JAIC 1993, Volume 32, Number 3, Article 4 (pp. 249 to 269)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1993, Volume 32, Number 3, Article 4 (pp. 249 to 269)

CONSERVATION AND ARCHAEOLOGY IN GREAT BRITAIN AND THE UNITED STATES: A COMPARISON

JESSICA S. JOHNSON



1 INTRODUCTION

Several authors recently have looked at various aspects of the development and history of archaeological conservation (NIC 1984; Caldararo 1987; Gedye 1987; Gilberg 1987; Hodges 1987b; Seeley 1987). However, little attention has been focused on the differences between archaeological conservation in the United States and Great Britain. For example, no training programs are devoted specifically to archaeological conservation in the United States, while Great Britain has three such programs. Also, there has been no examination of how the development of archaeological conservation in the United States has been affected by its differing affiliation with the two main fields of archaeology-classical and anthropological. Looking at the development of archaeological conservation in Britain and comparing it to the more erratic development of this field in the United States gives a general perspective on the relationship between the professional fields of archaeology and conservation as well as the individual interactions between practicing archae-ologists and conservators. W. M. Flinders Petrie, the famous English Egyptologist, wrote in his 1904 text, Methods and Aims in Archaeology:

The preservation of the objects that are found is a necessary duty of the finder. To disclose things only to destroy them, when a more skilful or patient worker might have added them to the world's treasures is a hideous fault…. Some familiarity with chemistry and physics and properties of materials is one of the first requisites of an excavator (Petrie 1904, 85).

This paper will attempt to show that early in the development of British archaeology from an avocation to an academic discipline, the attitude Petrie expresses helped to support the growth of an allied field, archaeological conservation. In contrast, archaeologists in the United States, especially those who work in the New World, have little knowledge of the developed profession of archaeological conservation. In many textbooks, American authors mention preservation or conservation, but they rarely acknowledge the existence of an international group of individuals with expertise in examination and stabilization of archaeological material (Ashmore and Sharer 1988; Fagan 1978; Hole and Heizer 1973; Sharer and Ashmore 1987). To these archaeologists, conservation is limited to a set of techniques for the preservation of morphology. This essay will examine these two extremes in understanding of and attitudes toward archaeological conservation that are held by individuals who all nominally do the same thing: archaeology.

It will be shown that prehistoric archaeology supported the development of archaeological conservation in Britain. This situation will be contrasted with a discussion of the different manner in which American archaeologists dealt with similar problems of recovery and preservation. The different theoretical perspectives, methodological concerns, and archaeological materials that engaged each group will also be shown to have affected the development of archaeological conservation in each country. The literature of prehistoric archaeology and conservation will be evaluated to support these ideas.

Understanding the historical development of archaeological conservation and archaeology and examining the different relationships between the two professions in Britain and the United States is one way of identifying areas of mutual interest and antagonism in order to develop a better working relationship. This process in turn could easily lead to research and development and support in many areas of mutual interest.


Copyright 1993 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works