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The Museum Conservation Institute


Archaeological Conservation

Responding to a national need for especially more practical training opportunities for conservators of archaeological materials, MCI has designed this area to build upon existing training of objects conservators at the graduate programs. Annually the fellowships/internships provide the students with hands-on practice at two archaeological excavation projects, supervised by a MCI conservator. In between the field projects, studies at MCI provide the additional benefit of research and other projects within its interdisciplinary environment. The field projects are chosen to expose the students to a variety of geographical and cultural conditions.

Beyond the presenting the students with exceptional training opportunities, this area has broadened the archaeologists appreciation for the role of conservators, on site in the field. The recent establishment of an archaeological field school at Copán, Honduras, and the participation of the MCI program in that project, opens even larger opportunities for outreach education toward field archaeologists.

This program has assisted local museums and cultural institutions in the host countries of the field projects, by training local conservation professionals through workshops, lectures, and demonstrations.

MCI's archaeological conservation program was established in 1991 with the goal of improving the partnership of conservation and field archaeology, in our common endeavor to insure that excavated materials are safeguarded for the future as meaningful sources of information about the past.

The program's activities focus in three areas:

  • on-site conservation: preserving the materials that form the basis of our knowledge about past cultures, when they are newly excavated and at their most vulnerable

  • educational outreach: bringing together the perspectives and priorities of both conservators and archaeologists, to improve our practices of excavation, curation and study

  • collaborative research: integrating conservator's skills in recovering and analyzing fragile remains, in multi-disciplinary research on the materials of the past

Some of our strongest links to the archaeological community have been forged through the program's internship component, a training opportunity unique in its focus upon on-site archaeological conservation.

Specialized training in archaeological conservation
Hosted by MCI's objects conservation laboratory, year-long internships are offered to recent graduates and final-year students from academic conservation training programs. The internships typically include two on-site periods with archaeological projects, balanced with research and technical analysis of archaeological materials at MCI.

On-site conservation
Conservators on archaeological teams make sure that excavated materials are well treated, from recovery in the field, to the lab, to storage.

Since 1991, over 20 graduate and postgraduate interns have participated in the archaeological conservation program, working with archaeological projects at the Maya-period sites of Copán (Honduras), Cerén (El Salvador), Aguateca and Piedras Negras (both Guatemala), and the 3rd millennium BC Indus site at Harappa (Pakistan) and Akkadian site at Tell es-Sweyhat (Syria). Conservators from other institutions have joined MCI interns on-site for archaeological training, including students from five graduate training programs, and colleagues from more than ten U.S. and host country museums.

Educational outreach
Archaeological conservators teach useful concepts and techniques in the university classroom and especially on-site, where archaeologists and their students can immediately put them into practice.

Collaborative research
In materials-based research, an archaeological conservator's diagnostic and technical skills are natural complements to an archaeologist's knowledge of culture and context. Our projects include

 

Archaeological conservation

A study of painted gourds, a perishable artifact type, from the late Classic site of Ceren, El Salvador

 











archaeological conservation

. . .and of textile-clay laminates, a newly identified craft technology used for ceremonial masks at Aguateca, Guatemala

 







archaeological conservation

Excavation and analysis of Ruler 12's burial at the Classic Maya site of Copan, Honduras

 

 

 

 

 

 






Ain Ghazal statues

Technological research and conservation of Neolithic lime plaster statues from 'Ain Ghazal, Jordan

 

 

 

 

 







MCI's archaeological conservation program receives support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and participating archaeological projects.

 

The program is managed by Harriet F. (Rae) Beaubien
Summer 2007 Internship in Archaeological Conservation, Panama City, Panama
2006 Archaeological Conservation Program Fellowship
Archaeological Conservation Program: Highlighting Our Work with Archaeological Projects in 2005
Advanced Training in Archaeological Training 2005
2005 Summer Internship in Archaeological Conservation (revised)
Archaeological Conservation Program: Highlighting Our Work with Archaeological Projects in 2004
2004 Summer Internship in Archaeological Conservation
Post Graduate Archaeological Conservation Program for 2004
Archaeological Conservation Program 2003 Highlights
For application information
Publications related to projects

 

 

Ain Ghazal statues in box
A group of Neolithic lime plaster statues, blocklifted from the site of 'Ain Ghazal, Jordan

Archaeology students in the field
Desalinating ceramic artifacts at
Harappa, Pakistan

Archaeological conservation
Reassembling a stucco head from Piedras Negras, Guatemala

Archaeological conservation
Making protective containers for tablets with
Indus script, at Harappa

Archaeological Conservation
Archaeology students practicing techniques
for lifting fragile finds