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Subject: Radioactive graphite bricks

Radioactive graphite bricks

From: Janet Hughes <>
Date: Friday, May 14, 1999
The correspondence on the ethical issues of the graphite bricks
raises interesting issues and I find that I agree with Sally
Shelton's views. Conservators and others who work on artefacts which
have scientific significance must consider whether there may be any
future scientific value in further research on the object, while at
the same time satisfying safety requirements.

The ethical issues of the graphite bricks interest me since I have
encountered somewhat parallel situations regarding management of
scientifically valuable artefacts which also involve safety issues.
It is good to see some discussion on Cons DistList.

The 'parallel' issues I have encountered concern how to manage
biological materials and other artefacts from historic sites in
Antarctica.  Some of the material (eg dead seals, penguins, huskies)
is well-preserved but some are in the process of active decay and
some are known to contain dangerous bacteria (as well as looking
quite revolting).  At some registered historic sites it has been
proposed that these artefacts are removed and disposed of.  This
ignores the fact that dateable organic material from Antarctica has
several potential scientific values, for monitoring 'baseline'
levels of environmental pollutants, genetic variability studies,
investigation of Carbon 14 anomalies, etc.  The dispose of this
material, in my view, is unacceptable.

At abandoned bases in Antarctica which are not recognised as
historic sites under the Antarctic Treaty, the Madrid Protocol
requires that non-historic material is completely removed.  This
ignores the fact that some non-biological artefacts such as
scientific datum points (eg gravity pillars and markers indicating
the position of scientific instruments) allow scientific
measurements to be continued which may be scientifically valuable.
An example is the re-use of geomagnetic stations to monitor changes
in the earth's magnetic field and tide gauge reading to determine
sea-level change.  Removal of this material cannot be justified on
environmental grounds and aesthetic impact is small.  There is no
point in moving this to a museum- its scientific and historic value
is its location and the future information it could yield.

Do others on Cons DistList have any experiences in treating
artefacts where future scientific values need to be considered in
developing conservation management plans?

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:88
                   Distributed: Tuesday, May 18, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-12-88-001
Received on Friday, 14 May, 1999

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