JAIC 1986, Volume 25, Number 1, Article 1 (pp. 01 to 13)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1986, Volume 25, Number 1, Article 1 (pp. 01 to 13)


Ann Boulton


IF THE USE OF THE PESTICIDES had been documented, perhaps further information could have been obtained regarding the use of gunpowder as a pigment. This is yet another example of the great importance of documentation of any treatment. Large segments of the museum's collection probably have been contaminated by pesticides, although fortunately not all materials are as adsorbent as charcoal. Ethnographic treatments are designed specifically to avoid contamination of objects in case analysis of those objects should need to be performed, and this example illustrates the importance of that ethic. Interpretation of analytical data from ethnographic specimens should be made with pesticide contamination in mind. Further investigation and analysis should be done in this area. The health hazards of working with materials thus contaminated are not to be taken lightly.

There is a need for the development of hair identification keys to be developed which are useful to conservators. Most keys which exist are meant for use by biologists or wildlife enforcement personnel and usually assume certain information which is unavailable to the conservator, such as size and feeding habits, location of the fur on the animal, etc. Without these facts the flow charts of existing keys often cannot be followed. Brown's “Microscopy of Mammalian Hair for Anthropologists,” the only key found which is intended for artifacts, is not useful as a flow chart because it is restricted to carnivorous animals. There is nothing particularly distinctive about carnivore hair which sets it apart from that of herbivores as a group. The only way to categorize animal hair in key form which makes any practical sense is by geographic area. Usually, though not always, this information is known to the conservator. Another objection from the conservator's point of view is that, in order to use these keys, sampling of a number of hairs is necessary. This is not to say that these publications are not of some value; both the descriptions and photomicrographs can be of limited help.

It is the author's opinion that a key could be created for hair of the arctic from observations made in reflected light at magnifications below 40x which could make distinctions, for example, between groups such as caribou and seal. The obvious advantage to such a key is that sampling would no longer be necessary; the hair could be examined in situ. Identification of specific species, of course, could be accomplished through use of polarized light, higher magnification and scale casts. However, such distinctions may be of greater interest to biologists than conservators. As mentioned above, scale casts are of no value if the hair is worn or otherwise deteriorated, as is often the case with older anthropological materials. Color is also an unreliable criterion because of the possibility of changes caused by light, tanning chemicals and pesticides. In addition, tremendous color variation occurs in some species. The ideal key for the conservator should avoid using information obtained from these sources as much as possible. As with any attempt at materials identification, a reference collection of known samples is the most indispensable tool.


THE AUTHOR WOULD LIKE TO THANK Carolyn Rose, Michele Austin, Edith Dietze, Donna Strahan and Cathy Valentour of the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory, NMNH, for their assistance and support; Frank Greenwell and Catharine Hawks of the Division of Mammals, NMNH, for access to the mammals collection and information on mammal specimen contamination; Dr. Alfred Gardner of the Department of Interior, for assistance in hair identification; Walter Brown of the SEM Laboratory, NMNH, for pigment analysis; and Martin Burke of the Division of Conservation, National Museum of American History, for providing gunpowder samples. This project could not have been done without their help. The author also gratefully acknowledges financial support for the internship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through a fellowship awarded by the Art Conservation Department, SUCB.

Copyright 1986 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works