Treating Archaeological Copper Alloys on Site: A Survey on Current Practice

By Anna Serotta, Eve Mayberger, and Jessica Walthew

Selinunte, Sicily, 2015

New York University has been excavating at the site of Selinunte in southwestern Sicily for almost a decade (NYU Selinunte excavation website). During the 2015 field season, the conservation team conducted an informal survey on the treatment of metal objects in the field (Wiki page: Copper Alloy Treatment Survey (CATS) 2015). The survey was conducted because the Selinunte conservators were not satisfied by the results of their current treatment protocols for newly-excavated archaeological metals. Although all three conservators had worked at other archaeological sites, they all received the same graduate training and had similar approaches to field conservation treatment protocols.
The survey was broken into categories regarding several commonly used treatment methods:  cleaning, desalination, corrosion inhibitors, and coating, as well as issues of storage and re-treatment. Questions were distributed to a group of  archaeological field conservators known to the Selinunte conservation team via email. The following is a summary of the initial survey results.

  1. Scope of survey
  • There were 24 full responses from colleagues and input on individual questions from a handful of others.
  • Collectively, respondents have worked on approximately 50 different sites. The majority of these sites are in the Mediterranean, North Africa, or the Middle East (Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, and Syria), but respondents have also worked in Pakistan, Mongolia, Peru, Panama, Chile, and on various sites in the Continental US. Almost all of these sites are terrestrial, although several respondents have worked on metals from underwater/shipwreck sites as well.
  • The condition of metals on all of these sites is of course extremely variable, but all respondents reported unstable copper alloys and bronze disease outbreaks on at least one of the sites on which they worked.
  1. Cleaning
  • Most respondents use predominantly (or exclusively) mechanical cleaning methods for corrosion reduction.
  • Respondents generally avoid wet cleaning, except for the use of ethanol and/or a mixture of ethanol and water in combination with mechanical cleaning.
  • Most respondents avoid any sort of chemical cleaning, although some mention doing so in the past.
  • A minority of respondents did report using one or more of the following chemical treatment methods (predominantly for coins): Rochelle salts, alkaline glycerol salts, EDTA, formic acid, ion-exchange resins, Calgon, electrochemical and/or electrolytic methods; these methods are generally followed up with rinsing and mechanical cleaning.
  1. Desalination
  • Most respondents do not soak their metals to remove soluble salts. This seems to have been a more common practice in previous years; several respondents mentioned discontinuing previously established soaking procedures on their sites.
  • Some respondents said that they only soak metals after chemical treatments to remove residues.
  • Several respondents questioned the efficacy of soaking to remove chlorides and mitigate bronze disease; since corrosion products like nantokite are not water-soluble, it is unknown what is actually being removed with soaking. In addition, there was some concern that soaking could actually have adverse effects on condition by exposing the metal to moisture and promoting chloride corrosion growth. The time-consuming nature of this treatment was also mentioned as a factor against its use. It can also be challenging to obtain enough deionized water for desalination.
  1.  Corrosion Inhibitors
  • Most respondents reported occasionally or regularly using benzotriazole (BTA) as a corrosion inhibitor.
  • Summary of BTA application protocols reported:
    • BTA is generally applied by immersion (whenever feasible)
    • Roughly half of the respondents who treated with BTA immersed in a vacuum desiccator. Availability of equipment and stability of the artifact were considered in deciding whether to immerse in a vacuum.
    • Those respondents who reported the specific concentration all used 3% in ethanol; one responder mentioned the use of a brush application of 10% BTA for particularly concerning chloride-driven corrosion
    • Immersion time varied considerably. Reported immersion times ranged from 15 minutes to several days.
      • Overnight, 12-24 hours, or 24 hours were the most commonly reported immersion times
      • Several respondents mentioned research supporting the optimal effectiveness of immersion for one hour
  • Several respondents have tried using 0.1M BTA + 0.01M AMT, as reported by Golfomitsou (ref 1); those who tried it generally did not notice much of a difference between this treatment and treatment with BTA alone
  • Additionally, a couple of respondents mentioned testing other corrosion inhibitors: e.g. cysteine, or carboxylic acid-based treatments (ref 2)
  • Several respondents only use corrosion inhibitors only when an object cannot be placed in a desiccated environment; otherwise, only preventive methods are used.
  • There were concerns raised regarding both the efficacy and the safety of BTA. (i.e. safety both during application and also safety concerns for people handling the artifacts). On one occasion concern was expressed about BTA interfering with future analysis.
  • The importance of rinsing in ethanol after treatment to remove excess BTA was mentioned. One respondent reported the development of a BTA-copper chloride complex within 24 hours.
  1.  Coating
  • Many respondents reported occasionally or regularly coating their copper alloy objects.
  • Paraloid B-48N was the most common material used, but many people also reported using Paraloid B-72, Paraloid B-44, and Incralac; there was one report of the use of cellulose nitrate.
  • When mentioned, factors influencing the choice of coating material included: availability, Tg, and whether or not solvent toxicity was a problem (pertaining to Incralac).
  • Many respondents did not indicate the method used for coated, but those who did generally reported coating by immersion; a couple of respondents reported two applications of the coating material.
  • Several respondents do not coat their metals and expressed some concern about the creation of microclimates under the coating film that would encourage further corrosion. A couple of respondents coat only in specific circumstances: when metals will be displayed or when consolidation is required.
  1. Storage
  • Over half of the respondents store metals in silica gel at some or all of the sites on which they work.
  • Several respondents used the RP system and Escal bags (ref 3) for long-term storage.
  • Most of the respondents who use silica gel recondition it annually. One respondent reported reconditioning based on indicator color change. A few respondents who use silica gel report having no annual access to metals after treatment.
  • A couple of the respondents who do not use silica gel or other desiccated storage reported environmental conditions that were dry enough not to warrant micro-climates.
  • Some respondents expressed apprehension about using silica gel when yearly access for reconditioning was not guaranteed; these respondents are concerned that housing with unconditioned silica gel will cause greater problems than housing without silica gel. One respondent suggested that reconditioning yearly may not even be enough.
  1. Re-Treatment
  • Over half of respondents were able to survey their metals to check stability. Some reported doing this regularly every year or every other year. Some respondents reported having too many metals for annual survey, so partial surveys were done, or more random checks, depending on time constraints and when metals are accessed by researchers.
  • Some respondents reported using silver oxide for treating bronze disease outbreaks; others reported using the same methods used for initial treatment. Several respondents questioned the efficacy of silver oxide and expressed concern about its implications for future analysis.

Our thanks to the respondents, who provided thoughtful responses to the proposed questions.  The 2015 Selinunte conservation team hopes to create and conduct a more detailed set of questions examining metal treatment protocols and distribute the survey to a wider audience (especially to conservators who completed their training outside the USA) in the near future. While we hope to expand the limited scope of this survey, it has nonetheless brought up some interesting points. There is no standard protocol for the treatment of archaeological copper alloys, and while the conservation literature is vast, there are still many unresolved questions.
Of course, there won’t be a one-shoe-fits-all treatment for archaeological bronzes, as the condition of the artifact, available resources (material resources, personnel resources, time constraints, etc), storage conditions, access, site policies, and local politics are all factors that influence treatment decisions. However, the survey revealed disagreement from practicing conservators on some of the principles integral to the general methodology: is soaking useful or harmful? Is treatment with corrosion inhibitors or coatings effective?
While there have been other recent projects compiling data on the treatment of copper alloy objects, more formalized follow-up research seems like a necessary next step. We welcome your thoughts on effective ways to move forward with this conversation and look forward to organizing a workshop session or discussion at upcoming professional meetings.

  1. Golfomitsou, Stavroula  and John Merkel. “Understanding the efficiency of combined inhibitors for the treatment of corroded copper artefacts.” METAL 07 Proceedings of the Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Metal Working Group (5): 38-43.
  2. Gravgaard, M. and J. van Lanschot. 2012. “Cysteine as a non-toxic corrosion inhibitor for copper alloys in conservation.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 35 (1): 14-24.
  3. Mathias, C., K. Ramsdale, and D. Nixon. 2004. “Saving archaeological iron using the Revolutionary Preservation System.” Proceedings of Metal 2004, National Museum of Australia Canberra ACT, October, 4-8 2004: 28-42.

“This post is promoted by the AIC’s Archaeological Discussion Group (ADG).  For more information about ADG, please visit ADG’s webpage.” ( )
Author Bios:
Anna Serotta is a Project Objects Conservator at the Brooklyn Museum. She received her Master’s Degree in Art History and an Advanced Certificate in Art Conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, where she majored in objects conservation with a focus on archaeological materials. Prior to her work at the Brooklyn Museum, Anna held positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, and she has worked as an archaeological field conservator on sites in Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Italy. Anna is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, and also a lecturer for the Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center.
Jessica Walthew is currently a Mellon Research Fellow at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. She is a graduate of The Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, specializing in archaeological and ethnographic conservation and has worked at Sardis, Turkey (Harvard-Cornell Expedition) and Selinunte (Institute of Fine Arts Excavations).

AIA and SCS 2016 Annual Conference – A Conservator's Perspective

View of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, January 2016

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) recently held its annual conference on January 6-9, 2016 in San Francisco (conference program). This was my first time attending an AIA annual meeting. Although the conference was obviously geared towards archaeologists, I did find many of the sessions useful for conservators. The talks and workshops were generally organized by geographic location, time period, or specialized topics. Additional activities were organized by specific graduate programs or archaeological projects.
The conference began with the AIA public lecture given by Professor Lord Colin Renfew and the opening reception. The talk touched on some of the troubling world events that are currently affecting cultural heritage sites and some of his work on the island of Keros. The presentation was very well attended (standing room only of those who did not show up early). The opening reception immediately following the public lecture was a time when people could informally gather and discuss their work.
The AIA meeting had many different sessions running simultaneously and I had to strategically choose the talks I wanted to attend. I tried to go to all the presentations about archaeology sites that I had done fieldwork. I was interested to see how the material was presented to a specialized audience of archaeologists and to support my colleagues. I also attended several technical sessions such as archaeological photogrammetry and archaeometric approaches to the Bronze Age.
One of the themes that was touched on in many of the talks was addressing the current threat to cultural heritage in zones of conflict. There was a specialized workshop on the topic that brought leading experts to discuss not only the extent of destruction but the role of the international cultural heritage community. While overall these were sobering discussions, there were a few ideas that have the potential to be actualized and could possibly make a noticeable difference. Many organizations are working to document the damage using local reports and remote sensing in the hopes that the data could be of legal use for future war crime prosecutions. There was also the suggestion that resources should be allocated to reflect the racketeering cycle to have the maximum affect.
On Saturday morning, there was a special workshop entitled Innovation at the Junction of Conservation and Archaeology: Collaborative Technical Research moderated by Anna Serotta and Vanessa Muros. Below are the four talks presented during the session.

  • “Looking Closely: Microscopy in the Field” –  Colleen O’Shea and Jacob Bongers
  • “Archaeologist-Conservator Collaboration through Imaging: Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) on the Sardis Expedition, Turkey 2015” – Emily Frank, Harral DeBauche, and Nicholas Cahill
  • “Same Data, Targeted Uses: Site Photogrammetry for Archaeologists and Conservators” – Eve Mayberger, Jessica Walthew, Alison Hight, David Scahill, and Anna Serotta
  • “Drilling, Zapping, and Mapping for more than a Decade: Collaborative Project to Source Classical Marble in the Carlos Museum” – Renée Stein and Robert Tykot

I was honored to co-present the collaborative work undertaken at Selinunte during the 2015 excavation season. Following the talks, there was a general discussion regarding the role of conservation in fieldwork and the specialized knowledge that conservators can contribute to archaeological research questions. I hope that the AIA will continue to allow a space for conservation to engage with the larger archaeological community within the context of their annual meeting.

British Museum, 20-21st April 2015. Symposium on the care and conservation of human remains with a focus on natural mummies.

How comfortable do you feel surrounded by skeletal remains and natural mummies? The symposium hosted by the British Museum left no areas unturned, from the excavation, conservation and curation of natural mummies, and allowed participants of the day access to natural mummies from their extensive collection.
Daniel Antoine, curator of physical anthropology at the British museum, kicked the day off by considering the legal aspects and ethics in the curation of human remains. A huge 91% of the British population appears to be on side with the display and retention of human remains by museums for research purposes, but there are obligations. The display of human remains less than 100 years old does not sit well on some peoples’ shoulders and named remains attract a similar apprehension. This seems at odds with the display of Egyptian mummies that often have their names inscribed on their cartonnages, but maybe the longevity of these mummies makes their display more palatable.
Derek Welsby, assistant keeper in archaeology of Sudan and Egyptian Nubia, and Daniel Antoine followed with a description of the problems involved in the excavation of skeletal remains and natural mummies from their resting places, in this instance, the fourth cataract of the Nile Valley, Sudan. Skeletal remains dating back to the Neolithic period were uncovered from various burial sites and natural mummified bodies from the medieval period were excavated from this previously understudied region of The Sudan. Over a 1000 skeletal remains and naturally mummified bodies were donated to the British Museum by SARS, the Sudan Archaeological Research Society via the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums of Sudan. For the past two years the British Museum have been undertaking research into population genetics and the pathology of these Nilotic human remains. A human remains database has been created by the museum that will open up the research potential of these people, negating the need for physical interaction and reducing the risk of damage to the bodies.
Barbara Wills, conservator of organic artifacts at the British museum had the job of surveying the mummies. She examined, photographed, assessed the needs of each individual and established a strategy for stabilization. Barbara was in the wonderful position of receiving a Clothworkers Conservation Fellowship that allowed her to put all of her time and effort into the development of a passive method of stabilization and display. Barbara has a wonderfully calm demeanor that exudes respect for humanity. I don’t know whether she had this disposition before she started work on the mummies or whether the mummies taught her this respect on her travels with them. A workshop on the second day of the symposium allowed for the exploration of these stabilization and display methods that Barbara developed during her fellowship and shall be discussed later.
The life of the Nilotic people is unraveled not only from research into the human remains but also by analyzing the textiles and leather excavated along side the bodies. Caroline Cartwright, from the department of conservation and scientific research at the British Museum, gave an excellent talk about the problems and pitfalls of trying to identify materials that may have been in close proximity to soft tissues and Anna Harrison, a senior conservator of organic materials at the British Museum, followed with the issues surrounding the conservation of archaeological textiles. Of particular fascination was the discovery of human hair mats that were treated like dry archaeological wool and the revelation that an imprint of a textile may be present on a skin sample even if the textile no longer remains.
A lunch break allowed time for a visit to the temporary exhibition: Ancient Lives, New Discoveries, where a number of the curatorial issues discussed in the morning session could be seen in practice. The use of explanatory and contextual information was well presented and tasteful lighting within display cases offered respect to the mummies.
Nancy Odegaard from the University of Arizona and Arizona State Museum resumed proceedings by discussing the post-excavation deterioration of the Chinchorro mummies of Arica, Northern Chile. The storage facility for the mummies is far too hot and humid and the mummies are acting as the environmental buffer. Deterioration was manifesting itself in the form of a ‘black ooze’ emanating from the bodies. A quick, easy and inexpensive solution to this problem was the introduction of some locally sourced hygroscopic wall coverings that took over the work of attempting to stabilize the environment.
A Sudanese mummy offered Joanna Russell, from the department of conservation and scientific research at the British Museum, the opportunity to use HPLC to investigate the dyes present in colourful textiles adorning the body. All dyes identified, Pseudopurpurin, Purpurin, Alazarin and Indigotin were used in Egyptian dying.
Marie Vandenbeusch, a project curator in the department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, used infrared reflectography on a tattoo found on the upper leg of a naturally preserved female mummy from medieval Sudan. The tattoo represents one of the earliest known surviving examples of a tattoo from this period and region and represents a Christian monogram of the Archangel Michael. (images found at: Of particular interest was the fact that it was mainly women that were tattooed and this particular tattoo was hoped to provide protection under Michael, the patron saint of Nubia.
Heather Bonney, a collections manager for human remains and repatriation at the British Museum, discussed the general curation and digitization of the human remains collection at the British Museum. Human remains can be acquired via three different routes. They may have been purchased anatomical specimens, ethnographic collected remains or they may be from an archaeological context and each requires different legal documentation for their storage and display. Osteoware software and the Oracle Word database were then discussed for the digitization of the collection. (The Oracle Word database is really tailored towards a British archaeological context).
Finally but certainly not least Emily Taylor and Simon Prentice, museums assistants at the British Museum, gave a superb talk about the safe packing and transportation of human remains. It is essential that all remains are carefully photographed before travelling so they can be referred to after unpacking and the person unpacking the remains must be able to deconstruct and replicate the packing easily so it must be simple but effective. Cellite honeycomb boards were used instead of the old-fashioned mummy boards but beware, do not use the Aluminium version of the boards if the mummy is to be sent for a CT scan as the Aluminium interferes with the scan.
Barbara Wills lead the second day of the symposium. She gave us an insight into the development of an inexpensive, simple, reversible, reliable and relatively quick way of displaying human remains for display or research using Plastazote LD33 and LD45 (polyethylene foam), PTFE tape and sheets (polytetrafluoroethylene, plumbers tape) and Polyester wadding.
Plastazote LD45 covered in Tyvek (a spun bonded olefin material that is inert and gas permeable) can be placed on a cellite board onto which the mummy can be displayed. Plastazote LD33 can be cut into shape and pinned to the board, offering support or preventing movement.
Fig. 1 Artificial bones being supported or held in place by Plastazote LD33.
There should be at least a 10cm boarder to the outside of the human remains to prevent damage to any delicate parts when being transported. Barbara demonstrated a quick and easy way of cutting the plastazote into shape using only a big sharp knife. (Figure 2)
Fig. 2. Fold the strip of Plastazote LD33 and cut on the outside of the fold. Cut as deeply or as shallow as needed to create the supporting structure.
The wonderful thing about PTFE is that it adheres to itself through static attraction only. There is no adhesive involved! PTFE sheet can be wrapped around Polyester wadding that has been fluffed, to create really soft ‘pillows’. Really soft ‘pillows’! ‘Pillows’ of the size and shape you require. (Figures 3 and 4)
Fig. 3. Barbara Wills demonstrating the construction of a small PTFE and Polyester wadding ‘pillow’ used for the support of a very fragile part of a body.
The PTFE polyester wadding ‘pillow can be pinned directly to the board or supported in a cut piece of Plastazote LD33 to give extra support. This was named ‘The Mushroom’.
Fig 4. Barbara Wills demonstrating the construction of a skull mount using fluffed Polyester wadding wrapped in PTFE sheet. Barbara made a sausage shape that she then curved round and pinned in place. Plastazote LD33 cut into wedge shapes can be pinned at each pole position to offer additional support.
A sheet of PTFE could be pinned to a Plastazote LD33 surround creating a hammock like structure. This could support very fragile parts of a body that would not survive using a conventional support.
PTFE tape can be wrapped directly around a fragile part of a body that needs to be held together and, as there is no adhesive involved it is completely reversible. When the static property of PTFE could potentially be damaging to a fragmented part of a body or where hair is present then the static can be eliminated quickly by shooting a beam of electrons at the material from an antistatic gun. Conventional tying can then be used to hold the PTFE in place.
Barbara Wills was apologetic to those attending the workshop as she considered her ideas simple. However, the simple ideas are sometimes the ones that are overlooked and missed. Barbara has developed a system that can stabilize and display any human remains without the need for chemicals and consolidants. The mummies we observed had been displayed in a manner that negated the need to move them for research purposes. However, if a research project did come along that required the movement of any of the bodies then this could be easily achieved without too much intervention, minimizing any damage that might occur to these priceless human remains.
Author: Julie McBain, MSc student at Cardiff University.
Photographs: Renata Peters, Lecturer, University College London

Conserving America's Archaeological Heritage

When we read or watch a program about a new archaeological discovery or the conservation of archaeological materials, it most often features a site and artifacts from a distant and foreign country. The sites and artifacts are captivating and eye-catching because they provide a glimpse into ancient cultures and highlight works created by skilled and accomplished artisans. International archaeology and archaeological conservation efforts certainly deserve the attention they receive but there are equally compelling projects and artifacts within the United States that merit the spotlight too.

To draw attention to the rich and diverse archaeological heritage present within the USA, this post features a handful of archaeological projects and their work to conserve the finds. The artifacts may not be as old as antiquity but they still convey important messages. For example, they can represent technical innovation, provide insight into life aboard navy and pirate vessels, or shed light on the diverse people colonizing and settling in the country.

To see and learn about some of the technical innovations that occurred during the 19th century, check out the websites for the H.L. Hunley submarine and the USS Monitor ship. The H.L. Hunley, built in 1863, is known as “the world’s first successful combat submarine.” The USS Monitor was a steam-powered iron clad warship launched in 1861 to counter the rival iron clad ship, the CSS Virginia. You can follow their ongoing research and conservation efforts through their website, by watching the lab cam, or visiting the museum in person.

The Queen Anne’s Revenge ship wreck is another interesting maritime site. Located in North Carolina, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was the pirate Blackbeard’s flagship. The investigation, recovery, research, and conservation of the ship and its contents reveals life aboard a pirate ship in the 18th century. This is another project that can be followed through their website and where you can visit the lab through scheduled tours and open days.

And, finally, take a look at a couple of videos on YouTube created by the City of Deadwood, in South Dakota. From 2001 to 2004, the city carried out excavations along the main street, investigating the Chinatown section of Deadwood. The artifacts uncovered during this series of excavations provides a valuable narrative of Deadwood’s 19th and early 20th century Chinese population. The city partnered with a conservation lab in Maryland to conserve artifacts unearthed from the excavations, including several historic firearms and numerous Chinese coins. To see some of this work, watch this video about the excavation and discovery of the guns: The second video, part two, covers the conservation of the guns and subsequent research:

This is only a small sample of the work going on in the country. Have you worked on or are currently working on archaeological objects from a site in the United States? Please consider sharing and posting your project on AIC’s blog or Facebook page, so that it too can receive a bit of the limelight. Even if you think your project does not warrant attention, please reconsider. James Deetz wrote eloquently, In Small Things Forgotten, that “for in the seemingly little and insignificant things that accumulate to create a lifetime, the essence of our existence is captured.”

This post was developed by the AIC’s Archaeological Discussion Group (ADG). For more information about ADG, please visit the ADG’s Facebook page.

40th International Symposium on Archaeometry

The 40th International Symposium on Archaeometry (ISA) was held earlier this year in Los Angeles (May 19-23, 2014). The first two days of the conference took place at the Getty Villa, and was then moved to the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), UCLA for the remainder of the symposium. There were over 300 scholars and students from all over the world who took part in the conference, with diverse research backgrounds including archaeology, conservation science, art history, materials science and engineering, chemistry, geoscience, and physics.
The symposium covered the following major sessions: “Stone”, “Plaster and Pigments”, “Ceramics, Glazes, Glass and Vitreous Materials”, “Metals and Metallurgical Ceramics”, “Archaeochronometry and New Trends in Luminescence Dating”, “Human Environment and Bioarchaeology”, and “Remote Sensing, Geophysical Prospection and Field Archaeology”. Many important and new research results were presented during the talks followed by Q&A sessions and panel discussions. Over 200 posters were presented at the Getty Villa and UCLA during four poster sessions related to the different session themes.
Two keynote presentations were given during the symposium. Dr. Ian Freestone (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) gave a talk on the use of different archaeometric methods and techniques to identify and determine production events and provenance the organization of production of archaeological materials. During his talk, he presented several interesting case studies on ceramics, glass and metals, which were very informative and instructive. Dr. Terry Brown (Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester) reviewed the history of ancient DNA (aDNA) research in biomolecular archaeology. In addition to successful case studies where aDNA sequencing was applied to ancient human remains, he also discussed the current limitations and challenges of this research, as well as future trends.
For the first time at the symposium, a themed session on “Forensic Science Investigations in Art and Archaeology”, chaired by Dr. Ioanna Kakoulli (UCLA/Getty Conservation Program and Materials Science and Engineering Department at UCLA) was introduced. This special session focused on the challenges and technological difficulties pertaining to forensic science investigations in art and archaeology. Topics covered included the recovery of artifacts, the criminal investigation associated with looted artifacts requiring material characterization, identification and provenance of looted objects, and repatriation of looted antiquities. Agnieszka Helman-Wazny (University of Arizona) talked about the use of fiber analysis to trace manuscripts with unknown origins from the Silk Road. Patrick Boehnke (UCLA) presented preliminary results on the use of strontium isotopic and elemental analysis by secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) to help the Dept. of Homeland Security provenance looted glass artifacts with unknown origins and heterogeneous compositions. Dr. Ernst Pernicka (Curt-Engelhorn Zentrum Archäometrie and University of Heidelberg) gave a talk on the analysis and authentication of the Sky Disc of Nebra through various scientific methods and approaches. Dr. C. Brian Rose (University of Pennsylvania) reviewed the case of the Troy gold in the Penn Museum for which a repatriation claim was filed by Turkey. Lastly Dr. Timothy Potts (J. Paul Getty Museum) gave a thorough review on the evolution, over recent decades, of U.S. museum practices and policies relating to the acquisition of antiquities, as well as the issues of authenticity and conservation analysis that are involved. Unlike other sessions at ISA, the forensic science session did not have a Q&A at the end of each talk but instead held a panel discussion with all five presenters and the session organizer/moderator. One of the more lively discussions focused on the analysis of archaeological objects from collections with little or no provenance. A debate arose as to the value of analyzing these materials that lacked archaeological context. Issues with the authentication of antiquities without context were also brought up, as well as the role this analysis plays in the looting of artifacts and the illicit antiquities trade.
forensic symp.
Though there was no session specifically focused on topics related to conservation and preservation, there were many papers of interest to those in our field. The North American conservation graduate programs were also well represented. Faculty, conservation students and researchers affiliated with the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program (, Buffalo State College (, WUDPAC, and Queen’s University presented papers and posters, and moderated sessions. The abstracts of all the ISA presentations can be found here:
ISA 2014 introduced attendees to many interesting topics related to the analysis of archaeological objects and archaeological research. The most recent key breakthroughs in archaeological science were presented. Fruitful discussions on current limitations and challenges were conducted, and innovative ideas on future research trends were exchanged. The symposium provided an open and friendly panel for scholars and students from different research backgrounds and countries to participate and communicate in this interdisciplinary field of study.
The next ISA conference will take place in the spring of 2016 in Kalamata, Greece offering a beautiful and relaxing place (by the seaside) to learn about the latest archaeometric research. We hope to see you there!
co-written by Yuan Lin (PhD Candidate, Materials Science & Engineering, UCLA) and Vanessa Muros (Conservation Specialist/Lecturer, UCLA/Getty Conservation Program)
This post was developed by the AIC’s Archaeological Discussion Group (ADG). For more information about ADG, please visit ADG’s Facebook page.

From Italy to Antarctica: Archaeological Conservation on the Web

View of Tumulus MM at Gordion, Turkey
It’s summer (at least for a few more weeks) and for many of us, that means travel.  Some conservators take travel one step further and fly around the world to do archaeological conservation at active excavations.  Luckily for us back at home, many of them are blogging about their experiences.  Here’s a roundup of several archaeological conservation blogs.
The Mugello Valley Archaeological Project/Poggio Colla has a long tradition of blog posts, going back to the late 90s – before they were even called “blogs.”  Recent posts from conservator Allison Lewis can be found here.  I love the use of RTI on incised bucchero sherds, as described by Poggio Colla intern and current UCLA grad student Heather White.   Earlier posts from Poggio Colla can be found in the MVAP archives.
Turkey seems to be the center of archaeological conservation blogs – it must be all the strong coffee and tea!  The conservators and interns at Gordion, where I was lucky enough to work one summer, blog about their time working at the ancient Phrygian capital here.  This post really captures the feel of village life in central Anatolia.  A great conservation-related post is this one about the on-going conservation of two Roman altars rescued from a nearby river.
Nearby in Turkey, the conservators at Kaman Kalehoyuk blog about their experiences at the Bronze Age and Iron Age site.  This post makes nice use of a digital microscope in examining and sharing pictures of artifacts.  Rounding out blogs about the Mediterranean world, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology Dig Diaries are no longer being updated, but the archived posts still make for interesting reading.
The prize for the blog from the most exotic location, although certainly not the warmest, goes to the tough conservators of the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project in Antarctica, run by the Antarctica Heritage Trust.  They are doing some amazing work, like the conservation of these newspaper fragments under challenging conditions.
Close to home and happily active again after a temporary closure because of funding, the conservators at U.S.S. Monitor Center are blogging about their work conserving the massive remains of the Civil War ironclad.  This post gives one an appreciation for the complexity of working on such a large object.
That’s it for now.  Stay tuned for a future post about museum blogs focused on archaeological conservation.  If I missed a blog, feel free to let me know in the comments or via MemberFuse.  And I’d love to see more blogs started, especially about archaeological conservation in other parts of the world such as Asia or South America.
This post was developed by the AIC’s Archaeological Discussion Group (ADG).  For more information about ADG, please visit ADG’s Facebook page.