Conservation DistList Archives [Date] [Subject] [Author] [SEARCH]

Subject: Health hazards in ethnographic collections

Health hazards in ethnographic collections

From: Michelle Berry <mberry>
Date: Monday, July 3, 1995
I'm a conservator currently working on the relocation of the Museum
of Victoria's Ethnographic collection.  Recently we came across a
number of arrows which were labelled simply 'poison arrows'. This
raised a whole stack of questions about how we handled them, were
they really poisoned, if they were, what was the poison (and on and
on).  Our catalogue records didn't provide any more information
about provenance other than 'poison arrow Africa' so I rang around
and talked to a number of African specialists who suggested that it
could be any number of different poisons used on the continent.  So
I went to the Poison Centre and they said our immediate problem
would be if it was a poison that attacked the nervous system and the
person cut or scratched themselves with the tip, they would stop
breathing/their heart would stop.  The best course of action would
then be to begin CPR and call for an ambulance.

This understandably did not inspire confidence in the people working
on the collection.  In the end we set up a number of handling
procedures and made sure that a first aid officer was present during
packing and handling of the arrows. So far everything has gone
smoothly and the arrows are going to be stored in a box clearly
marked with poison warning labels.

Has anyone else struck these kinds of problems with health hazards
in collections and if you have, what did you do?  Does anyone know
how long poisons can remain viable under Museum storage conditions?
Any thoughts on the subject would be welcome. Yours in good health,

Michelle Berry
Conservation Department
Museum of Victoria
Melbourne Victoria

                   Conservation DistList Instance 9:7
                   Distributed: Monday, July 10, 1995
                        Message Id: cdl-9-7-002
Received on Monday, 3 July, 1995

[Search all CoOL documents]