Monday, 24 August 2015

The flow & control of conservation knowledge in the UK

What consists conservation knowledge? How should it be handled and passed on?

Please participate in this survey if you would like to help answering these questions. The survey will feed into an investigation exploring the day-to-day practice of conservation through the lens of knowledge management theories.

The impact and evolution of technology has opened up the profession, brought new ways of looking at cultural objects and fast-tracked the ability to generate knowledge and share with more varied stakeholders amongst other.

With the help of your input, the researcher hopes to corroborate practice with the literature reviewed, and distil the desired work environment aspects and priorities pertinent to the conservation profession in the UK. The findings will also contribute to the thinking of extant frameworks such as ConservationSpace initiative for managing documents to improve local knowledge flows.
The information is part of a 15,000 word dissertation towards the MA in Principles of Conservation at UCL.

Please feel free to contact the researcher at any time about the survey at bronte.charles.11[at]

See the survey here.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

We also have a lot of fun at Olduvai Gorge: a few moments from the 2015 season

Every year the team gets together on 17th July to celebrate Mary and Louis Leakey's discovery of Zinjanthropus boisei at FLK in 1959. We call it the Zinj party. Here are a few shots.  

Still at the Leakey Camp. The party usually starts here, with Maasai songs and dancing. 
The Maasai arrive at FLK for the Zinj party. The best dancing and singing you can ever wish for. 
At FLK, during the Zinj party. 

But we should have started by the beginning! When we actually arrived in Olduvai in early July 2015:

Arriving in the Ngorongoro Conservation area.
That is what you look like when you see your first giraffes! 
The conservation team kept growing all the time.

Visit to Isack's Boma. 
When visiting Isack's Boma we were welcomed by our Maasai friends. 

Besides learning about Maasai culture we also had time to catch up. 
Afterwards, some of our lady friends  walked to their Bomas, which were nearby.

There were giraffes on the way back to the camp... 

It was time for dinner! 
This elephant came out and about to say goodbye when we left Ngorongoro. 
Just another stunning sunset at Olduvai. We hope to see it again soon! 

All images by Renata F. Peters. Please do not use without permission. 
Asante sana!

Karibu to the 2015 conservation season at Olduvai Gorge!

Ignacio de la Torre,  Renata Peters and Norah Moloney have recently returned from Olduvai Gorge. The 2015 field season has produced exciting results that will contribute to a better understanding of the origins of the Acheulean at Olduvai Gorge, the theme of this ERC-funded project  based at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. As usual, work was led by the Olduvai Geochronology Archaeology Project (OGAP).

The 2015 conservation team was again supervised by Renata Peters and Dani Mainoya (conservator and curator at Natural History Museum in Arusha, Tanzania). They were assisted by conservator Elisabet Diaz and IoA conservation students Abigail Duckor, Anna Funke and Jan Cutajar. The team was complemented by Tanzanian apprentices Isack Faustin Lyimo and Ngonyani Lihuni, and several students attending this year's field school. 

Conservators working with OGAP aim to make Olduvai an international reference for in situ conservation excellence, besides making it sustainable and socially relevant. We include both tangible and intangible features in our decision-making processes and use the world’s best materials whilst also trying to develop local resources. This year our work was focused on consolidating fragile fossils and lithic material, removing matrices,  general collections care and building local capacities.  

The 2015 OGAP's season had one of its largest groups ever (credit M. Pante). 
One of the configurations of the 2015 conservation team, with our bead working master Nairoshi Zebeday at the centre. Jastin Mahhu, Abigail Duckor, Anna Funke, Lucy Mshana, Naishoki Paul, Nairoshi Zebeday, Renata Peters, Jan Cutajar, Sekwai Babai, Eli Diaz, Neil, Isack Faustin Lyimo, Ngonyani Lihuni, Dani Mainoya and Edwin Paresso. 

Here is the core of the 2015 conservation team: Isack Faustin Lyimo, Dani Mainoya, Zackarias (who took care of our precious finds and equipment), Abigail Duckor, Renata Peters, Ngonyani Lihuni, Jan Cutajar, Matimba Leakey (a morning wasn't complete without his visit), Anna Funke, Eli Diaz and Jesuit Temba.

Click on the images below to see more details about our work in Olduvai Gorge.

Very busy conservation students (@the Laetoli Lab).

Processing finds @the OGAP Lab.
We were ready for anything!
Conservation team preparing CDD in the Leakey Camp. 

IoA conservation students working in a trench @ FC. 
Matrix removal with Dani Maynoia.

IoA conservation student Jan Cutajar very busy @FC.

Preparing CDD in the trenches. 

Eli Diaz getting ready to apply CDD.
Yes, we like life in the trenches -  @ FCW.
And finally, here is Ignacio de la Torre taking points while
conservation was being done.

Conservation was kindly supported by OGAP, the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the Zibby Garnett Travel Fellowship. UCL students also counted on the kind support of private funders. Our utmost thanks to all!

All images by Renata F. Peters and/or OGAP. Please do not use without permission. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Rediscovering objects: Origin, Use, Significance and Condition

When you spend a few hours with an object every week, you build a connection with it. Every conservator knows that, and there is something beautiful at almost touching the mind that created that object.

During ARCLG 142 Context ofConservation: Understanding Objects (a core course of the UCL MA Principles of Conservation), I was assigned H.0039, a gourd vessel without records of its past history or when it was acquired by UCL. The object consisted in two main parts: a main spherical body and a cylindrical stopper. With little information to begin with, I started my research about the object surrounded by countless questions: Is the object really from Africa? Where exactly in the continent? Is it a copy or an original? How old is it? Who brought it? When was it made? How was it used? What does it mean?
Fig 1: Object H.0039. Gourd vessel located in the Material Culture Room at the Department of Anthropology (UCL)

Fig 2: Object H.0039. Gourd vessel without stopper, showing geometrical designs.

Fig 3: Object H.0039. Gourd vessel stopper formed by a rolled-up leaf decorated and protected by woven grass fibre.

As a starting point, I decided to verify the information available. I picked one question and I started from there. I asked the object ‘Where are you from?’. After looking at other collections, closely studying the object, some research and emails exchanged, I found reason to believe that despite the label of the object stating that the provenance is Africa, the provenance of this object was probably Papua New Guinea. I believe it is possibly a lime pot – or a copy of one – known as yaguma in the native language of Massim culture.

Fig. 4: Scheme of the stopper manufacture process.

Fig. 5: Scheme of the geometrical designs decorating the gourd.

The object is thought to be a lime gourd, used to carry burnt shells, forming a lime powder that was used along with betel nut for betel chewing. Similar objects were often used for magic rituals, music, and as a summoning instrument.

Betel nut chewing is appreciated for its psychoactive effects and hunger-reducing properties. In the past, this old tradition was followed by lowland indigenous;  since the 1960s it has spread to the metropolitan and highlands areas of New Guinea. It is believed to be a result of the process undergone by Papua New Guinea of building their own and united ‘national culture'. It is one of the few traditions that have been left untouched by European colonialism.

The overall condition of the object is fair. However, despite its stability, the object shows signs of deterioration and is covered by a layer of dust. The deterioration of materials is essentially limited to the grass fibre in the stopper, where changes in the relative humidity might have caused the embrittlement of the organic material. The grass fibre that decorates the rolled-up leaf stopper presents an area of material loss and fibre breakage. The flattened section of the rolled-up leaf shows minor signs of chemical deterioration indicated by crackling (Figure 6).

Fig. 6: Stopper of H.0039 showing the areas of loss of the grass fibre decorating the leaf stopper and the embrittlement of the fibre.

Fig. 7: Stopper of H.0039. Embrittlement of the rolled-up leaf forming the stopper. (Image made with a DinoXcope)

My most important discovery, in my opinion, is the white residue in the bottom of the stopper, hidden when closed. This sediment could be related to the original purpose of the gourd: transporting lime. However, further technical analysis should be carried to confirm this hypothesis. If the white residue was confirmed to be lime powder, it would authenticate its provenance as well as its use, which would reinforce its value inside the collection. The inside of the gourd is completely clean. The gourd might have been cleaned or the stopper could have been used in another gourd, but this second thesis seems unlikely since the joint fits snugly.

Fig. 8:  Interior of the stopper: rolled-up leaf. Broken fibres and white residue
 (Image made with a DinoXcope)

Fig. 9:  Interior of the stopper: rolled-up leaf. White residue suspected to be lime
 (Image made with a DinoXcope)

It was essential to confirm the evidence found and reassess the values of the object due to the relevance of the provenance, since the change in provenance meant an entirely new perspective of meanings and stakeholders that will affect the significance of this object. Unfortunately, it was not possible to find the acquisition date and, therefore, it is difficult to give an estimate date of manufacture.

What is clear is that, understanding this object, its provenance, function and significance is crucial for the collection. The most significant thing is that if the object, original or not, really comes from the Massim Culture, instead of from Africa, its value for the teaching collection of the Anthropology Department radically changes. Observance and research allow recovering the significance of an object that was lost by the lack of documentation. Consequently, this case illustrates the importance of documentation.

By Alicia de la Serna (all images by the author, please do not use without permission)

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Adventures at AIC—My Experiences Attending and Presenting at My First American Institute for Conservation Conference

   My last year as a student in University College London's (UCL) MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums program included an internship placement at the Wallace Collection in central London. There, I was able to conduct conservation treatment work on the Oriental Arms and Armor collection under the supervision of metalwork conservator, Seoyoung Kim. Most of the work I participated in throughout this internship concerned cleaning the Collection for catalogue photography.
A picture of me testing the dry ice cleaning equipment prior to
using it on the objects.

  Throughout this project, I was fortunate enough to be able to be a part of the cleaning of the Oriental Helmets--a magnificent group that numbers 74. In the 1980s, the helmets were coated with petroleum jelly as a protective coating. The coating eventually degraded, interacting with the copper rings, creating a green, waxy corrosion product. The aged coating darkened and obscured the patterns on the mail and also made it less flexible. Conventionally, White Spirit/Stoddard Solvent would be used to remove this coating, however, the amount of solvent needed and the time it would take to remove the coating was not ideal. To reduce the use of solvents and in the interests of saving time, the ColdJet® i3 Microclean® dry ice shaving unit was hired to aid in the cleaning of the mail on the helmets. During this time, I was kindly permitted to conduct research for my MSc degree dissertation.

A picture of the setup used for the dry ice cleaning of the
furniture mounts.
   After my graduation from UCL's conservation program, Seoyoung and I decided to submit an abstract of our work on the Oriental Helmets Collection and my dissertation experiments for the American Institute for Conservation's (AIC) 43rd Annual Meeting themed, "Practical Philosophy or Making Conservation Work".   We were both very excited when our abstract was accepted, and I was especially excited since this would be my very first AIC conference.

   I was a bit intimidated by the fact that I would be speaking at my first AIC conference, but I realize now that my worries were for naught. The conference was an amazing experience, filled with interesting research, productive networking opportunities and fun social activities. The talks for the conference took place throughout May14th-16th in Miami, Florida. I was able to attend 23 different talks on a wide range of topics, including sustainability in conservation, the use of reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) in conservation, innovations in laser cleaning, the conservation treatment of radioactive objects, the varied uses for gellan gum in conservation and new coatings for the protection of outdoor bronze sculpture.

During the conference, I was able to spend some
time exploring Miami with friends.
    Aside from the talks, there were a multitude of other social activities which fostered engagement between attendees. These activities included opening and closing receptions, poster presentations, group luncheons and also discussions. Throughout all of this, I was able to meet new colleagues and connect with old friends while exploring Miami.

    My talk was scheduled for the last day of the conference, and although I was nervous at the beginning, I felt calm knowing that I was presenting research in good company. Overall, the AIC conference was an amazing experience that I hope to get the chance to present at again someday. I greatly encourage all others who study conservation to submit abstracts and convey their research to the wider conservation community--it certainly helped me professionally as well as personally. For more information on my presentation and research, please make sure to check out the AIC Postprints Publication which should be available in Spring 2016, or keep posted on the past and future meetings at

The wonderful, sunny view right outside the conference hall!



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.

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