendously exciting. With our
specialized training, we are in the unique position of being able to
reveal such information about artifacts that might otherwise be
missed.

CONCLUSION
I think one can see that the discipline of conservation is an integral
part of archaeology. Through its various procedures and functions,
it can make major contributions to the study of archaeological
material and our understanding of the past. Our preservation
activities help to prolong the life of archaeological collections and
ensure that they will be around for future generations of
researchers, undoubtedly equipped with better, more sophisticated
means of extracting information from artifacts. Without our inves-
tigative work, much information would never be recovered from
artifacts, and worse, would be lost without anyone ever knowing
that it had been there.
16 RESEARCH FRONTIERS

NOTES
1. Harold J. Plenderleith, “Preservation and Conservation:
Introductory Statement,” in S. Timmons, ed., Preservation and
Conservation: Principles and Practices (Washington: Preservation
Press, 1976), p. xx.
2. Olga H. Krzyszkowska, “Ivory in the Aegean Bronze Age:
Elephant Tusk or Hippopotamus Ivory?” The Annual of the British
School of Archaeology at Athens 83 (1988): 209–234.

SUGGESTED READINGS
Bleed, Peter, and Robert Nickel. “Optimal Management of
Archaeological Collections.” Curator 32 (1989): 26–33. A brief dis-
cussion of some of the issues involved in the care of archaeological
materials.
Freed, Stanley A. “Research Pitfalls as a Result of the Restoration of
Museum Specimens.” In A. Cantwell, J. B. Griffin, and N. A.
Rothschild, eds. The Research Potential of Anthropological Museum
Collections. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1981, pp.
229–245. A profusely illustrated discussion of how restorations
can be misleading.
Oddy, Andrew. “Introduction.” In Andrew Oddy, ed. The Art of the
Conservator. London: British Museum Press/Washington:
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992, pp. 7–27. A good general dis-
cussion about the issues and ethics involved in conservation work.
Sease, Catherine. A Conservation Manual for the Field Archaeologist, 3rd
ed. Los Angeles: UCLA Institute of Archeology, 1994. A manual
designed to aid the archaeologist in retrieving artifacts safely from
the ground.
Ward, Philip. The Nature of Conservation—A Race against Time. Marina
del Rey, CA: The Getty Conservation Institute, 1986). A brief, gen-
eral discussion of what conservation entails, including the differ-
ences between preservation and restoration, the various roles of
the conservator, and conservation training.
Webster, Laurie, “Altered States: Documenting Changes in
Anthropology Research Collections.” Curator 33 (1990): 130–160. A
good discussion about how conservation and collection care pro-
cedures can affect the research potential of artifacts.

Research TOC