Conservation of movable archaeological heritage
Objects collected during archaeological operations are called “movable remains” or “movable archaeological property”. They must be carefully preserved as they are the memory of the site searched. It is by studying them, sometimes for many years, that researchers will be able to trace the history of men.
Coming out of the ground, from the water, from a cave where they have sometimes been for millennia, archaeological objects can degrade in contact with the air in a few hours. Exposure to drought or humidity, heat or cold, light or pollution can destroy them. To keep them in good condition, it is essential to take precautions when sampling them in the field, to give them appropriate care during the time of the study and to store them in good conditions. These measures are called “preventive conservation”.
The conservation of movable remains is prepared as soon as an archaeological operation is planned, is put into practice throughout the operation and continues in the places where the objects will be deposited: depots, centers of conservation and study, and museums.
The archaeologist identifies the most sensitive objects and materials. It determines what precautions must be taken to keep the remains in a condition to be studied and then kept for the duration. He can call on the curator-restorer in archaeology, who specializes in preventive conservation and restoration of archaeological remains.
Archaeology conservator-restorer can act in the field during archaeological operations to make delicate samples (earthenware ceramic in wet ground, glass shattered into a multitude of fragments, an ancient mosaic or a medieval pavement, frescoes collapsed on the ground...).
It also intervenes once the excavation is completed by providing essential information for the understanding and restitution of certain objects so degraded that we can no longer identify them. He makes them “talk” to find their past and interpret the context in which they were found. For example, in a rust cluster it can detect a piece of jewellery, a weapon, a metal vase, a tool, with its decorations and elements made in other materials such as leather, wood or textile. By analyzing the micro-deposits taken from the bottom of a container, we can trace the composition of the drink it contained.
The conservator preserves the most fragile objects by making boxes and suitable supports. It also carries out expertise for the preventive conservation and long-term restoration of remains in a depot, a conservation and study centre or a museum.
Better conservation for better study: selective conservation
Selection measures may be taken at each stage of an archaeological operation (prescription, field intervention, surrender of the remains to the State and final storage). They will be used to assess the scientific value of preserving certain properties.
Sustainable conservation and the policy of conservation and study centres
The Ministry of Culture conducts throughout the national territory a policy of creation of centers of conservation and study, to gather movable remains and archaeological documentation for a territory that may range from the municipality or metropolis to the department or region.
Conservation and Study Centres:
- to receive the remains whose perennial conservation is necessary;
- ensure effective preventive conservation;
- To ensure that researchers and students have easy access to continue their studies, carry out new research and publish the results of archaeological operations;
- managing movable archaeological remains;
- carry out science mediation actions aimed at the public.
Carried out by local authorities, the State, or in the form of a partnership, the construction of a conservation and study center must meet a specification guaranteeing the conservation of the remains.