Basic Finds Conservation

29th September 2022 | Inverness Museum

This hands-on workshop explored the basic conservation of finds, and was aimed at museum staff and volunteers, detectorists and people involved in fieldwork and surveys. ScARF coordinated the workshop as part of the 2022 Highland Archaeology Festival. Led by Jeanette Pearson ACR, conservator at IMAG, this three hour workshop covered the initial assessment of finds, handling, packing and support, as well as which materials to use and some important do’s and don’ts. The workshop offered an informative overview of conservation beginning the moment you find an artefact in the ground. Some interesting discussions were had throughout the session, leading to positive outcomes and a better understanding of the importance of conservation and access to information surrounding archaeological material.

The session began with an informative presentation explaining specific rules for conserving different materials depending on the environment in which they were found. Jeanette offered different scenarios and described the best practice for conserving the artefacts until they can be treated by a professional conservator. The correct storage methods, and a ‘tool-kit’ for metal detectorists and budding archaeologists were presented. A key rule to remember was to maintain the object in whichever environment it was found in (keep wet objects wet and dry objects dry), unless you find metal, in which case always keep it dry.

After the group introduced ourselves, it became clear that a large mix of people were in attendance, with backgrounds in museums work, public outreach and metal detecting. This offered us a chance to discuss the larger issues surrounding the care and conservation of artefacts from varying perspectives. The main outcome was the need for the dissemination of useful information about conservation to the general public.

The session ended with a hands-on display of recently conserved artefacts from Inverness Museum, with some interesting examples of items which have been ‘over-cleaned’, highlighting a key takeaway from the workshop. We discussed how cleaning an object before submitting it to Treasure Trove can actually reduce the amount of information gained from the artefact. This is due to the removal of possible evidence such as charcoal, food residue or even microscopic wooden remains, such as a sword haft when we clean soil or surface corrosion improperly without professional tools. Seeing conserved artefacts up close allowed each participant to understand the value of proper storage and care, as the integrity of the items was being preserved.

Our final discussion centred on the necessity for education and collaboration between archaeologists and metal detectorists, with participants offering some finds from their own collections which Treasure Trove have not taken ownership of. The session as a whole emphasised the significance of education and transparency in the relationship between archaeologists and metal detectorists.

Our thanks to Jeanette Pearson and the staff at Inverness Museum for their help in delivering an informative and thoroughly enjoyable workshop.

This session was supported by: