JAIC 1993, Volume 32, Number 3, Article 4 (pp. 249 to 269)
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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



9 PUBLICATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONSERVATION THEORY AND TECHNIQUES

Another way of examining the different relationships that have developed between archaeology and conservation in Britain and the United States is by looking at important journals in each field. The major journals reflect the current attitudes, techniques, theoretical perspectives, and research at a specific time. “They are also both intentionally and unintentionally shapers and trend setters of that discipline” (Dyson 1985, 452). Surveying specific journals for articles relating to preservation and archaeological conservation makes it possible to trace concern with this topic.


9.1 THE CONSERVATION LITERATURE

Examining the journals of the national societies for conservation in Britain and the United States shows how much more prominent archaeological conservation has been in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Institute for Conservation, started as the United Kingdom Group of the International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC), incorporated separately in 1979 and began a formal journal, The Conservator, in 1977. The American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works began as the American Group of the International Institute for Conservation and incorporated in 1972. This group had an informal Bulletin from 1960 until 1978 that then evolved into the formal Journal of the American Institute for Conservation (JAIC).

Data for this survey were reported in Johnson (1990). The tables of contents of the two journals were examined to find articles that pertain to archaeological conservation. Tallying the total number of such articles reveals a major difference. The Conservatorhas 21 in 13 years JAIC just 8 in 12 years. Four of the JAIC articles discuss specific techniques for archaeological material; 19 in The Conservator discuss these practical considerations. These totals support the idea that there has been a greater interest in archaeological techniques in conservation in Britain than in the United States. This interest seems to be focused on problems on a national level, dealing with archaeological material recovered in Britain. The United States, in contrast, has had a more general theoretical interest in archaeological/anthropological conservation, but little practical experience of conservators is published in the conservation literature.


9.2 A COMPARISON OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL LITERATURE

Two archaeological journals were also surveyed to trace concern for conservation in archaeology. Antiquity has been published in Great Britain since 1927. In the words of the first editor, “Antiquity will attempt to summarize and criticize the work of those who are recreating the past” (Crawford 1927, 1). It publishes articles covering all areas of the Old and New World, but it generally contains a high percentage of articles on British and European archaeology.

This journal was compared with American Antiquity, the publication of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), first issued in July 1935. American Antiquity has a more limited geographical area of interest, generally American anthropological archaeology, but it has covered other geographic regions. In addition, the SAA published a Notebook from 1939 to 1942. This informal publication was specifically concerned with techniques, including preservation, that could be used in the field and laboratory.

Both journals are a mix of theoretical discussion and descriptions of methods and techniques. They are both popular, well-read journals and have had great influence in the growth of archaeology in each country as well as internationally. An examination of these two journals for articles concerned with preservation and restoration of archaeological material should give a general indication of the type of understanding held by archaeologists in each country.

A review of the table of contents of each issue extracted only those articles and reviews that dealt explicitly with preservation topics. If such topics were addressed generally in an article, the article was not recovered. A few articles were traced through bibliographic reference during other research. Though these two journals have been published for about the same amount of time, they show great differences in their concern with techniques. The most obvious difference is evident in the number of articles on preservation techniques. Antiquity has published only 8 articles in 59 years that describe actual practical preservation techniques. Many of these articles have been written by conservators. In contrast, American Antiquity has included 14 articles in 55 years giving methods and techniques of preservation; none of these articles were written by people calling themselves conservators. If articles from the Notebook are included, the total on published practical techniques rises to 21.

From the evidence contained in these two journals, it appears that 20th-century British archaeologists have been less concerned with devising and publishing their own techniques for stabilizing finds because other “experts,” called conservators or chemists, were working on these problems. In the United States, on the other hand, prehistoric archaeologists were devising and sometimes publishing their own ways of preserving excavated material.

The American techniques reported in American Antiquity and the Notebook generally use well-known, commercially available products and often show great practical experience in their use. However, the amount of technical expertise and manual dexterity required to use them properly is often not made clear. Because there is little knowledge of conservation and little interaction between American prehistorians and conservators, archaeologists today continue to use these traditional archaeological preservative treatments, sometimes to the detriment of the artifacts.

Of course, there were many other outlets for the description of treatments used on archaeological material. British conservators often published in the Museum Journal. Museum Work, Curator, and Museum News are American journals that also published preservative techniques. These publications, however, were not mainstream archaeological works and were probably not seen by the majority of archaeologists. More recently, some archaeological conservators are beginning to publish in the archaeological literature, creating a higher profile for the conservation field (Storch 1987; Neely and Storch 1981; Strahan 1989).


Copyright 1993 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works