Conservation Tips:


          Archaeology is a crucial part of learning about history and culture; archaeological materials provide information about the past that no documents or people can.  Excavation is only the first step to learning from these objects.  Once the artifacts are taken from the ground they are recorded and transported to a storage space.  The way these excavated materials are cared for after excavation determines what kind of information can be extracted from the items and how long people will be able to use and research the excavated materials.  The excavated materials from the project Unearthing New Castle’s Past, from the Read House and Gardens in New Castle are currently being stored at the University of Delaware.  This project helps plan for the future of the collections.  In order to properly store and maintain these materials, a three-phase project, modeled on the Alexandria Archaeology Collections Management Program from 1991, must be implemented.  This three-phase project includes surveys, re-housing, and conservation.  Specific components and standards for this project are supplemented using the Collections and Conservation Standards for the state of Maryland and a draft of the Guidelines and Standards for the Curation of Archaeological Collections of Delaware State Museums, by Charles H. Fithian.


Objects included in the collection:

·       Faunal material: bone and shell

·       Brick and mortar

·       Soil samples –includes phytolith and pollen columns

·       Tin-glazed earthenware, Delftware, stoneware and redware

·       Iron

·       Glass

·       Ceramics

·       Charcoal


Proposal for Improvement:

After surveying the current storage area and conditions, a proposal for improvement was devised, including renovation and re-housing/conservation:

 Storage area needs:

- Two rooms for the collection area; a larger one for

 processing and storage and a smaller room for washing, in order to keep the storage area clean

These pictures are examples of a good processing and storage room: left; and a washing room: right.  They were taken from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.


- Provide adequate shelf space: Compactor shelving doubles the storage space of regular shelving.  If there is the space, regular shelving is appropriate, but compactor shelving may be the desirable choice, especially if the collection is going to grow.

Left is an example of compactor shelving (also taken from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab).  The boxes are coroplast –archival quality and water-resistant.





Note, the fan on the right is not generally considered an appropriate temperature control system.


- Install a heating, cooling, and humidity control system.  Strips on the bottoms of all doors will further provide protection from the outside, and will reduce fluctuation environments.  Smoke detectors and wet-pipe sprinkler systems should also be installed.  And to keep the area free of pest, a pest monitor should be installed.

 Re-house artifacts using archival quality resealable bags, which can then be placed in boxes.  Label boxes and bags using permanent archival materials.  For uniform and legible labels, it may be best to print them on acid-free cardstock using a computer of word-processor.

 Entering this information into a computer also helps update information for a database.

 Sort artifacts by provenience.


After improvement of the storage and collection conditions, the owners, supervisors, and users of the artifacts have a responsibility to maintain the quality environment for the collection, including monitoring and cleaning.  Educating more people on the effects the environment can have on artifacts is also important to the survival of the collection in the future.  


-Researched by: Molly Catherine Gleeson



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