Caring for Wounded Objects

Vanessa Applebaum

Editor’s Note: MSc Year 2 students often write blog posts for the museums where they currently intern. This example was originally posted to the Science Museum blog, found here. Reposted with permission.

As a member of the conservation team that has cleaned, documented and repaired items for the Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care exhibition, I’ve become acquainted with a range of fascinating objects used during the First World War.

Among those I readied for display, my favourite is the field surgical pannier set, which was made in Britain in 1905 and would have been used in field hospitals near the front line.

I particularly like the pannier set because of the many remarkable smaller objects – over 100 – inside the case. They include instruments used to open up the body and stitch wounds, as well as mundane items such as bandages and plasters. There’s also a saline infusion apparatus that was used to wash wounds, dilute drugs and provide a substitute for blood plasma.

A field surgical pannier set, made in Britain in 1905. Credit: Science Museum.

A field surgical pannier set, made in Britain in 1905. Credit: Science Museum.

The interior of the pannier and the items inside were treated extensively last year by Louise Stewart Beck, who worked on almost all the objects going on display.

However, the exterior – specifically the pannier’s leather components – also needed conservation. And that’s where I came in.

My task involved documenting the pannier’s condition, cleaning it, repairing certain areas where the leather was lifting and tearing, and stabilising spots on the surface that were crumbling.

Parts of the leather were suffering from ‘red rot’, a form of degradation – not actually rot, despite the name – that occurs in vegetable tanned leathers from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It usually appears as a reddish colour and a crumbling surface, and results from high temperatures and high humidity. To fix the problem I used a ‘consolidant’ to treat the surface locally, which helped to stop the crumbling and stabilise the pannier for the future.

Because of its age and how it was used, other areas of the leather – mostly the bottom edges and corners – had split and were lifting from the wicker interior. The location of the damage and the reduced flexibility of the material made this one of the trickier parts of the job.

Vanessa at work conserving the field surgical pannier set. Credit: Science Museum

Vanessa at work conserving the field surgical pannier set. Credit: Science Museum

In some cases the treatment was as straightforward as sticking down the leather with an adhesive, but for other sections that were fragile and unable to bend I had to resort to humidification. Where the leather needed extra support to reattach to the wicker, I used Japanese tissue paper colour matched to the brown leather as a kind of patch.

Treating the surgical pannier set was both interesting and informative. I look forward to seeing it on display in the exhibition, and I’m sure others will enjoy learning from it just as I have.

Conservation of the Cruciform Hub’s Historical Busts

By Emma Prideaux and Cyril Maucourant

Following the introduction of the busts (Here!), we explain the conservation process. The process involved four main steps: observation, investigation, deliberation and treatment.


Students need to work out what needs to be done to these objects before a plan of action can be drawn up. So each statue will be first examined thoroughly and these observations will be recorded, through written descriptions, photographs and illustrations. These records also function as a record of what the object was like before treatment. Observation can be simply viewing the object with the naked eye, but magnified lenses or digital microscope using visible light, IR and UV, can be used to observe specific details related to decay mechanisms or highlight traces of materials from past conservation treatments (Fig. 1.) .

Dowel pins detail

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Figure 1. Recording evidence of dry corrosion on a tip of a dowel pin (Maucourant, 2016)


This stage is essential to determine the chemical nature of materials the object is made of. This can inform us of the correct chemicals needed to instigate conservation work.

This can be as simple as removing a sample of adhesive from the surface of the object, placing it on a clear slide and dropping acetone on it, to see if it will dissolve. More intensive analysis, usually involves equipment such as a pXrf or a Scanning Electron Microscope, which can be used to provide information about the surface morphology and micro-crystalline matrix. With this information, a critical analysis about the choice of materials used for conservation treatment can be proposed.

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Figure 2. Location of two different accretions in the surface of the bust (Wang, 2016)


When the conservators have decided what is feasible, the next step is to consult with the ‘stakeholders’. In this case, those in charge of the marble busts, and each other. This is to ensure that the conservation work aligns with the goals of the owners of the object.

The fact that these marble busts are part of a set can complicates matters. This group of objects will all be displayed together. The conservators must consult each other to ensure that all the marble busts and both the plaster busts retain the same aesthetic after conservation.

Once a conservation treatment has been formally agreed, the students can then move onto conservation treatment of the objects.

Cleaning tests back of bust results

Figure 3. Testing cleaning methods – results (Maucourant, 2016)

Conservation treatment

Finally, after observation, investigation, and deliberation these objects can begin to be treated.

Conservation is, at its heart, problem solving, and each statue will provide its own challenges and solutions. This can be as simple as brushing the dust off the surface of the object, to reconstructing missing fragments of stone. A range of tools can be used, from bamboo sticks and cotton wool to scalpels and Plaster of Paris fills. The techniques used on this object set will vary widely – some of the statues are plaster, some are marble. Some objects need to have aesthetic repairs whilst others need structural repairs.


Figure 4. Some need significant repairs (De la Serna, 2016)


More on the treatment soon!



A tale of significance: The confused porcelain

Lucie Altenburg

Once upon a time, on one fateful afternoon, we were asked to choose our first object for treatment. I immediately spotted a small porcelain figurine broken in two at the midriff. It appeared to be a Japanese woman in an ornate and gilded kimono and holding a fan, which would suggest a dancer. It was one of those “Aha!” moments: that Asiatic looking young lady “sang” to me.

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The Japanese figurine studied. Photograph by Lucie Altenburg

Objects, even when we know little to nothing about them, can be powerful engagers. What had actually happened was that, as a slightly atypical Japanese with a German surname, I felt compelled to choose this dainty but slightly sorry looking figurine because there was a link… Even before I started any sort of work on this object it already held significance for me.

Significance is a vital concept in 21st century conservation. It refers to the values and meanings that heritage objects hold for individuals and communities. These values and meanings determine the object’s ability to engage people, and people’s ability to connect and relate to the object. The aim of conservation is to retain, reveal or recover the cultural significance of an artefact. We do this not simply through the treatment of the object’s fabric, but also through the development of an understanding of its history and any meanings it may hold. In the MSc we learn to make significance a key focus in any treatment design. Our treatment proposals must include an assessment of significance that identifies the important elements of the object‘s fabric, history, and meaning.

So I set out to do this. The figurine was broken in half and heavily soiled, so that it was difficult to see some of the decorative patterns on the garment. After a preliminary visual examination, no manufacturing marks were observed, making it difficult to provenance and even date the figurine. It looked like the representation of an Asian lady, possibly a dancer, and the statement of significance was first written with this interpretation in mind.

But the more I looked at it, the more it bothered me. There was something very much off about the figurine, and this irked me to no end.

That’s when it hit me. Not literally. It is an inanimate object after all.

The way the hair was styled was completely wrong for a young woman, especially in a traditional kimono. It can clearly be seen in the pictures other Japanese porcelain figurines. That particular hairstyle was actually one that young men usually sported.

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Other Japanese figurines. Photograph from

The investigation deepened as I reached out to some relatives back in Japan, who confirmed that the hairstyle and in fact the short sleeved kimono suggested that this was a young man instead of a young woman. This new information would not change my proposal for the way the figurine is conserved or handled in this case, but it was revealing hitherto hidden values in the figurine, and enriched its capacity to engage. This underlines how important it is to fully understand the object being treated.

I finally had a stroke of luck. A virtually identical figurine online, was described as a Kabuki geisha. In Japan, we have a form of theatre called Kabuki. Traditionally men act out female roles and dress as such. As far as I know geishas are all women, since they are hostesses and entertain men. So the description may be wrong. However, it was the same stance, the same fan and kimono (just decorated differently), and the same puzzling hairstyle. Also, there was a manufacturer name. All this added to the understanding of the figurine and finally gave a potential provenance.


Detail of Kabuki performance. Photograph from

At this point, my cousin, who is a traditional painter, got back at me saying she was 99% sure this was a man. She was puzzled by the way the bottom of the kimono folds to the sides, showing a rather dainty foot, a very effeminate trait. While the proper right arm shows a red under-garment, more of a male feature.

The figurine would have been a Kutani ware porcelain that towards the end of the nineteenth century, produced almost exclusively for import towards Europe. This meant that accurate depictions of the Japanese culture were not necessarily a priority; mostly the figurines had to be exotic and beautiful explaining the confusing mixture of male-female markers in the figurine. At this point, it becomes difficult to affirm what it is trying to represent.


Other Kutani figurines. Photograph from

As conservators, we often achieve a degree of knowledge and intimacy with the object that few other heritage practitioners have. So far, the result of my work, even before I started on treating the problems with the object’s fabric, is that the figurine has regained some of its values. It is now more than it was when the treatment started, and has an interesting and engaging tale to tell. It has certainly increased its appeal and interest to me as I research and work on it.

So we all lived happily ever after. The end

An Introduction to the Cruciform Hub’s Historical Busts

Emma Prideaux

During the summer of 2015, 7 portrait busts, once part of a larger group of sculptures displayed in UCL’s old Medical School Library in Rockefeller Building, came to the attention of the conservation team at UCL PACE Museums and Collections ( These are the likenesses of formative figures associated with UCL’s medical school and University College Hospital and are to be put on display in the recently refurbished UCL Cruciform Hub ( But before this can happen, the busts must be first cleaned and conserved!

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Figure 1. The Medical Library (Now Grant Museum) (Source: Cain 2011, 27)

The busts, two made of plaster and five made of marble, were originally arranged on plinths in the old Medical School Library, the Rockefeller Building, overlooking the central room. These original Plinths can still be seen in the Grant Museum of Zoology, which has occupied the space since 2014 ( The busts were removed from the Rockefeller Building in 1999, when the Medical School Library moved to the Cruciform Building, and placed into storage. In June 2013 the Medical School Library in the Cruciform Building was refurbished. When it reopened as the UCL Cruciform Hub in 2014, it was decided that the busts should be returned to their vigil over studying medical students.

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Figure 2. The old Medical School Library, the Rockefeller building. (Source: Cain 2011, 7)

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Figure 3. The original position of some of the busts in the old Medical School Library (Source: Cain 2011, 44)

Before the busts can be installed, though, a lot of conservation work needs to be done. Each of the 7 sculptures has been allocated to a first year MSc conservation students (UCL), who will examine, study and then propose a course of treatment so that the busts can be displayed together on a plinth in the Cruciform Hub. It will be overseen by Kate Cheney head librarian, Susi Pancaldo, head of Conservation in UCL museums and by me, a second year intern in the program (


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Figure 4. Edward William Murphy. One of the old busts that is being conserved. (Source: Cain 2011, 43)

The Blogs

This is the first of a series of blogs that will cover what, why, when and how we will treat these statues. By sharing the steps we take as our work progresses, we hope to reveal how museum objects sometimes need to go through transformation before they can be displayed. We hope to showcase the work of conservators and, in particular, to share with our readers the unique set of challenges that each bust presents to students in the Institute of Archaeology’s conservation lab and the solutions we’ve created.

Olduvai is Gorge-ous!

Abigail Duckor

Our previous posts about Olduvai Gorge introduced the Olduvai Geochronology and Archaeology Project excavations. At this time Anna, Jan and I were just beginning to pack for the trip. It feels crazy to say that now already 2 months have passed since we returned from what was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

As explained before, Olduvai Gorge is a very important site for the discovery of early hominin activity. It was first excavated by Mary and Louis Leakey in 1935 and excavations continue there today. Echos of Mary and Louis Leakey’s presence still remain at the camp where we lived.


The Leakey’s home, now the camp’s dining hall- and coloring area during our mid-day break (Photo Emily)


The Laetoli lab- our conservation lab for the season (Photo A. Duckor)

Every year the day that Mary found the Zinjanthropus boisei skull (also known as Paranthropus boisei) is celebrated. We were lucky enough to be part of the celebrations this year. Throughout the night everyone expressed their thankfulness for the collaboration that has taken place between the local Maasai and the visiting researchers.


Our friend Merve gets lovingly dressed up by the Maasai Women for the Zinj Day celebrations (photo A. Duckor)

The excavations this year have been led by Dr. Ignacio de la Torre (UCL), Dr. Lindsay McHenry (University Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Dr. Michael Pante (Colorado State University). The excavations site locations were based on the meticulous notes of Mary Leakey.

This year, the main sites excavated were incredibly rich archaeologically. Over 5,000 artefacts were excavated this season and over 550 of those passed through the conservation lab.

GTCT (Greatest Tanzanian Conservation Team) treated more objects then ever before. Comprised of myself, Anna, Jan and Eli. We were led by Dr. Renata Peters to have a highly successful season conserving fossilized bones and stone tools.

The fossilized bones  came into the lab requiring joining, consolidation, fills and surface cleaning. The stone tools were often delaminating, in addition to needing joining and surface cleaning.


Anna consults with Renata about a treatment (photo A. Duckor)

We could not have had such a successful season without help from the Tanzanian excavators and field school students who quickly became part of the GTCT.


I help teach one of our students, Nai, about documentation


The ever-growing conservation team!

When reminiscing about our time in Olduvai to others Anna, Jan and I have gotten some interesting reactions. Daily life at the camp would not be considered easy by most. We slept in tents, had no running water (which meant showering from a bag and brushing your teeth by a bush) and only limited generator-powered electricity. We would start work daily at 7:45am and would finish around 6:30pm- when there was no more light to work by. However, we would also watch the sunrise over the gorge every morning, see giraffes running behind the camp in the evening and fall asleep to the sound of hyenas. We were surrounded by loving and caring people with whom we formed friendships that will last a lifetime. Olduvai Gorge is a unique and wondrous place. I think I speak for all three of us when I say we feel very lucky to have been part of this experience.


(Photo A. Duckor)

This trip could not have been possible without help from our friends and family who donated to our crowd fundraising campaign, the Zibby Garnett Travel Fellowship and OGAP. Thank you so much!

Extending 3D scanning technique with the help of Cyclododecane

Pingfang Wang

New technologies are making themselves a place in conservation. Today we introduce 3D scanning a technique that we will use very soon in our projects.

3D scanning has been extensively applied in museum and cultural heritage environments for the purpose of documentation and conservation because of its non-contact and non-destructive nature. However, this technique is limited if the objects with transparent surface. More techniques are developed to resolve the problem, based on analyzing the properties of reflective and scattered optical wave. Nevertheless, these methods require strict light control during implementation and highly skilled post-analysis involving complicated algorithms. Hereby, I would like to introduce a more feasible method to improve the acquisition problem on scanning transparent object. It is a new application of a common conservation material that using cyclododecane as whitening spray on the object’s surface prior to 3D scanning.


Fig. Two historic bulbs from the collections of Science and Engineering (UCL museums)

A brief introduction of Cyclododecane

Cyclododecane (CDD) is a cyclic alkaline with the chemical formula, C12H24. It appears translucent colorless solid in a form of irregular crystal and is a very volatile substance. The most attractive characteristic is that it sublimes, eliminating additional chemical or physical treatment steps to remove it. In addition, its hydrophobic characteristic is ideal to use as a temporary consolidant for fragile materials during transportation and for cleaning treatment with water-sensitive material.

Being part of my MA dissertation research, I cooperated with UCL museum and asked for the transparent objects as scanning samples from the collections of Science and Engineering. These samples are the historical light bulbs and valves, which were produced in around 1920s (Fig.1). Due to surface property of transparency, these objects have difficulties in applying scanning for 3D documentation. They were generally documented with texts and photographs. Through 3D scanning, the morphology of objects can be precisely recorded for preservation and monitoring purpose, Also, the 3D data can be used to create replicas and visualized display on the website enhancing its educational value.


Fig. 2. 3D scanning of a historic bulb coated with CDD at the Institute of Making (UCL)

In the scanning project, a NextEngine 3D Laser Scanner, provided by Institute of Making of UCL, was employed to scan these objects (Fig.2). The average scanning time is estimated around 50 minutes for each object. Fig.3 demonstrates the result of 3D scanning with CDD coating. This application provides a desirable 3D model for transparent object and also reaches 3D documentation purpose in regards of substance reversibility and data completeness.


Fig. 3. 3D scanning results

Nevertheless, since the CDD application is solvent-based, the transparent materials that are sensitive to organic solvent are not suitable for this approach, such as plastic objects and specimens. Except for this, using cyclododecane as an opaque coating for scanning transparent surface is a great choice!

Introducing new MSc students year 1

Alicia de la Serna

October came and with it, a new academic year began. While our predecessors start their internships (MSc2), we – this academic year’s MSc1’s – are excited to start our year in the lab. Each one of us comes from very different backgrounds and experiences. We have a beautiful mix of nationalities and careers, from archaeometry to history of art, from pharmacy to archaeology, from physics to fine arts.


We are getting closer to half way through the three year program in conservation at Institute of Archaeology (UCL) and we can start to see the horizon after the MSc (How scary and exciting!).

This year at the MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, we start developing our practical skills. And with October the most fearful and expected moment came: we were sitting in front of the first object allocated. That was the moment, the beginning. We all looked at each other, then to the object. We asked each other, and then back to the object. Tentatively we started. Moments came when fear stopped us. When that happens, one of our lecturers will sit with us and guide us through the object. And then, we are left alone again, but each time they leave we are a bit more confident, a bit less fearful. A long time ago, one of my teachers said, “You don’t have to fear the object, you have to respect it”. And that is what we learn to do.


Each one of us has come with our own bag packed full of information, knowledge, skills and life experiences. Slowly, we start to share those bits of wisdom and abilities. We start to fuse our experiences. Each week we absorb information from a mix of both our lecturers and our fellow students. Isn’t it the most important part of growing up? Learning that knowledge is hidden under every stone and not always under the most obvious one.

So this blog is a way for us to extend the sharing of experiences and information beyond the lab walls. I hope you decide to follow our progress. In the posts here we will continue to share our experiences, our research and practical tips, anything that we think is useful, interesting, or reflective of conservation. The MSc 2 students will of course keep posting about their experiences. We welcome your comments and feedback and look forward to a great year!


Conservation at the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver

Megan Narvey

The conservation program at UCL consists of two Master’s degrees over the course of three years. Two summers of those three years are consumed, more or less, with the writing of dissertations. The middle summer, however, is free. I’m Canadian, and although I’m very happy with my decision to study conservation abroad, I hope to work in Canada when I’m finished. Therefore, I used my free summer to build contacts in Canada by applying for an internship at one of my favourite Canadian museums.

The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has an impressive collection of objects from all around the world, and is most well known for its collection of objects from First Nations groups of the Pacific Northwest. The museum is also known for having a very inclusive policy of working with the communities it represents.


Haida house totem pole in the Great Hall, from c. 1870. These poles were originally from one pole, which stood outside the front wall of a house called ‘Plenty of Tliman Hides in This House’, a structure belonging to the family of the clan of ‘Those Born at Gadasgo Creek’, of the Raven moiety. Please read more about them on MOA’s online catalogue, here.

I had visited the museum before and was impressed with the collection, the quality of the facilities (there was a major renovation in 2010), and was intrigued by its use of a glass door separating the conservation lab from the galleries. It didn’t hurt that this is the view outside.

The view from the staff lunch area is not too shabby.

The view from the staff lunch area is not too shabby.

At MOA, I worked under the guidance of the conservators Heidi Swierenga and Mauray Toutloff. I completed complex treatments, worked with volunteers, and learned about and assisted with earthquake-proofing of the storage areas (this is not a problem you come across in London!). The most interesting treatment I worked on was of a Kwakwaka’wakw wooden figure.

Before treatment

The figure would have been displayed publicly to honour the greatness of a chief, and depicts a chief being carried on the shoulders of a slave. You can read more about the context of the object here. The figures are painted with red and black paint, and the wood – likely cedar –  has been stained or varnished. The figure needed conservation as, during handling, the thumb of the chief had fallen off due to a failed previous conservation treatment. At the same time, a curator had come across a historic image of the figure where the outstretched arm of the chief was held in a different position. The historic position was more in keeping with the original context of the object, so we were asked if we could return it to this previous position.

Detail of where the thumb had broken

Detail of where the thumb had broken

The first step of the treatment was to determine how the outstretched arm was connected to the body, and how to remove it without causing any damage. There appeared to be a lot of pieces of wood nailed together around the joint, as well as a bright, new wooden wedge and two different kinds of adhesive.

Detail of the arm joint

Detail of the arm joint

After plenty of examination, it was clear that the arm itself was not nailed in place, but only adhered. The adhesive was found to be soluble in ethanol, so it was softened with the solvent and the arm easily pulled out of the socket.

Stage one of the treatment accomplished!

Stage one of the treatment accomplished!

The next stage of treatment was to remove the tenon, of the open mortise and tenon joint, and reattach it at an angle that would put the arm in its historic position. The tenon was attached to the arm with an overly strong adhesive that was causing the wood on the arm to fracture, as well as with six nails. I removed the adhesive with solvent and had to pry the tenon away from the arm using wooden wedges and hammer. Then I removed the nails from the tenon by hammering them out backwards, with a piece of wood to cushion the blows so as to preserve the nails.

The slow process of driving wooden wedges between the arm and the tenon to separate them without causing further damage.

The slow process of driving wooden wedges between the arm and the tenon to separate them without causing further damage.

Both the arm and the tenon were pockmarked with holes from nails hammered in and removed over time. In order to lower my impact on the object, I chose to reuse two of these holes to attach the tenon to the arm in the new position, and used screws instead of nails, which are easier to remove. Finally, I removed the visually obtrusive wooden wedge and replaced it with a piece of 8-ply black acid-free matboard. No adhesive was needed to secure the arm in place.

The arm joint after treatment

The arm joint after treatment

The last step of treatment was reattaching the thumb. Upon examination, four different eras of previous conservation were detected (all prior to the object’s acquisition by the museum in 1973, and the establishment of the conservation labs at MOA). There were wooden wedges, nails, what appeared to be a type of animal glue, and then what appeared to be a more modern synthetic glue. All of these treatments had failed because the thumb lacked good contact with the body. Therefore, I decided to use a combination of fill and adhesive to reattach the thumb to the body, with a modern, easily reversible conservation adhesive.

The thumb, reattached more securely to the figure.

The thumb, reattached more securely to the figure.

After the treatment, the object was returned to its location on display in the Great Hall of the museum, with what I see as a much grander and more imposing appearance.

The object after treatment.

The object after treatment.

My internship experience at the Museum of Anthropology was highly educational and equally fun. To learn more about conservation at MOA or their conservation internship program, please find more information at

A Summer Conserving Conservation Archives

Emily Williams

A week after the end of MSc1, I moved to Rome for the summer to start a nine-week internship programme at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). ICCROM is an intergovernmental organization that promotes the conservation of both movable and immovable heritage through training, research and cooperation.

My role at ICCROM was within the department of Knowledge and Communication, in the photographic archive. The ICCROM archive contains videos, audiotapes, photographic and paper records that date from the creation of ICCROM in 1959 to the present. I was invited to undertake several rehousing projects and assess the condition of a portion of the archive’s photographic collections.


An image of me rehousing Jukka Jokilehto’s slide collection

I started my internship by rehousing H.J. Plenderleith’s glass slide collection, placing each slide in individual acid-free paper envelopes. Plenderleith (1898-1997) was ICCROM’s first director general and had previously worked for the British Museum, where he helped address the issues of deterioration on the objects that were stored in the London Underground during the First World War. The glass slides that I re-housed illustrated these artefacts being stored in the London underground. Can you guess which underground station this is?


Aldwych Underground Station, by H.J. Plenderleith. Courtesy of ICCROM archives. For more images on the storage conditions of museum objects during the Second World War, check out this article by Simon Lambert at:

I then assessed the archive’s photographic collection, and through Plenderleith’s connection to the British Museum I came across many links to the Institute of Archaeology and the former conservation students and its staff, including our professor Dean Sully!


The British Museum’s Conservation Laboratory, by H.J. Plenderleith. Courtesy of ICCROM archives.

Upon completing the condition survey, I noticed that many of the prints had been covered in pressure sensitive tape, some as old as the 1970’s and others applied more recently. The older tapes showed signs of deterioration despite the archive’s environmental conditions being kept at low temperatures (8oC-10oC) and 45-50% RH. The tape carriers had become heavily discoloured and the adhesive had become tacky, sometimes staining the print itself. As the photographs were stacked together, the adhesive was transferring from the tape to the image side of the prints. I thought it would be a good opportunity to improve the state of the prints by removing the tape, both the already degraded ones and the newer tapes, to prevent future deterioration. Armed with only a scalpel, a pair of tweezers and a Mars Staedler eraser, I was able to remove the tape from the front and the back of the prints, as well as removing the tacky adhesive residue on the prints themselves.


The photographs with pressure sensitive tape


Removing the tape


The photo with the adhesive removed

The largest project I undertook while at ICCROM was re-housing and inventorying a slide collection donated by Prof. Jukka Jokilehto, author of A History of Architectural Conservation (1990). The 11,647 slides that needed re-housing were categorized by country and date, and though most of the slides were annotated, a large portion of slides needed identifying. This meant some detective work had to be done. Using a magnifying lens and a light box I searched for indicators like flags, road signs and number plates to help determine the geographic location of the photo as well as the time period in which it was taken (cars and clothes were a great help determining time period!). Spot the small detail in the image below (Fig.7) to determine the location of this photograph:

Unknown, Taken by Jukka Jokilehto – Courtesy of ICCROM Archives

In the 55 years ICCROM has been operating, the world’s immovable and movable heritage has undergone many changes, much of which has been documented in the photographic records available at the archive. Some of these places have been lost forever, such as the recent attacks on the archaeological site of Palmyra, where images are the only thing we have left of these treasures. Fortunately, despite the many losses and irreversible changes that have taken place over the years, archives like the one at ICCROM continue to record these events. The archive at ICCROM is an incredibly rich source of information that is valuable not only to professionals in conservation and the cultural heritage sector, yet few people know about it and the information it contains. It was an incredible experience that taught me how to organize and document a very large volume of material and showed me the value behind doing so. But most importantly it gave me a chance to contribute to the prolonged preservation of a collection that, although underutilized, is an amazing resource for present and future generations. I encourage you to explore it!

Mobilised Salts and Chedworth Roman Villa

Emma Prideaux

Anna has previously talked us through archaeological sites and how conservators assess them, using Billingsgate Archaeological site as an example. But what next? How do you solve a problem like sites next to a marina? Or with a water table that is jusssst a little too high? UCL’s work at Chedworth Roman Villa is a nice example of seasonal conservation work that tackles two problems caused by water: salt damage and microbiological growth.

The Villa


The Villa Layout

Built in the 4th Century BC, Chedworth Roman Villa is one of the largest Roman Villas discovered in Britain. The significant remains of three wings (or ranges) of the building survive above ground, the best preserved of which contain the dining rooms and the bathhouses. Originally discovered and excavated in the Victorian Period, the villa is now managed by the National Trust. It is famous, amongst other things, for having the only depiction of a British Native in mosaic form.


The mosaic shows a Roman-Era Briton. He symbolises winter, proving that the British obsession with the weather is really, really old. []

While the site is stable and well cared for, the site is subject to problems associated with water movement. A relatively high water-table and run-off from the surrounding hills is partially combated by a modern French drain. The water that weasels its way through this defence has a habit of soaking into the foundations. This then allows water to spread to the other surfaces of the building, such as the mosaics. If this water dries, it leaves behind salts on these surfaces. If it doesn’t, it allows microbiological growth, namely algae, lichen, and cyanobacteria (think black sludge) to grow. This can damage and obscure the surfaces. UCL conservation students perform seasonal conservation work, removing salt and algae blooms to help National Trust staff maintain the site.


Sometimes, the cleaning of archaeological sites can involve delicate, painstaking work using specialised tools. Sometimes, as when removing efforvesence (salt blooms) from the surfaces of Chedworth Roman Villa, you do not.


It’s too late for regret, Rob. We arrived in a communal van and there’s no public transport for you to escape in. You’re going to have to clean it.

It’s a simple process. Sponges are soaked in de-ionised water, which is then gently pressed against the surface of salt-encrusted tesserae. This dissolves the salt, and allows it to be lifted, wicking the encrustation away to reveal the surfaces underneath. By wearing thick socks, and laying down padded walkboards, we can move safely around the site.


The cleaned tesserae!

Biological growth is slightly trickier. A fast way of killing and removing microbiological growth is through steam cleaning. These tools kill and remove the algae by applying high-heat steam to the organisms, where surfaces are stable enough to use it. You can see the progress and, as we’re essentially ‘boiling’ the algae off, you can also smell the over-cooked cabbage aroma of progress.

However, some areas (such as the mosaics) are too unstable to use steam cleaning. If attempted, we risk dislodging the tesserae en-mass, and beginning the world’s most stressful jigsaw puzzle. Therefore, microbiological growth is removed slowly, using these very special conservation tools:


Pictured: “Specialized tools”.


Conservation may be a dorky profession, but we’re always prepared for a barbeque.

But using tiny tools on huge mosaics is time consuming – even by conservation standards, which is saying something. Therefore, in this site we’re borrowing a trick that aquarium-owners use to keep their fish tank clean.

No. Not like this. Chedworth isn't that damp.

No. Not like this. Chedworth isn’t that damp.

Many fish tanks use UV light to kill algae. By exposing the microbiological growth in Chedworth Roman Villa to specific UV light for four days, we can kill it. As we are able to completely killing the microbiological growth, this process will also slow down the rate that biological growth will colonise in this area. An added advantage is that it also vaporises the remains, leaving the mosaic surfaces largely clear of debris. Any residual remains can be cleaned off using toothbrushes and bamboo sticks much, much faster.

Like painting the Forth Bridge, in moving the UV light source from section to section, it takes some time for the whole surface of the mosaic floors to be treated. This means that the UV eradication takes place when Chedworth is open to visitors.   To protect visitors from the UV light, the equipment is contained inside a light proof box , which make it perfectly safe for people to be in the same room.

Having carried out these cleaning techniques, our field trip to Chedworth has left the site cleaner, more stable, more accessible, and more visually appealing. Although it is not possible to totally prevent microbiological growth and salt blooms on the site, these techniques can be used to mitigate the damage that might otherwise result, if left untreated.