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!

Let the Treatment Begin!

Abigail Duckor

Following the research conducted by Claire d’Izarny-Gargas, further examination led to the formation of treatment plans for Angel A and Angel B. As discussed earlier, Angel A was in decidedly better condition, so it was tackled first.

Claire starting the treatment on Angel A

Claire starting the treatment on Angel A, courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

On the front and the back of the angel were two different types of surfaces. The front was a gilded layer, which was flaking and delaminating. The back featured a painted layer, also undergoing flaking, but not as extensively. The front and the back of Angel A therefore underwent different treatments. This blog post discusses the relaying of the flaking gilded surface. For the front of the angel the main goals were to clean the surface (which was very, very dirty!) and to relay the remaining flakes. An initial gentle clean was done with a cotton wool swab and a solution of 50:50 IMS (industrial methylated spirit) and deionised water. This method was selected after some cleaning tests were carried out in an inconspicuous area.

Cleaning tests on Angel A.

Cleaning tests on Angel A. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

The flakes were then relayed by first saturating the area with the 50:50 IMS/ deionised water solution. Then, using a small brush, a drop of warmed gelatin solution (5% w/v in deionised water) was placed under the flake. Saturating the area first reduced the surface tension and allowed the gelatin to penetrate under the flake.


The gelatin was dissolved in warm deionised water. It was kept at 60°C in a water bath. Photograph by A. Duckor

After the gelatin cooled a bit (a few minutes), heat was applied to the area with a heated spatula. A piece of silicone-release paper was used between the  spatula and the angel, to prevent damage to the surface from the tackiness of the gelatin. Pressure was gently applied to the flake with the heated spatula, in a ‘rubbing’ motion. The gradual heating softened the gilding and allowed it to be re-shaped onto the surface of the angel. The heat ‘activated’ the gelatin and adhered the flake onto the substrate.


The heat spatula and brush used in the flake relaying. Photograph by A. Duckor

This method was very successful in relaying the flakes with little breakage. Following re-laying, further cleaning could be done without risking additional damage to the surface.

The left hand of Angel A before and after the flake relaying. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

The bulk of this treatment took place during the summer months of 2014 and allowed for the involvement of both MSc and MA conservation students – a great opportunity to work together and learn from one another!

Erin Murphy using the heat spatula to gently press down a flake and seal it with the gelatin.

Erin Murphy using the heat spatula to gently press down a flake and seal it with the gelatin. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Rachel Altpeter and Romina Quijano Quinones working together.

Rachel Altpeter and Romina Quijano Quinones working together. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Yuqi Chock applying gelatin to flaking areas of gilding.

Yuqi Chock applying gelatin to flaking areas of gilding. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Photographs by A.Duckor and Claire D’Izarny-Gargas.