Archaeological Conservation Field Techniques

This workshop describes the steps required to set up a field lab, from pre-season planning to the practical aspects of carrying out basic conservation procedures in the field. It provides information on the methods used to remove fragile artifacts from various burial environments, on the effects of burial and on the examination and identification of material. Basic conservation processes that can be carried out in a field lab are discussed, including packing and protection of artifacts.

Learning objectives

Upon completion of this workshop, participants will be able to:

  • plan and equip a field lab
  • understand the effects of burial environments on various materials
  • decide how best to remove fragile artifacts from various burial environments
  • implement simple examination, identification and recording procedures
  • conduct basic conservation processes in a field lab, including packing and protection of artifacts

Units

Pre-season planning

Factors that influence the preservation of archaeological materials. Developing a conservation strategy that fits in with the research goals of an excavation. Planning and equipping a field lab. Budgeting for supplies.

Health hazards

Health hazards associated with archaeological excavation and mitigation of these risks. Health and safety issues that must be addressed in a field lab.

Examination and identification

Terminology to describe the condition of artifacts. Simple tests to identify materials and artifacts. Damage due to use versus damage due to burial and how to differentiate the two.

Simple treatments

Tools and techniques for cleaning artifacts. Determining the degree of cleaning that is appropriate. Drying wet material in the field. Methods and materials for consolidating friable artifacts. Removal of soluble salts: when this needs to be done, and what is possible in the field.

Lifting fragile artifacts

Principles and techniques for block lifts. Support materials for various types of artifacts under different excavation conditions. Improvising to solve excavation problems.

Storage and packing

Materials that require special storage conditions after excavation. Custom-made storage containers. Commercial containers. Materials for labelling artifacts. Designing supports to protect artifacts during shipping from the site.

Target audience

Archaeologists, archaeology students, curators, and conservators who may have to deal with freshly excavated artifacts.

Language(s)

English, French

Enrollment limits

Minimum 10, maximum 20

Duration

Two days

Special requirements

Access to sinks, running water and electricity. Slide projector and a blackboard or flipcharts. Fume extraction is desirable but not essential.

Customization options

The workshop organizer is encouraged to contact the facilitators directly to discuss details about the workshop content.

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