Archaeological Conservation Using Polymers
Practical Applications for Organic Artifact Stabilization

C. Wayne Smith - Foreword by J. M. Klosowski

Published by Texas A&M University Press

Book Six in the Texas A&M University Anthropology Series

Available in both hardcover and paperback through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and many other book retailers.

Archaeological Conservation Using Polymers

Dr. Wayne Smith and the Archaeological Preservation Research Laboratory have been instrumental in the development of passivation polymerization techniques for the preservation of archaeological materials. Artifacts treated using the silicone oil processes developed by APRL are environmentally stable following treatment, and thus not affected by changes in temperature and humidity.

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Tests using accelerated weathering and computer modeling predeict that, in general, the half-life expectancy for artifacts to remain stable is approximately 250 years.

While reversibility is always desired for conservation treatments, in reality true reversibility is rarely possible. Archaeological chemistry shows that many of treatments once thought to be reversible are in fact not fully reversible due to natural crosslinking and chemical bonding between the matrix of the artifact and the materials used in the conservation process. Thus, ethically speaking re-treatibility may be a more important consideration for treatments of archaeological assemblages rather than reversibility.

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APRL researchers have experimented on preserving many types of artifacts using passivation polymerization. *

Organic artifacts from waterlogged environments require extensive treatments to stabilize and preserve them for future study and display. While wood, leather, and rope are all organic in nature, the unique nature of each presents a distinct challenge to the conservator. While traditional conservation methods for organic artifacts can take months or years to complete, conservation using silicone oil processing of organic artifacts can typically be completed in a few days.

Archaeological glass can also require significant treatment, especially glass artifacts recovered for marine environments. Over time, water, minerals and other contaminants compromise the physical struture of glass artifacts, leaving them especially delicate and unstable. Even badly waterlogged glass can be conserved using silicone oils in a short period of time for museum displays or safe handling by researchers.

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APRL researchers are not limited to archaeological materials. The same conservation techniques used on ancient material can be used by biologists and other scientists for the preservation of organisms and tissues. Over the years APRL has worked with a number of researchers in the natural sciences, including veterinary and human medicine, botany, and education.

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Last Updated: 01/18/10