The documentation of adhesives in the Whole Vessel Pottery Collection at the Arizona State Museum

Julie Unruh, Tara Hornung, and Stephanie Ratcliffe


The Arizona State Museum’s whole vessel collection contains ceramics from nearly every cultural group in the American Southwest, including the type collections for two major prehistoric cultures. A project is underway to rehouse the entire 20,000-object collection in a purpose-built storeroom. Because it is the most comprehensive collection of its kind, the project received a “Save America’s Treasures” grant in 2000.

In preparation for the move, the condition of each object is being recorded in a “Pottery Project” database. In addition to identifying conservation concerns, the survey phase of the project includes gathering statistics on features of interest to the conservation lab and other researchers from the 20,000-object sample base.

As a part of the project, all adhesives used in the collection are being identified and documented by staff and students. An assembly-line system has been developed to deal with thousands of adhesive identifications, including ethnographic repair materials (resins and plant gums), adhesives used by archaeologists and collectors, undocumented adhesives used by the Museum, and assembly adhesives used by contemporary potters. The process is primarily low tech, utilizing spot tests, UV examinations, and solubility. Select adhesives receive further instrumental analysis.

A searchable and sortable Access database was designed to collect the data. At the end of the survey, the database will be able to instantly:

– provide a library of adhesives used in the collection over the past 100 years;
– provide statistics regarding the frequencies of usage of specific adhesives within the collection;
– provide a timeline of adhesives usage within the collection;
– identify regional and cultural use of particular ethnographic repair adhesives;
– identify trends in adhesive usage in Southwestern archaeology.

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2005 | Minneapolis | Volume 12