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

AN OUTLINE HISTORY OF CONSERVATION IN ARCHAEOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY AS PRESENTED THROUGH ITS PUBLICATIONS

Niccolo Leo Caldararo



2 EARLY TWENTIETH-CENTURY ORGANIZATION OF THE FIELD

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


Copyright 1987 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works