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Subject: Cleaning pre-Columbian ceramics

Cleaning pre-Columbian ceramics

From: Valinda Carroll <vcarroll>
Date: Monday, February 11, 2002
Jerry Fahey <jfahey [at] siue__edu> writes

>I'm preparing some small (3 to 7 inch) pre-Columbian ceramic figures
>for a display. Some people refer to them as "flats". I was wondering
>what would be the best way to clean them.

Although I'm now a paper conservator, I spent two years in museum
studies working with a lot of ethnographic and some archeological
artifacts. I'll bet that the ethnographic and archeological
conservators will agree that soil clinging to the surfaces of burial
artifacts may have value to researchers, and as a rule should not be

Proper storage environments should protect the object from
collecting modern museum dust.  A gentle brush and low-powered
vacuuming may be acceptable for museum dust (usually loaded with
textile fibers, if you look under magnification).  If the dirt is
really in the interstices of the object and it appears to be from
the use or burial of the object in its culture of origin, then the
dirt is really part of the artifact.  In any case, I think that
wet-cleaning would not be recommended for something that isn't a
glazed, high-fired ceramic (any ceramics experts to verify this?).

I wish you luck. With ethnographic and archeological materials, err
on the side of caution.

Valinda Carroll

                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:56
                Distributed: Thursday, February 14, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-15-56-004
Received on Monday, 11 February, 2002

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