Saturday, 27 June 2015

Getting ready to go to Olduvai Gorge

It’s that time of the year, when we start hoarding conservation materials, packing supplies, and getting ready to join friends and colleagues in Olduvai Gorge.

The UCL conservation team working with OGAP in Olduvai Gorge will be mighty this year! UCL conservation students Abby Duckor, Anna Funke & Jan Cutajar will be working with Eli Diaz and Renata Peters. We are looking forward to joining our colleague Dan Mainoya in Arusha and possibly have some Tanzanian conservation apprentices in the team as well.

The wonderful manager Carmen Martin Ramos and conservator Eli Diaz.  
And here are Abby, Anna and Jan (in very good company) on Gordon Square. Very soon you will see them at the Laetoli Lab in the Leakey Camp! 

Our main activities this year will include:
-Development of new approaches to lifting, consolidation and stabilization of fossils and lithics
-Removal of matrices
-Identification of available local resources
-Testing and use of local materials
-Building capacities among Tanzanian colleagues and students
-Engagement with local groups through the practice of conservation
-Evaluation of approaches to increase access to the collections

But we are also hoping to continue our Maasai beading workshop and possibly some basketry! 

Watch this space, we will be blogging from our lab in the Leakey Camp!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Olduvai Gorge Conservation Project

By Anna Funke
This post is to introduce you to a fascinating project that three MSc Conservation students (myself, Abby Duckor and Jan D. Cutajar) will be involved with this summer. 
The three of us, also known as the GTCT (Greatest Tanzania Conservation Team) will be going to Olduvai Gorge in – you guessed it - Tanzania this summer! We will be in pursuit of some hand-fast evidence about the lives of early man and woman. This famous site is right at the heart of the theory that humanity’s origins are to be found in East Africa.

The archaeological research at Olduvai focuses on the transition between the Oldowan and the Acheulean. Both these groups are steps in the line of the human biological as well as technical evolution. The archaeologists on site will therefore be looking both for human remains that can give some insight into the biological stages of our development, as well as for ancient stone tools that can shed some light on our early technical developments. The finds from Olduvai Gorge go back as far as 1.7 million years!

Olduvai Gorge

Our contribution to these grand questions will be to try to stabilise these fragile finds so that they can safely be studied. We will also try our hands at excavation by helping out with the lifting of particularly fragile finds.  

A fragile find being worked on in the Laetoli Lab by Ephraim Lucas Tarmo, one of the Tanzanian conservation apprentices in the 2014 season. Photo courtesy of OGAP.

We are now in the final weeks of preparations before the departure of GTCT in early July! We are getting our vaccinations and gathering our tents, travel showers, and tool kits. We can’t wait to jump in and we hope you will stay tuned for updates during the excavation! If you would like us to send you a postcard, we will happily do so in return for a small contribution to our travel fund. We are so close to going but we still need to raise the last of our balance to make this trip a success! You can help by contributing here or by spreading the word about our project. Thank you for any help you can give!
Find out more about the conservation at Olduvai Gorge here.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The complexity of making mounts

As part of the course ARCLG139 Skills for Conservation Management (UCL MA Principles of Conservation) last April, I carried out a mounts project with the objective of learning how to create safe mounts while taking into account the space and resources of the collection. Although it was a challenging project, I very much enjoyed the process, especially when thinking that my work might help to expand the lifespan of those unique artefacts.
The project consisted of creating suitable mounts for 22 objects of the Ethnographic collection in the Material Culture Room at the Department of Anthropology (UCL). The objects were stacked one above the other and were protected by acid free tissue. Because of the organic nature of the artefacts and the lack of appropriate mounts, they were rapidly deteriorating. What a shame, right? Especially since these objects are very interesting from  ethnographic and aesthetic perspectives.

Fig. 1. Drawer 4H: Acid free tissue and plastic bags were the only protection the objects had (before project).

The aims of the project were discussed with Delphine Mercier, responsible for the care of the MCR collection. After my discussion with Delphine, the next step was to identify those limitations and needs.
  • Improving the visual and physical access to each one of the object.
  • Provide safe mounts that could easily be handled, inviting handling of the mount rather than the artefact.
  • Reducing mechanical friction between artefacts.
  • Produce support in the most sensitive areas of the object.

  • Space: Only the space in the drawer was available. No extra space could be provided.
  • Materials: the materials already available in the Material Cultural Room.

Fig. 2. Drawer 4H Dimensions
Due to the restrictions of space, the resulting proposal stated that two levels would be needed inside the drawer with the taller artefacts in a first level and the shorter in a second. Also, the objects that weighted the most were placed in the first level to avoid the weight of objects affecting each other.
Additionally, similar materials and other connections - for instance, provenance - were also taken into account, and whenever possible they were placed next each other. For example, artefacts J.0027, J.0028 and J.0111 A&B were placed close to each other because they have the same provenance – Papua New Guinea – and are made of similar materials.
Fig. 3. Organisation plan of the first level in Drawer 4H

Fig. 4. Organisation plan of the second level in Drawer 4H placed over the first level (during project).

Although the original intention was to use plastazote and corex, corrugated board was also available. The space restrictions made the last material more suitable than corex. Moreover, corrugated board resistance made possible to make boxes for individual objects or small groups of objects. 

Fig. 5. Folding the edges before gluing them 
Fig. 6. Checking the space available to place J.0027 inside the box.
Fig. 7. Gluing the edges of the boxes with a hot glue gun.

                                                Fig. 8. Boxes and objects place in the First Level

Two layers of plastazote were placed in each box, a first providing a softer surface were the artefact will rest, and a second with the shape of the object, preventing objects impacting each other. The first and second layers of plastazote were glue together. Ultimately, individual measures were carried out when needed depending on the materials and fragility of each box. Ultimately, individual measures were carried out when needed depending on the materials and fragility of each box.
Fig. 9. Plastazote layers and box with objects J.0058 (on the right) and J.0073 (on the left: A&B).
In order to reduce the weight of the upper level on the lower level, small plastazote pillars were placed. To provide further security among levels, an extra layer of corrugated board was placed between them. The  boxes were cut and glued with a hot glue gun.
Fig. 10. Project result: first level (now with the Plastazote cutouts) in Drawer 4H (after project).

Fig. 11. Project result: second level (now with Plastazote cutouts) in Drawer 4H (after project).
The result fulfilled the objectives of the project, successfully improving their safety, access and visibility. The experience has been unique, and I have realised the creativity and dexterity needed to design mounts that usually need to meet several objectives. Moreover, almost any institutions have space and materials restrictions, which make the task even more challenging.

Now, I find myself looking first to the object and then inevitably to the mount. I deeply admire professionals working on the safe storage of collections. Thanks to their work those objects are still alive when someone finally decides to lay down their curious eyes on them.

By Alicia de la Serna Saenz

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A big box for a fragile basket

As a student of the Skills for Conservation Management course (UCL MA Principles of Conservation), I was encouraged to choose between different conservation projects. One of them was building a mount for an object from the UCL Anthropology’s Material Culture Room, which houses part of the Ethnography collection. I considered other options, but creating a mount from scratch, for an object that needed it, seemed like a great conservation challenge. 

The basket (object H.0051) and its storage space (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán) (before project).
I was assigned a Fijian loosely woven basket, object H.0051, which was in a very fragile condition, with its bottom damaged in several areas. It was also quite disfigured, and its weight laid mainly on the bottom, which was problematic given its condition. The basket was about 47.5 cm wide, 44 cm long, and 41.5 cm high.

Given the state of the object, I decided that the mount should meet the following requirements:
  • Providing stability to the object. 
  • Making the object accessible while minimizing the need to handle it.
  • Fitting in the space where the object was stored. 
  • Using materials available at the Material Culture Room, and minimizing the cost as much as possible. 
After talking with Delphine Mercier, Collection Manager of the Ethnography Collections, I decided that, due to the need for protection, the object should be housed in a box covered by a lid. The main material I used to build it was coroplast (polypropylene), which is appropriate, readily available and inexpensive. I joined it using cable ties. The cable ties were also useful to join two different coroplast sheets, as one seemed not to be big enough for such a big box. For the safety of the object, it would be placed on a tray, which would fit inside of the box. One of the walls of the box would come down, allowing the object to be taken from the box without being lifted or taken from the tray. The wall would be kept in place thanks to two ribbons. 

Coroplast box in its initial state, and detail of coroplast sheets joined using cable ties, since one sheet wasn’t big enough (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán)

The tray was made using coroplast, plastazote sheets and tyvek sausage-shaped cushions filled with polyester wadding. Three layers of plastazote were used as a base for the object, and to keep the cushions in place. They were glued together and to a coroplast base with hot glue. Two loops of cotton twill tape were added between the coroplast and the first plastazote layer, so the tray could be pulled out of the box. The other two layers were cut leaving a big hole in the middle, where the object and tyvek cushions would be placed.

Tyvek cushions placed on the plastazote and coroplast tray, and tray, with ribbon loops to pull it out of the box (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán) (during project).
The tyvek cushions were sewn with help of Renata Peters, and filled with polyester wadding. They were adapted to the shape of the basket, and placed between it and the plastazote.

Box with ribbons, containing the basket, and tyvek cushions filled with polyester wadding (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán) (during project).

Overall, the box seems like a good option to store the object, as it meets most of the previously stated requirements: 
  • The plastazote and tyvek cushions give stability to the basket.
  • The mount protects the object from unnecessary handling and allows the object to be taken out of the box along with the tray. 
  • The box suits the storage space for the basket. 
  • The materials used were reasonably priced and available at the Material Culture Room.

Basket inside the finished box and box on the shelve (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán) (after project). 

On the other hand, the tyvek doesn’t seem like the best option for this kind of material, as it sometimes gets caught in the basket fibres. However, as the intention was for the object not to be taken out of its mount in most cases, it was considered a valid choice for the time being. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Workshop following the British Museum's 'Symposium on the care and conservation of human remains with a focus on natural mummies'

The British Museum's 'Symposium on the care and conservation of human remains with a focus on natural mummies' (organized by Barbara Wills and Daniel Antoine) took place on 20 April.

It was excellent to discuss the subject from such diverse angles. And it was wonderful to have a second day totally dedicated to exploring the techniques Barbara and her colleagues developed during her two-year Clothworkers Conservation Fellowship. It was a privilege to be there and learn from her experience.

Here you can see  pics of some of the activities carried out during the workshop - and learn some of the very simple and extremely effective techniques.

Please note that the 'human bones' depicted here are made of plastic and used for training purposes. 

Our mission was to stabilize this without implementing any kind of interventive treatments. Look out for the 'tendons' and 'skin'. A work of art in itself!

Barbara Wills demonstrating how to create a pillow with polyester wadding, teflon and plastazote.

See what the pillow was for?

Wonderful things can be done with pins.

Cutting plastazote has never been so simple.

Creating the perfect support for a skull.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Workshop on Conservation of Basketry at Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia of Universidade de São Paulo (MAE/USP) (Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, University of São Paulo)

From 6 to 9 April 2015 a group of 20 conservators and other conservation-related professionals got together at MAE/USP to work on techniques of conservation of basketry. The workshop was generously sponsored and organised by MAE/USP, through Ana Carolina Delgado Vieira (MAE/USP) - and led by Renata Peters (Institute of Archaeology, University College London).
It covered tangible and intangible aspects of basketry such as manufacturing techniques, modifications of raw materials, use in original contexts and assessments of significance. The last two days were fully dedicated to conservation techniques.
Besides great knowledge exchange, it was great fun! Here you can see images of some of the activities.

All images by Ana Carolina Delgado Vieira

ICOM-CC's Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures Working Group!

The name change request of the former ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections  was voted on  17 March in Paris during the Directory Board and Coordinators meetings. It was approved with unanimous support from both from the new Directory Board members and Working Group coordinators. 
The working group is now called Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures Working Group! It will take a short while for the website to be changed but we will get there! I will send more details soon. 
Check out the associated FB page here, and Linkedin group here

Saturday, 14 March 2015

ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections' name change

The ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections conducted a lengthy consultation (2008-2011) with its members in order to assess whether they wanted to change the group's name, and if so, what this name would be.  

The results of the consultations and surveys indicated that the name of the group should be changed to Working Group on Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures. A report was sent to ICOM-CC’s Directory Board in 2012, asking for authorization to implement the change but authorization was not granted.  However, during our business meeting in the 17th Triennial Conference in Melbourne it was made clear that the name change is essential to the membership and that we should keep pursuing it. 

Summary of proposal to change WG name from ‘Ethnographic Collections’ to ‘Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures’

1. Justification
The Name Change Committee was formed in response to increasing international scrutiny of terminology, concerns voiced by indigenous colleagues, and almost 20 years of internal group discussion. During the ICOM-CC 2008 conference the issue was discussed in a plenary paper [1] that noted for indigenous people (whose objects the Working Group on Ethnographic Collections purports to represent and advocate for relating to best practice and ethics). 

Current development in international thinking and policy in regards to the use of the word ethnographic mirror these sentiments. In recent years several museums and departments of ethnography have changed their names (British Museum Ethnography Department to Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas; Royal Ontario Museum Ethnology Department to Department of World Cultures; Frankfurt Museum of Ethnology to Museum of World Cultures for example). Relevant international organisations and institutions have encoded the rights, interests and responsibilities of indigenous peoples in regards to their heritage (for instance 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions; 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), as reflected in the 2004 revisions to the ICOM Code of Ethics (Article 7) and the 2010 ICOM Diversity Charter. There is also the question whether objects themselves can correctly be called ethnographic. Originating communities do not refer to their own objects as ethnographic, rather by the name of the culture of origin. As ethnography is the study of cultures or people, labelling something as ethnographic locates its interest purely within that framework. Yet cultural material is of cultural importance, beyond this study. While in Europe the term ethnographic is usually not considered pejorative, in a post-colonial context (Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States and South America) it can be. In the words of a surveyed member of the Working Group on Ethnographic Collections; ‘I don’t consider the term ‘ethnographic’ to be racist or derogatory, but obviously many conservators do.’ As a consequence of these considerations, a discussion document was written and circulated by Carole Dignard (committee chair)2 and after this dissemination, relevant constituents were surveyed to ask if they believed that our working group required a new name (Members of ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections as well Ethnographic Conservation listserv members; Non-Members below) with a clear majority of respondents stating YES (70% Members, 68%Non-Members; Survey 1 June/July 2011).

2. Processes of consultation
As a result of a clear mandate for a name change, a number of processes to develop an alternative were undertaken as follows:
1.     Discussion Paper, April 2011 (definitions of terminology, pros and cons of change, 14 possible names)
2.     Membership Consultation survey1 June/July 2011 (26 possible names for ranking, 107 Members, 170 non-members surveyed; 40% response rate, 70% of members in favour of name change)
3.     Second Discussion Paper May 2012 (paper on WG Vision, broader context for name change, names or terms not supported by survey 1, discussion of three top ranked names; 1. WG on Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures 2. WG on Indigenous and Local Material Culture 3. WG on Indigenous and Traditional Material Culture)
4.     Membership Consultation survey 2 June 2012 (40% Member response rate; 63% Members who responded chose WG on Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures, 93% were satisfied with the Name Change process, 0 were unsatisfied, 7% were undecided)
5.     Membership Consultation survey 3 October/November 2012 (YES/NO to support name change to WG on Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures (response rate 36% Members, 20% Non-Members; YES =85% Members, 86% Non-Members; NO=10% Members, 11% Non-Members; Undecided/Other =5% Members, 3& Non-Members)

·       An exhaustive, consultative and democratic process has been followed, with a very high rate of participation
·       The experts in this field of conservation (i.e. members of this specific working group and their peers) are overwhelmingly in favour of a change
·       All ICOM-CC rules and procedures have been adhered too
·       So far the DB has responded negatively to the name change. Impediments to this change as articulated by past responses of the DB;
a) are contrary to the wishes of the members of the group in question (DB members stated they think name change unnecessary)
b) imply that the DB has greater knowledge than those in the group (DB stated they would like to choose the name from several options; DB members stated they think name change unnecessary)
c) ignore a democratic and consultative process (while not all members participated, a very high proportion did , and were overwhelmingly in favour of one name)
d) have no basis in ICOM–CC regulations (DB members stated our WG should consult with ICME; that all members have to agree)

1.     Bloomfield, T. 2008. Pupura te mahara - Preserving the Memory: Working with Maori Communities on Preservation Projects in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Preprints ICOM-CC Triennial. New Delhi.
2.     Dignard, C. 2012. Report to the ICOM-CC Directory Board Concerning the Possibility of Changing the Name of the ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections (WG-EC)- July 12, 2012 
3.     2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People 

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