JAIC 1987, Volume 26, Number 2, Article 3 (pp. 85 to 104)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1987, Volume 26, Number 2, Article 3 (pp. 85 to 104)


Niccolo Leo Caldararo

ABSTRACT—The article provides a survey of the historical development of preservation practice in archaeology and anthropology, with reference to both techniques and philosophy. The primary focus is placed on the evolution of a body of knowledge through the literature and the rise of scientific methods and specialization. The article includes a substantial historical bibliography.


This paper will discuss briefly some of the historical origins of conservation in archaeology and anthropology; it will, however, focus mainly on archaeology. Although conservation treatments applied by conservators and restorers in general to archaeological and anthropological artifacts have not developed separately from conservation efforts in anthropology and archaeology, they generally represent two different trends of thought and practice which have influenced each other.

The earliest restorations were done in the classical workshops of craftsmen and artists of every great civilization. For example, Ku-Szu-Ksieh (Van Gulik, 1958) described methods of repair for paper scrolls in fifth-century A.D. China. The transition from these origins to the modern professional concept of conservation is of particular interest to the field of archaeological and anthropological conservation. Nevertheless, the roots of scientific conservation were traced by Gettens (1974) only to the Rome Conference of 1930, sponsored by the League of Nations. Santucci (1963), however, began his history with chemical experiments by Chaptal on restorative methods for paper, parchment, and papyrus reported in 1787, and the 1809 report, also by Chaptal, on ancient pigments; Christoforno Marino's nineteenth-century work on the restoration of faded writing on parchment (Gallo, 1951); and Piaggi and Davy's experiments with unrolling papyrus from Herculaneum (Bennett 1806; Davy, 1821).

The tragedies which befell antiquities found in Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Stabia at the hands of restorers certainly influenced the scholars and scientists of the period of their discovery (Winckelman, 1771).1 The desire to see objects in their original condition, unaltered by additions, and to detect fakes led to scientific procedures. This desire, along with the need to establish provenance of manufacture and to develop systematic criteria to resolve questions of the objects' materials and techniques led to the introduction of the chemical analysis of ancient objects first published2 by M. H. Klaproth in 1798 (Goffer, 1980).

Analysis of excavated metals, chiefly bronzes, advanced rapidly between 1800 and 1875 with the publication of twenty-five papers by 1850 and many more by 1875 (Caley, 1951). One student of conservation history credits archaeological research with establishing the philosophy of preserving original creations and ending the restorative destruction of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries (Hulmer, 1955:72). Whether this philosophy can be credited with a similar change in attitude toward archival materials, books, maps, etc., is unclear, nevertheless the impetus toward the preservation of such materials also appeared at this time.

Scientific studies on the effects of gas lights on leather bindings were made by Faraday in 1843, by G. Davis in 1877, and by C. Woodward in 1888. The first attempts to apply practical experience and scientific knowledge in restoration were published by Bonnardot in 1846 and 1858. The application of techniques from various disciplines and communication between scholars and scientists on preservation problems were pioneered by Cardinal Ehrle, keeper of the Vatican Library and promoter of the International Conference of St. Gallo on preservation of archival materials in 1898 (Santucci, 1963:40).

The St. Gallo Conference was held at the same time that the first report of the Committee on the Deterioration of Paper appeared in London. It was followed by the Archivists' Conference in Dresden in 1899, the International Congress of Libraries in Paris in 1900, and the establishment of a scientific committee for the study of the decay of leather bookbindings by the London Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce in 1900. A similar committee was created in Germany in 1911, and the foundation of the restoration laboratory of the Rome Archivio Centrale dello Stato occurred the same year.


Especially important were discussions and cooperative efforts which resulted from the Cairo (1937), Athens (1931), and Madrid (1934) conferences of scientists and scholars and representatives of the international museums sponsored by the International Museums Office of the League of Nations (IMO, 1949), which established the necessity for close inter-relations between excavation and museum work. Much of this work is being investigated anew today with special focus on ancillary problems to ensure the proper care of artifacts, such as cataloguing, documentation and reporting (cf. King, et al. in Curator, 21/1, 1980), site or field conservation, and selection of criteria for collecting and storage (McGimsey and Davis, 1977; Grosso, 1978; Adamson, 1979; Lindsay Jr., 1979). Standards for proper treatment, including documentation, in the field and the laboratory can increase the percentage of artifacts successfully retrieved and susceptible to productive long-term study (Feilden, 1979:34; 1982). The need in practice for such proper care has been reiterated for several years by various authors (Ford, 1977; Marquardt, et al., 1977; Frere, et al., 1978; Davies, 1978; Christenson, 1980; Lindsay Jr., 1979; Bourque, Brooke, Kelly and Morris, 1980; Stanley-Price, 19843

Of course, the recovery of artifacts was of primary importance in the early phases of the history of archaeology. What was called excavation often resulted in not only the loss of critical data on the relationship between the object and stratigraphy but also the mass destruction of sites by a whole scale removal as well as the loss of large numbers ofobjects by theft, inadequate supervision and poor recovery techniques. This was often due to a lack of understanding of the relationship between the object and its environment but more often due to the disorder inherent in much if not most archaeological work in the nineteenth century (Hole & Heizer, 1965; Wheeler, 1954). The development of conservation techniques in archaeology has seen as uneven an evolution as has the excavation report (Caldararo, 1984) and in many ways suffers the same vagaries in application due to lack of priority and a lack of funding.

The Lindsay study (1979:127–30) found that the care of collections was at best a secondary consideration in the process of archaeological collection. Storage and conservation were seldom addressed in reports and when they were they reflected a considerable diversity of treatment. The report in general found a lack of commitment to care of collections and proper storage and especially to the conservation of collections. This lack of concern, however, may be a result of a lack of funding as well as access to information. In a survey of thirty-seven course offerings by anthropology departments in American colleges and universities, conservation or preservation was mentioned in only fifteen course descriptions from ten institutions.4


The specifics of a history of archaeological and anthropological conservation remain vague and only fitfully illuminated in the literature. Although some archaeologists have written notes on the conservation and restoration techniques which they applied in the field and laboratory, the great majority have not. Fewer still have included these notes in their reports. One of the few sources of such information is the Society for American Archaeology Notebook (SAA-N). This informal publication issued from 1939 to late 1942 provided a forum for archaeologists to describe new treatments in the field and museum lab and to ponder common problems. Museum Work, published by the American Association of Museums, Curator, and Museum News in America, and the Museums Journal in England, have provided a similar outlet for archaeologists and anthropologists in museum settings. In 1933 the Fogg Museum began the publication of a periodical of a scientific approach as applied to art and archaeology, Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts.

Of the publications pertaining to artifact conservation, it is remarkable to note the similarity in organization and subjects covered they reveal on comparison. Some similarity is due to the nature of the objects studied. From Rathgen (1905) to Dowman (1970) knowledge of the environment, soil conditions, changes in conditions which an object would go through, and an awareness of the limitations of the available materials for treatment have been a consistent thread.

The first two works5 detailing the use of scientific techniques applied to the restoration and conservation of artifacts appeared in Germany just before the turn of the twentieth century. They were produced in response to the need to preserve objects of Egyptian origin in Northern European museums. The publication by Voss, appearing in 1888, was prepared at the request of the German government (Rathgen, 1905, ed.:v). Rathgen's work was published in German and then translated into English in 1905 (Otto, 1979:47). It stands out from the general literature of conservation in that it was more of a critical summary of the work of European conservators and scientists with whom he and Voss corresponded and whose work they knew through reports in publications and of the experiences of collectors as well. Generally, Rathgen outlined the works of others and criticized it in terms of his own and colleagues' work. Both books may be said to have resulted from problems produced by the extensive collecting of artifacts in Egypt by Lepsius and other German archaeologists in the nineteenth century. The work of Voss and Rathgen has been carried on by German conservators publishing their results in the pages of Der Präparator and Maltechnick-Restauro and other publications.

In the United Kingdom, Alexander Scott published three reports in 1921, 1923, and 1926 on treatments done in the British Museum. Lucas published a comprehensive text of his conservation treatments in its original form in 1924, the result of his work on the artifacts from the Tomb of Tutankh-Amen and his earlier studies as the Director of the Egyptian Chemical Department (Anon., 1924). At about the same time he set up a laboratory at the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. The impact of this European work on American archaeologists and museum workers came with the publication of Douglas Leechman's [application of Lucas's and other European practitioners'] techniques and procedures to the conservation of North American artifacts (1931). Leechman explains in his introduction that, at the time, there were only three books on the subject of preservation of museum specimens that were of any use and that one of these was the “out-of-date” translation of Rathgen. He states that the three were principally concerned with archaeological materials, particularly those from Egypt.

Much of Leechman's philosophy and methodological procedure6 in conservation has stood the test of time, with the exception of some vague introductory phrases in which he cautions against changing the appearance of an object “…except, in some cases, very much for the better,” and promotes cleaning to return a specimen to “…the condition in which its original owner or maker would have kept it.” Even if we had ethnographic information detailed enough to tell us in every case how a “typical” owner might keep a particular artifact, by modern professional standards returning it to this state would be a questionable and subjective exercise. Artifacts are found (i.e. collected from living users or archaeologically) containing traces of food, showing wear, or possessing examples of repairs done in aboriginal settings which provide information about the people, their technology, diet and the attitudes they held toward the artifacts.

Conservators are often faced with the problem of determining what is an aboriginal repair and what is a repair executed by a collector or dealer. Fried (1981:229–45) has discussed this problem in detail as it affects scholarship. We have also some to realize since Leechman's time, that “cleaned” and “restored” or “conserved” have further implications which can compromise the objects conceptually (Wolf & Mibach, 1983).

This is especially a problem with museum objects7 where articles of use, practical or spiritual, may be transformed into (isolated into) objects for aesthetic contemplation only. With archaeological materials, we have the added problem of the possible compromise of analysis, where the potential for trace element analysis and dating can be altered or destroyed even by simple washing and handling (Brothwell, 1965; Geidel, 1982; Loy, 1983; Janaway, 1983). An excellent example of the dangers involved is the case in which Colin Fink cleaned an Egyptian Old Kingdom ewer and basin by electrolytic reduction and then decided after his examination of the objects that the Egyptians had had a chemical method of plating antimony on copper (1934). Forbes (1950:264) pointed out after a subsequent analysis that the antimony plating was due to the electrolytic reduction of the copper objects by Fink.

In the 1930s the series of conferences sponsored by the International Office of Museums (IMO) brought together archaeologists, scientists and scholars from all over the world. At these conferences discussions of archaeological excavation, restoration and museology, and a desire to standardize practice led to several publications. A journal, Mouseion, published by the IMO allowed results of work to be spread to colleagues who could not meet. Another IMO publication which resulted from conference discussions was the Manual on the Technique of Archaeological Excavations (1940). Among the members of the editorial committee which produced the Manual was H. J. Plenderleith, then Professor of Chemistry, Royal Academy of Arts, and Keeper of the Research Laboratory at the British Museum, London. The Manual was planned as a standardized guide to excavation work anywhere in the world. It contained a chapter on field conservation which drew on the recently published works of Plenderleith (1934), Rosenberg (1934), Sana Ullah (1934)S and that earlier of Rhoussopoulos (1911–12), among others.

Plenderleith published a summary of his work (1956) which he intended as a handbook or workshop guide much like the works which had preceded it (Rathgen, Lucas, etc.). The book, revised with the help of Werner in 1971, has been of immense importance in both the general field of conservation and in archaeology. Their work, like that of those who preceded them, was directed at introducing scientific methodology into a field which had previously been dominated by craftsmen. Both Plenderleith's 1956 edition, and his 1971 edition produced with Werner, are major contributions to the field of conservation and touch on field conservation techniques. Both editions are generally concerned with treatments of objects once they are in the museum. Some archaeological conservators have criticised their lack of detail in certain areas, for example Hodges (1975:37); with respect to ceramics.


The first American publication relating to archaeological and anthropological conservation was Forrest E. Clements's article in American Antiquity in 1936 (excepting the brief instructions of Holmes and Mason, 1902). It was basically a summary of Leechman's earlier work in the context of Clements's own experience. It was not until Keel published his work in 1964 that American archaeology had a comprehensive manual designed especially for American collections in museum and university storage conditions. Still, Keel, like Leechman, dealt mainly with museum artifacts. His work was inspired by Plenderleith's 1956 edition of The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art to which he devotes almost the entirety of his introduction, summarizing the earlier publication.

With the introduction of scientific methodology, emerging technology of the day was quickly applied to pressing problems which threatened disastrous results if unchecked (e.g. see Howie, 1984). For example, Leechman advised the use of celluloid dissolved in acetone as a consolidant for a wide variety of materials. He also sprayed gasoline on artifacts to fumigate them (Leechman, 1931:129, and passim). However, this new tendency toward general use of chemical treatments was questioned quite early by Gettens (1933:41-1), who suggested that Lucas's use of celluloid solution and paraffin was inappropriate for some objects.

In the last 20 years we have seen a vast array of synthetic products utilized for conservation and restoration. A rather informal process of introduction developed8 as the discipline of conservation matured. Rapid aging tests were occasionally applied prior to general introduction. Yet as time has passed it has become evident that the aging of these treatments in real time and the effects of varying conditions may produce unexpected results.9 In this vein we have the recent problems upon aging developed by soluble nylon (Sease, 1981) and the effect of light on plastics and thermoplastics in particular (Lightbody and Roberts, 1954; Pappas and Winslow, 1981).

It is certain that, since the founding of the Institute of Archaeology by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1937 at the University of London, scientific attitudes have greatly aided the archaeologist in site retrieval of artifacts and in laboratory procedures for their preservation. This has become most apparent in underwater and marine archaeology, where retrieval is increasingly dependent on systems developed by conservators (Bourque, Brooke, Kelly and Morris, 1980). Recent literature contains examples of archaeologists who recognize the need for and utility of the expertise of conservators (South, 1976), though Clark (1954) and Wheeler (1954) set early foundations.

Perhaps the bulk of innovations in technology along with new materials applied to archaeological retrieval and laboratory work occurred without the intervention of conservators over the last 200 years. This process was generally haphazard and makeshift, with treatments applied with whatever materials were handy and without prior experiment on long-term effects, which often resulted in disastrous losses (e.g. Wheeler, 1954: 168). It is obvious, however, from the published literature of conservation scientists, researchers of the British Museum and the Institute of Archaeology, as well as that of archaeologists, that many innovations were introduced either by way of scientific experimentation and practice applied in museums or through collaboration of conservators, archaeologists, and consulted scientists (cf. Plenderleith and Werner, 1971 ed.; Organ, 1968; McCawley, 1977; Howie, 1984).

The archaeologist often requires microanalysis of materials for chemical content or trace elements, etc., and has historically gone to the research scientists of the museum conservation laboratories (as well as to university scientists) for aid (e.g. Gettens, 1933). At this point the scientist is engaged in archaeometry. Archaeologists have learned much about ancient technologies by the detailed analysis of artifacts and their components. This process of analysis when uncovering the materials used as well as the techniques of manufacture can involve restoration of the object (Woolley, 1934:70). (Previously, reconstruction had been done either by archaeologists, departmental employees, graduate students, or by specialized museum craftsmen called preparators, the “Jimmy Valentines” of science as Stucker (1977:201) describes their paleontological counterparts, who often executed the exhibition of objects.)


With the application of new scientific techniques and procedures, new information can be discovered about formerly restored artifacts (Scott, 1926: 39–40; Greene, 1979). To this end the teaching of archaeological conservation at the Institute of Archaeology of London University has been likened to that of a physician's education: the practitioner must make a diagnosis of an object's condition and propose treatment (Gedye & Hodges, 1964: 84–7). However, given the above context, both student and archaeologist will encounter some difficulty in acquiring information concerning past and present conservation treatments and procedures. Although the Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts cross-reference published articles relating to conservation, the amount of information in print on archaeological and anthropological conservation is comparatively small in relation to other fields of conservation or the body of anthropological literature.

With the rapid increase in technological apparatus and complex analytical procedures in archaeometry and conservation, specialist scientists have become more prevalent. As Werner turned more toward ethnographic conservation, especially that of fragile organic objects, another scientist at the Research Laboratory, Robert M. Organ, began specializing in treatment and storage of metals and wood.10 Organ published the practical but highly technical Design for Scientific Conservation of Antiquities in 1968. Garry Thomson, scientific advisor to the National Gallery, London, came to specialize in environmental concerns in museums, (such as air conditioning and the effects of air pollution on works of art). His 1978 publication, The Museum Environment, is a concise description of environmental problems, their causes and prevention. W. A. Oddy, another British Museum Research Laboratory scientist, concentrated his studies on metals and stone: corrosion and deterioration prevention and treatment (e.g. Oddy & Hughes, 1970; Oddy, 1977).

A similar trend has developed among continental European conservation scientists. The French11 had been filling the pages of Mouseion from its inception, as well as Studies in Conservation(France-Lord, 1962; Weil, 1958) with detailed reports of their work, most notably in the conservation and analysis of archaeological metals. Italian contributions ranged from site prospecting (Lerici, 1961) to the treatment of wooden objects (Augusti, 1959) to Torraca's substantial aid to the field in the application of solvents to problems in conservation (Torraca, 1975). In Poland, Jedrzejewska (1962; 1963–64) and in Czechoslovakia, Pelikan (1964; 1966) reported on progress in the treatment of archaeological artifacts, especially metals.

Other European scientists in collaboration have published works on specific subjects. An example is the work by Mühlethaler, a Swiss Scientist, Bachman, (Swedish), and Noack (German), Conservation of Waterlogged Wood and Wet Leather, published in 1973. Mühlethaler also produced a comprehensive text on conservation (1967), while Stambolov published a major work on the methods of preparation and restoration of skin objects (1969) from his Amsterdam laboratory. Significant research and experimentation were undertaken in Scandinavia. In the area of textile conservation, the first conservation studio conceived to operate under “scholarly control” was organized by two Stockholm museum directors under the leadership of Agnes Branting in 1908. Here scientific research and analysis were applied to the conservation of all types of textiles, in cluding archaeological textiles (Geijer & Franzen, 1975:7). Excavation of archaeological shipwrecks such as the “Wasa” and a long list of other excavated wrecks by Scandinavian conservators and archaeologists developed conservation techniques on a wide range of objects (Patoharju, 1975:183–187;Rosenqvist, 1959). Finally, Christensen (1952;1956) made substantial advances in the conservation of water-logged wood in Denmark.

The subject of conservation in excavation was never the subject of a comprehensive work, although Plenderleith's chapter in the IMO Manual (1940) was an early yet brief attempt. This may, however, reflect the youth of the field of conservation, as there have been few generally accepted text books produced as opposed to those available in an older discipline such as archaeology, no less technical or complex, which has a wide selection of up-to-date basic texts produced regularly. Dowman's Conservation in Field Archaeology, published in 1970, was as Oddy (1973:44) stated, “ …the first (work) to describe in simple form, treatments which may safely be carried out on archaeological finds in the field.” Dowman's work is an excellent compendium of field techniques, treatments both for rescue operations and field laboratories as well as storage directions and therefore a partial exception to the above generalization, extending care into the museum or university laboratory. For Dowman, aside from being out of print and containing some poor science (Oddy, 1973:45), has provided a much needed focus on materials, conditions, soils and methods of treatment specifically for the archaeologist. Some of Dowman's deficiencies are covered in a 1984 IC-CROM publication edited by Stanley-Price (1984), but although it includes many references, this publication fails to address other areas such as the role of conservation in post-excavation analysis.

A number of archaeological textbooks contain chapters or short sections which describe in more or less detail the authors' practices in the field and laboratory with regard to conservation (e.g. Wheeler, 1954; Brennen, 1973: 151 and 161; Robbins, 1965: 173;88). Most of these are simply outlines of practice or lists of suggested procedures, chemicals and apparatus. Both of Heizer's Guides fall into this category (Heizer, 1958; Heizer and Graham, 1967). The best of these texts give examples of procedures with lists of materials as well as some cautionary remarks and suggested alternatives, developed in some detail, differing from the former group in the specifics provided and the background sketched to help deter possible problems. Examples of these are Hume 1968 and Joukowsky, 1980. With the exception of Joukowsky, none of these provides a thorough reading list or bibliography upon conservation. None presents a conservation paradigm in a manner as complete as a workbook or a descriptive narrative as does Dowman, 1970.

A recent article by Katherine R. Singley (1981) falls between Joukowsky and Dowman in descriptive effectiveness of directives. It is an excellent outline of what should be done in the field for the care of artifacts after excavation. “Outline” must be stressed, for this is a very brief work; useful as this paper is it does not touch on ecofactual remains, which make up a large part of many collections and excavation materials.

Rescue publications of the Department of Archaeology of the University of Southhampton, especially Leigh (1978), give clear directions for field work but are generally limited to packing and storage. There are also several articles by Australians on conservation. Ambrose (1968) produced a practical summary of field conditions in Australia and appropriate treatments, and McCarthy (1970) edited a volume containing several works on a variety of problems.

Although there are professional guidelines in the field of conservation (AIC, 1980), there is no standard view of treatment in every case. There is a wide variation in what is regarded as the proper treatment for any particular object or whether there should be any treatment at all (Beck, 1982). Plenderleith admonished in 1940 (IMO, 1940:143), that the archaeologist must not leave objects in the hands of the conservator and give him carte blanche. The archaeologist must have a clear understanding of what can be done in the field, with those items left in situ as well as those recovered, and what can be treated in the museum or university laboratory. In practice, the archaeologist should have specific objectives which will dictate the type of conservation. However, in my experience these objectives are often short-sighted with respect to the survival of the majority of objects, and the most often described treatments are cosmetic or are so concerned with the immediate survival of the object for analysis that long-term treatments for survivability cannot be assured.

Communication between archaeologist and conservator must be an ongoing process to update what works in the field and to clarify the long-term effects of all treatments including those that may hinder research or analysis. Research and experimentation must be facilitated for the successful recovery and preservation of artifacts.

The retrieval of fragile fragments or of impressions of objects and the detection of trace elements or information concerning the former existence of structures or objects (Biek, 1963:60–65) is the meridian between the role of the conservator and that of the analytical scientist. Still, with all the technical skill of the scientists and the increasing specialization among conservators, it is the training of the excavators which is of utmost importance. It is with their ability and awareness that the successful recovery of an object begins.

For historical collections one may also mention Guldbeck (1972), published by the American Association for State and Local History, Waterer's 1972 work on leather which touches on archaeological and ethnographic materials, and Lewis's Manual for Museums (1976) which contains information derived from the work of the United States National Park Service centralized laboratories set up in the 1930s by Carl P. Russell. While most of the efforts of these laboratories have been oriented toward storage and exhibition as it is reflected in the content of this volume, there has been a long tradition of preservation treatments established by Park Service workers. Lewis's work follows on that by Ned J. Burns (1941); both were written for curators, to provide guidance to practical solutions for collections. The impact of Burns's work, however, is problematic as even Keel (1963) hardly mentions Burns's work and then only that concerning the treatment of skin. Nevertheless, Burns's work was very detailed and his audience, being the Park Service personnel under whose care were many thousands of objects, probably gave his suggestions on treatments and care a very wide application. However, with reference to this skin material, the work of Burns and that of Waterer mentioned above are of less value to archaeologists and anthropologists than the comprehensive work of Reed (1972).

Rowe (1953), in his summary of technical aids in anthropology mentions Rathgen (1905), Rosenberg (1917), Plenderleith (1934) and Leechman (1931) as the comprehensive texts in restoration. He mentions Lucas (1924) for chemical identification and analysis and Gettens (1950) and Fink (1933) for specific applications. The appearance of an article such as that by Velich (1965) in a journal of the professional caliber of Curator perhaps belies the actual effect of much of this work described above. While Velich's description of his treatments of skin artifacts of American Indians were not entirely unacceptable in the context of the time, they are extremely pedestrian in retrospect and must indicate a lack of familiarity with earlier published work, most specifically in his restorative efforts with ballpoint pen.


To return to Canadian archaeology, passed over after the discussion of Leechman's early contribution, it has had a rapid and intense involvement with conservation. William Todd, Chief Conservator of the Royal Ontario Museum until his death in 1963, published several papers on the conservation of materials, his subjects ranging from bone preservation (1941) to restoration of Chinese grave figurines (1952) to preservation research in Chinese bronzes. In 1966 the British Columbian Provincial Museum recruited its first conservator, who was the only one west of Toronto for the next four years (Ward, 1978:9). Care of collections prior to this date had been executed by other staff specialists. In 1970 the first course in conservation was established at the University of Victoria, entitled “Conservation of Antiquities,” as a course for curators. The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) was originally conceived in 1972 at Ottawa and two centers were established in 1974, the Pacific Regional Center and an Atlantic Regional Center, followed by a small facility in Quebec in 1977, with Erika Schaffer the principal scientist involved in the preservation research program for archaeological and anthropological materials of the CCI. Her work as a conservation scientist both in identifying materials of composite artifacts and designing treatment procedures has added considerably to the development of an organized methodology (1971, 1974, 1976, 1981), as has the work of another Canadian scientist, Mary-Lou Florian (1976, 1977, 1978, 1981). The development in Canada of the application of scientific techniques in archaeological conservation has been rapid especially in wet site and frozen site problems (Hett, 1978). Mac-Donald presents a concise outline of the development of wet site archaeology in Europe and North America in his 1977 article.

While conservation in Australia dates well into the last century with the establishment of a general lab in New South Wales (Lloyd, 1981), conservation work there has benefited from conservators with a broad range of skills and interests from fine arts to archaeology. One example is Boustead, who treated a wide range of ethnographic objects (Boustead, 1960; 1966). Australian archaeologists have written several articles on both field practice and museum work (e.g. Macintosh, 1968; McCarthy, 1970). Their publications in general reflect a close relationship with European (especially British) conservation efforts as well as local experimentation. Boustead, like many Australian conservators, learned his trade as an apprentice and later augmented his skills by tours of study in Europe, mainly England. Many Australian cultural institutions provided training for other surrounding nations through funds provided by the Commonwealth; these ranged from India to Pacific Island nations.

The tradition of the independent efforts of museum preparators in setting up conservation facilities is seen in the creation of the first conservation lab in New Zealand in 1953 (Thompson, 1985). The Pacific Regional Center, at its Honolulu facility in Hawaii, has trained local residents and treated regional collections from the Pacific Islands, as well as sent conservators out on location (Lee, 1978). The Pacific Regional Center resulted from a study undertaken by Werner in 1973 and sponsored by the Bishop Museum to determine the needs of Pacific Region museum institutions which led to the establishment of the Pacific Center in 1974 (UNESCO, 1980).

The Soviets and East Europeans developed parallel technology in the application of materials and have conducted extensive research and experimentation with synthetics (Nogid & Rozdnyak, 1965; Tomashevich, 1969). Grabar published a restoration manual in 1960 which presents a mixture of synthetic (new) and old traditional methods with some criticism of the poor aging results of some particular traditional methods (Kovostovetz and Thomson, 1963). The same can be said of the Japanese (Higuchi and Aoki, 1976; Aoki, 1985).

Concerning the Japanese, Yamasaki (1957:83) places the first technical conservation work in 1919 with the government-formed committee on the wall paintings of the Horyuji temple at Nara. An attempt to stabilize the peeling paint was undertaken using natural resins (copal), but the trial in a small area failed to produce satisfactory results and was discontinued. In 1933 Professor S. Taki of Tokyo University organized a small study group of art historians, physicists, chemists, biologists and architects. Discussions of methods of repair and conservation of art objects and studies of scientific and new methods of repair compared to traditional methods were undertaken. In 1947 the group was organized into the “Association of Scientific Research in Antiques” with Professor Y. Shibata as president. A journal was established by this group, Scientific Papers on Japanese Antiques and Art Crafts, the first issue appearing in 1951, although today the primary Japanese publication for conservation is Science for Conservation.

In addition to these efforts, the Institute of Art Research in Tokyo, founded in 1930, was reorganized in 1952 as the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties, with a Department of Conservation added to it (Yamasaki, 1957:83). This Department of Conservation was housed in the Tokyo National Museum and was concerned mainly with the conservation of paintings and sculptures in temples and museums. This Department of Conservation was later changed to the Department of Conservation Science and a Department of Restoration Techniques was added (Ito, 1979:xi).

In 1902 the Archaeological Survey of India proposed a chemical branch, which was established in 1917 when a laboratory was set up in the Indian Museum in Calcutta. Later the laboratory was transferred to Dehre Dun and work organized on methods established at the British Museum Laboratory (Swarnakamal, 1975:25). A laboratory was set up at the National Museum, New Delhi, in 1958 as a central major research facility (Gairola, 1960; Agrawal, 1963). T. R. Gairola, Chemist, National Museum of India, New Delhi, published a Handbook of Chemical Conservation in 1960 which offered recommendations for treatments of all types of objects found in Indian museums; the handbook is organized by physical composition (organic, metals and siliceous). Basically it is a manual for museum workers, written for the post-graduate students of the Department of Museology of the University of Baroda, although it does contain examples of treatments of archaeological materials. Gairola draws heavily from the European and American literature and his own extensive experience.

Shortly after the establishment of a central conservation laboratory at the Baroda Museum for the State of Gujarat, Swarnakamal published a book, Protection and Conservation of Museum Collections (1975), which is entirely concerned with treatments in museums. Individual treatments of archaeological materials were from time to time published in several Indian journals including Journal of Indian Museums, and Ancient India. Other Indian conservation laboratories were established at Lucknow, and at the National Museum, New Delhi. In 1977, O. P. Agrawal, who studied under Gairola as well as at the Instituto Centrale del Restauro in Rome, published a book on the Care and Preservation of Museum Objects, one of a series of books on conservation in Indian museums and in Southeast Asia; it includes a bibliography on conservation in India. Agrawal is the Director of the National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property, Lucknow, and has edited a journal, Conservation of Cultural Property in India, from 1967 to the present. He produced several studies on the conservation needs of Asian nations as well as edited several books, including Conservation in the Tropics (1973), Documentation in Museums (1974) and The Small Museum (1975). His survey of conservation needs and techniques of Southeast Asian cultural properties, originally published in Museum in 1975 as Conservation in South and Southeast Asia, was expanded and republished by Butterworths in 1984.

In Africa, archaeological and anthropological conservation has been derived in most part from European efforts, particularly British and French. A manual for conservation of collections of Middle African museums was produced by Kennedy in 1959 and contains the usual organization, beginning with the effects of climate on objects, the agents of deterioration (insects, microorganisms, etc.) and then an overview of restoration techniques. A substantial number of local institutions have developed techniques for the extraction and cleaning of fossil materials, derived from traditional methods in paleontology, especially in Kenya and South Africa. For the purposes of this paper, conservation efforts in paleoanthropology will be considered a separate literature and will not be covered.

Through the agency of international organizations several conservation scientists were able to travel widely sharing skills and initiating programs. One of these was Paul Coremans (1968:135–139; Tahk, 1984:16–25), whose energies and interests carried him from his base in Brussels at the Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique to sites in Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, Iran, Iraq, Peru, Mexico, and the United States of America.

F. Mairinger12 of the Insitut für Farbenlehre und Farbenchemie, Academie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna, recently visited China for the purpose of investigating analytical practice in conservation. He found their level of expertise based on pre-World War II technology, although they apparently are being influenced by Japanese experience and new Western methods.13

UNESCO, through its Museums and Monuments series, published a volume prepared by the International Centre for the study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (Rome), now ICCROM, The Conservation of Cultural Property (1968). This was of special interest as it was written with reference to problems related to tropical conditions and situations with few technical resources. Articles were prepared by such workers as Daifuku from Bangkok and Andrade from Brazil. Other shorter documents have resulted from special seminars or conferences supported by UNESCO and ICOM. Among these are the reports written by Werner on the Conservation of Ethnographical Collections (1968) and Conservation of Cultural Materials in Humid Climates (Regional Seminar) published by the Australian National Conference for UNESCO in 1980.

In Argentina Tellchea (1981) produced a comprehensive text, Enciclopedia de la Conservacion y Restauracion, particularly designed for cultural materials found in South America and written for a wide audience, from craftsmen to conservators, as well as diverse environmental settings.


The development of conservation practice in archaeology and anthropology proceeded on a somewhat haphazard basis with European publications influencing American writers in a slow and uneven manner. The actual effect of these publications is questionable as treatments are scarcely mentioned in archaeological reports. In general, as Howie's results (1984) indicate for the field of paleontology and as seems consistent from the bibliographic material in this paper, methods and materials are easily introduced but resist rejection. Publication of new data on materials, rejection/repudiation of inferior techniques, and the introduction of new methods are slow to reach the majority of practitioners.

What this survey has shown is that there is a great need for conservators to offer courses in university anthropology departments and to offer reviews of general anthropology and archaeology texts, site reports and survey materials in order to expose archaeologists and anthropologists and their students to new trends in conservation. These reviews must be offered to journals in the field of anthropology and archaeology as well as appearing as presentations in national and regional conferences. A related problem is the lack of general texts in conservation and especially archaeological conservation.

Specialization in analytical and recovery techniques will most likely continue to benefit students of archaeometry rather than those minoring in conservation in university departments of anthropology. The largest number of university positions call for individuals who can still teach in several general survey and subject areas while pursuing specialized research, but we can hope that the trend of double masters (so frequently seen in England) of anthropologists with diplomas in conservation will increase.

The trend toward specialization in conservation is becoming an increasing reality in the graduation of conservation students from the various programs (NIC, 1984). This trend and the increasing number of retiring general practitioners in conservation will deny to the field the publication of generalized texts so prevalent in other fields and especially needed here to introduce archaeologists and their students to the field. The composition of such texts differs fundamentally from collections of articles written by different specialists, in that the experienced overview is drawn from years of study and experiment seasoned with examples of trial and error so necessary to learning. Such texts are the foundation of any discipline and, as the yearly swarm of introductory texts in every field proves, a necessary means of updating and focusing any body of organized knowledge.

The specter of so many experienced and older practitioners leaving the field by retirement without publishing summaries of their experience or outlines of their work in textbook form brings to the mind the plea of the 1923 Committee on Restoration and Preservation of Painting, Drawing and Prints (Museums J., 1923:118): “…it does seem necessary to issue a reminder that the absence of any official record of the measure of success or failure is an effectual barrier to the progress of knowledge upon the subject in question.” The publication of volume I of Herman Kühn's Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities by Butterworths (1986) is an exception which hopefully will become a trend.


1. Brommelle (1956) describes a similar reaction to the early attempts at cleaning paintings in the National Gallery in England that led to the Select Committee Reports of 1850 and 1853.

2. Klaproth's paper was actually read publicly in 1795 but not published until two years later. Most authors, however, give Klaproth credit for the first publication even though a chemist named Pearson published a paper in 1796 and read in the same year (Caley, 1951:64; 1949:242).

3. Osgood's (1979) observations of storage conditions and conservation practice in American and Canadian museums present considerable evidence supporting this view. His recommendations for conservation treatments are out of date at best and are, at worst, examples of the need for scientific, standardized conservation practice.

4. N. L. Caldararo, unpublished report, “A Survey of University and College Course Offerings for Descriptions Containing References to the Conservation or Restoration of Artifacts or Specimens,” 1980.

5. Although the Bonnardot books among others (Brommelle, 1956; Ruhemann, 1968) were earlier, the presentations of Rathgen and Voss were the first systematic applications of scientific techniques (trans. note, Eng. ed. Rathgen, 1905). Rathgen's 1905 publication was most often quoted and referenced, though this two-volume “Handbücher” published between 1915 and 1924 is referenced by both Rowe (1953) and Heizer & Graham (1967).

6. Although certain segments of his paper have earned criticism for the “fragmented treatment” presented (Plenderleith, 1932: 508), many items were only described in outline.

7. This concept was argued by Pettenkofer (1870) with regard to paintings and was extended by Doerner (1934) to other art objects.

8. The National Conservation Advisory Council submitted a report, Proposal for a National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property (1982), which outlined a formal process and addressed the problems of the present situation; see pp. 26–27. Howie's recent research (1984) has shown the rapid application of new synthetic products and the slow rejection of materials found to be inappropriate for treatment. Another aspect of this is the reapplication of old techniques once rejected and reintroduced at a later date, such as in bleaching in paper conservation. A table such as Howie's could be constructed for bleaching showing the use of the hypochlorites; the use of hydrogen peroxide (Scott, 1926), its rejection (Hey, 1977) and reintroduction (Walsh, 1986); or the use of sugar in the stabilization of wood, its fall from favor and reintroduction (Parrent, 1985). Werner outlines the introduction of some synthetic materials in a 1968 report and later in a 1981 article.

9. Greathouse and Wessel's Deterioration of Materials (1954) provides data on the complexities of the process of deterioration of natural and synthetic materials, as well as descriptions of the disastrous results of material failing, when testing could not foresee the effects of varying climates and environments in combination with long-term oxidation, radiation and other factors.

10. Organ (personal communication, 1985) objects to this generalization which basically reflects published reports of work. As Organ points out, the demands of one's professional duties often forced practitioners to treat a wide variety of objects, yet a particular worker's publications may only reflect the most interesting challenges, a special interest, or only those specific treatments which he or she felt proposed the most significant contributions to the field. In the case of archaeology Organ's comments are even more appropriate: as the range of objects in most archaeological collections has demanded generalization in the practice of those who were charged with their care, as well as the composite nature of most archaeological and anthropological objects; this has been especially true of work on archaeological excavations.The situation has been changing, but specialization has had a much greater effect in other areas of the field of conservation, especially in paper and paintings. One particular example of the situation Organ mentions is that of George Stout, whose publications were generally in the area of Conservation of Fine Arts, mainly paintings, but whose influence and other unpublished contributions were considerable in other areas of conservation (Plenderleith, 1987). Also, his published works were often of such breadth that they could be applied to numerous problems and lines of inquiry in conservation as well as archaeology (e.g. the text on painting materials he published with Gettens in 1942).

11. E.g., B. C. Champion, “Identification et conservation des objets préhistoriqes,” Mouseion 16, (1931): pp. 35–47.

12. K.C. Chang (personal communication, 1982).

13. This view is consistent with that reported by T. Chase (1974), K.C. Chang (1977), and personal communication (1983); Colin Pearson in Museum, 32: 4: 1980, pp. 215–218; and Carol Snow (1985) and Haiwen (1985).


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