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


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.

Copyright 1987 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works