JAIC 1987, Volume 26, Number 2, Article 4 (pp. 105 to 120)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1987, Volume 26, Number 2, Article 4 (pp. 105 to 120)

FRIEDRICH RATHGEN: THE FATHER OF MODERN ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONSERVATION

Mark Gilberg



3 THE FORMATION OF THE CHEMICAL LABORATORY OF THE ROYAL MUSEUMS OF BERLIN

The formation of the Chemical Laboratory of the Royal Museums of Berlin and the appointment of Rathgen as its first Director were due largely to the efforts of the eminent German chemist Otto Olshausen (Rathgen 1922). In 1887 Olshausen was approached by his close friend and colleague Adolf Erman, the Director of the Egyptian Collection at the Royal Museums of Berlin, for advice with regard to what he described as the unusually rapid decay of many of the bronze and stone antiquities in the collection. Many of these antiquities had been deposited in the collection some fifty years earlier by the German archaeologist Karl Lepsius following his expedition to Egypt. Olshausen, who had previously demonstrated a keen interest in the scientific study of antiquities, recommended the establishment of a permanent position for a trained chemist who would be responsible for their care and preservation. For this position Olshausen sought the appointment of the young chemist Friedrich Rathgen, to whom he had been introduced several years earlier. With the approval of the museum authorities, on April 1, 1888, Rathgen was appointed “chemist-incharge,” a position he held for some forty years.

A similar chemical laboratory under the direction of Alexander Scott, Plenderleith's predecessor, was not established at the British Museum until some thirty-four years later in 1919 (Scott, 1922).


Copyright 1987 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works