Conservation in Archaeology – an awareness training programme

Dublin Core


Conservation in Archaeology – an awareness training programme


Session 6
Empowerment and relevance in maritime and underwater cultural heritage programs in developing countries


Since the inception of tertiary maritime archaeological courses in Australia in the early 1980s, the Materials Conservation Department (MCD) of the Western Australian Museum (WAM) has presented a conservation awareness and training component to archaeology students. Creating awareness and an appropriate understanding of principals was the aim, because the intention was not to teach archaeologists how to apply conservation techniques or to conserve artefacts, but for them to appreciate the need for conservation, to encourage consultation with conservators and to stress the importance for conservator participation in archaeological projects. As integral participants in expeditions on-site conservators provide the archaeologist with a degree of assurance that recently exposed and subsequently recovered artefacts will be effectively managed i.e. have optimal prospects for their stabilization and be afforded the best post-excavation care. Appropriately trained conservators may also be engaged to determine the environmental conditions prevailing at, and within, an archaeological site in order to ascertain the condition of anticipated artefact materials and identify any potential problems prior to excavation. This information, including any risk factors determined, can guide the archaeologist when the investigation of sites is being prioritized and importantly indicate if urgent action is required. Conservators qualified to use Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) diving equipment are an additional asset to the investigation of underwater sites as they are able to directly apply the above procedures to this aspect of archaeology. Considering their knowledge of waterlogged and corroded materials the archaeologist may also prefer the diving conservator to recover badly deteriorated artefacts.

The Conservation in Archaeology training programme can be tailored to suit particular aspects of the subject and target different levels of education. It provides straightforward explanation and demonstration to school children, provides a chemistry emphasis for exceptional science students, presents Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) courses for the public and avocational practitioners and most recently a Conservation Field School incorporating higher level tutorials and practicals for post- graduate maritime and terrestrial archaeology university students.

The WAM Conservation in Archaeology courses are presented intra-state, nationally and internationally. Awareness of the conservation considerations and requirements during archaeological investigations of cultural heritage sites is now more widely accepted by archaeologists and through school education programmes appreciated by young students who are the potential conservators and archaeologists of the future.


Jon Carpenter
Vicki Richards


November 2011



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