16 May 2018




Raise your hand if you like digging skeletons and things out of the ground! Of course, I’m talking about wanting to excavate ancient tombs and uncover lost treasures.  

Did you know that the moment an object is found at an archaeological site, it undergoes conservation treatment? Archaeologists are the first line of defense when it comes to safeguarding the condition of artifacts. If you’re an Indiana Jones wannabe like me, then here are some tips that you should know...

1)   Learn About the Upcoming Weather Forecast 

Let’s say that you just finished a labouring summer day on an ancient Roman dig site. Your team is starting to pack up to go home for the day, when BAM, you find the edge of a skull peering out from the bottom of your trench. What do you do?

Your actions actually depend on the weather. Natural light and warm weather are considered the most favourable conditions. What about the rain and wind? Moisture in the soil can make the uncovered geographical layers unstable and dislodge artifacts.

Tip: Your artifact is safer in the ground. Typically, archeologists will use a tarp with weights (or large rocks) along the edges to cover artifacts that are still secured in the dirt.

2)   Label Everything

When you’ve got lots of objects coming out of the ground, it’s easy to lose track of exactly where and how they were found. At this point, you need to channel Monica Geller and get your label maker out.

Conservation is all about protecting the original. The last thing you want to do is damage the site or the object, and then never be able to fix it. Don’t forget these two basic steps to cover all your bases:
  • Break out your ruler and camera: Before taking it out of the ground, you need to measure where the object is in the trench, and in relation to the rest of the excavation site. Then, take lots of photo evidence.
  • Someone get this girl a bag: Clear plastic bags are your new best friend. They’re easy to write on, with the inside visible, and provide protection. Label the site code and the geological level!
3) Identify the Material and How to Safeguard It 

Remember that Roman skull you found? It’s made of bone. Here’s a little secret: Bone that is over a few hundred years old is not very strong. It breaks…really easily.

Depending on the material of the object uncovered, there are some things that you can do to keep the integrity of its structure until it’s ready for cleaning: 
  • Keep it in the ground for as long as you can: If the object survived that long in the dirt, it can last another couple of days. 
  • Until it’s cleaned, replicate the site conditions: Artifacts are fragile! Place them in a bin full of rice, and store that in a cool, dark place (to mimic dirt, but cleaner). 
  •  After it’s cleaned, get the data: Before you accidentally knock something over, weigh the object, get its measurements, and take lots of pictures of it. Then, analyze the data!
Tip: A museum conservator will want to know what the object looked like when you found it, in what conditions it was found, and how to keep it that way.

There you have it! Here’s some tips for you future Lara Crofts. Now you know the basics on how you can conserve the condition of an object that is fresh out of the ground!

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  1. Nice article. Creates urge to go out and excavate. Thank you

  2. Very nice and nicely written article

  3. Interesting and educational