Review of ‘The Archaeologist’s Manual for Conservation: A Guide to Non-Toxic, Minimal Intervention Artifact Stabilization’ by Bradley A. Rodgers

01st June 2006

Lockhart BR coverThe Archaeologist’s Manual for Conservation: A Guide to Non-Toxic, Minimal Intervention Artifact Stabilization by Bradley A. Rodgers. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2004, xvii+214 pp., ISBN 0306484676.

Brandy Lockhart

Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide SA 5001, Australia

This book attempts to bring conservation back into the field of archaeology by acting as a narrative or a resource book on conservation methods and theories for those who may not be familiar with them. It provides archaeologists with the necessary instructions to conserve certain types of artefacts on their own, saving them money and time and allowing the conservation labs to be freed up for larger and more complex artefacts. The intended readers are archaeologists, so this book is very clear and straightforward and makes no assumptions about the reader’s prior level of conservation knowledge. The author, Bradley A. Rodgers, is an associate professor at East Carolina University. His specialisation is in the areas of nautical archaeology and conservation, making him an appropriate author for such a text.

The book begins with a chapter entitled ‘The minimal intervention laboratory’. In this section Rodgers discusses the different types of laboratories that are available for conservation. The chapter outlines the necessities for a minimum conservation laboratory and how to go about creating one in a cost effective manner. Much of the expensive equipment can be substituted with common items at a much lower cost, and the creation of a conservation laboratory need not be as large an undertaking as the reader might initially expect.

The chapters that follow concentrate on a material type, starting with wood. The process of degradation is described in some detail for both dry and waterlogged wood, followed by descriptions of the different conservation techniques that can be used on wood at varying levels of preservation. In addition to the instructions outlining how to preserve a wooden artefact, Rodgers also describes how to remove stains and safely store the artefact.

All of the chapters have similar subheadings: a description of the material, its degradation, how and if concretions form, how to treat the artefact, how to remove stains, and how to store it properly. The materials covered include wood, iron, copper (and copper alloys), various other metals, ceramic, glass, stone, non- wood organics, and composite materials.

For convenience each chapter begins with a flowchart. Following the flowchart the reader is first told which page to turn to in order to obtain information on how to recover and store the material. The reader then follows the flowchart based on where the artefact was found, freshwater, saltwater, or on land. By following the flowchart through to the end the reader is directed to the pages with the appropriate conservation techniques without having to reread the entire chapter. Each chapter concludes with an extensive bibliography that the reader can use to obtain further information on the conservation of the material being discussed.

Within the book are several types of figures, including illustrations, photographs, flowcharts, computer drawings, graphs and tables. Fine line illustrations, as well as some of the other figures, are found in the wood chapter description of wood composition and degradation. Some of the figures are very detailed, such as the wood drawings, while others are simple and clear such as the electrolysis diagram (p.89).

As previously mentioned, flowcharts are presented for each chapter to help direct the reader to the appropriate conservation technique. There are also tables at the beginning of each chapter outlining the available treatments for the material and whether or not they are recommended by the author, or if there are any known problems with them. Other tables throughout the book are used to demonstrate the effects of treatments. Photographs of artefacts are large and clear and accompanied by scales. Other photographs include laboratory equipment.

Although this book is brief on many of the material types discussed, it is a very useful reference and can be used as an introductory text for all archaeologists, whether terrestrial or maritime. Not only does the volume provide archaeologists with the ability to conserve many artefacts themselves, it also informs them of how to safely store newly recovered materials until conservation can begin. It is thus a very valuable work to have during and after fieldwork.

The brevity of the book and some of its chapters results not from a lack of content, but rather from its concise nature. The book is a guide, not a comprehensive text book for conservation, and as such provides basic, fundamental information as well as a bibliography to direct the reader to other conservation publications. Had the book been much larger and more comprehensive it would have lost some of its clarity and practicality.

Rodgers makes it clear in the beginning of the book that conservation treatments should be non-toxic and reversible. All treatments that are recommended in this book fall under these categories. Only time-tested, proven treatments are promoted by the author although new and promising treatments are also mentioned.

This book is intended for archaeologists not conservationists and is generally successful at remaining clear and informative. However, archaeologists have varying levels of conservation training and some of the terms used in the book will be new to many. The book would thus benefit from the addition of a glossary. The index is helpful, but rather than trying to relocate where something was defined it would be much simpler to be able to look it up in a glossary.

In the introduction of The Archaeologist’s Manual for Conservation Rodgers states that:

This manual is designed to take the mysticism out of archaeological artifact conservation and act as both a reference and a guide. It is intended to be a tool to assist archaeologists in stabilizing a majority of the artifacts they excavate, or those already in storage (p.1).

The goals of the book have been achieved and it would make an excellent and useful addition to any archaeologist’s library.

Brandy Lockhart
Review of ‘The Archaeologist’s Manual for Conservation: A Guide to Non-Toxic, Minimal Intervention Artifact Stabilization’ by Bradley A. Rodgers
June 2006
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