Active Treatment
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Museum conservation has moved away from the active treatment of specimens and objects to the practice of what we call preventive conservation. This is an approach used by the Peabody’s Conservation Laboratory, since active treatment generally involves invasive techniques that can alter specimens. There are times, however, when active treatment is necessary.

Treatment is undertaken when the life of a specimen is in danger, for example, when water-soluble salts in an artifact or specimen are causing it to crumble to dust. Infestation by webbing cloths moths or dermestid beetles also requires prompt treatment.

When artifacts and specimens are broken, they are usually repaired, especially if they are required for exhibition or education programs. Repairs are made to ensure the stability of a specimen and sometimes to keep detached elements from getting lost or broken. Repairs can also help researchers, for example, by enabling them to measure more accurately eggs in the collections.

Repairing a Bird Specimen

 

Volunteer Susan Hochgraf reattaches the head of a cardinal (Richmondena
cardinalis
) in the Peabody’s Education Department teaching collection.

Repairing a Broken Egg

 

An egg of the Whistling Swan (Olor columbianus) from the Peabody’s ornithology collection — collected on May 29, 1903, on the Alaskan peninsula — before (above) and after (below) being glued together.

Repairing an Egyptian Mask

 

This Egyptian cartonnage mummy mask dating to the Ptolemaic period from Abydos is in the Peabody’s anthropology collection (ANT.29702). Cartonnage pieces, like this mask, are made of several layers of linen held
together with an adhesive, plaster or sometimes a mixture of both. After being molded into the shape of a head, the outside surface was coated with several layers of fine plaster and then elaborately decorated with paint and gilding.

This mask became crumpled and broken after removal from its mummy left it hollow and unsupported (left). Conservators reshaped the mask, realigning tears and breaks, reattaching loose pieces and strengthening the
cartonnage at weak points. Losses in the plaster and paint layers were filled in to reintegrate the design. Finally, a form-fitting mount was made for it to sit on, to support and protect delicate surfaces and edges (right).

Repairing an Eskimo Mask

 

This blue wood and metal Eskimo mask is in the Peabody’s anthropology collection (ANT.15916). In the form of the head of a bird, it comes from Nunivak Island. Detached elements (top) were reattached (below) before the mask went out on loan for an exhibition.

Removing Water Soluble Salts from Ceramics

 

Archaeological artifacts made of porous materials, such as ceramics and stone, often contain water soluble salts, especially if they come from sites in saline areas, such as in South America and the Middle East. These salts can cause considerable damage to artifacts exposed to cycles of fluctuating relative humidity, as seen on this Peruvian ceramic whistle (top). Much of the surface, including painted decoration, has been pushed off by the action of the salts.

If controlling the relative humidity in the storeroom is not an option, the alternative is to remove the water solublesalts so that they no longer pose a problem. This is achieved by soaking the artifacts in successive baths of clean, distilled water until the salts are removed (below).