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Subject: Human hair

Human hair

From: Linda S. Roundhill <artsconservation<-a>
Date: Monday, November 3, 2014
Karin Abelskamp <k.abelskamp<-a t->archeologie< . >nl> writes

>During an excavation of a number of late 17th/early 18th century
>funeral vaults in a church, a piece of human hair braid was found in
>a knuckle pit.  The piece is approximately 10 cm long and consists
>of three locks of hair braided.  It has been found and kept dry and
>although it is dirty, it looks relatively well preserved and still
>feels flexible and is easy to handle.  Here and there, hair is
>peeping out of the braid.  I have no experience with (human) hair so
>now I wonder what would be wise to do after cleaning.  Do I need to
>apply a passivation polymer, a consolidant such as silicone oil or a
>PEG?  Or maybe PVAc?

If the hair braid is in as good condition as you have described,
then no treatments should be necessary and may actually be
deleterious in the long run.  I suggest good storage and care only.
Even cleaning may not be advised as the process is likely to cause
more breakage or hair loosening for limited gain.  Elimination of:
light energy, extremes of heat/humidity, pests and oxygen should
preserve it indefinitely.  Do not store in total dryness as the
protein fibers need some moisture for flexibility.  Photograph in
detail for the record, and then examination regularly for signs of
deterioration that may warrant a treatment.  Display is not
recommended unless strict controls of the above factors can be

While the hair may appear to be in good condition, it has probably
undergone chemical changes that lead to embrittlement from chain
scission, so limit handling to a bare minimum.

Linda Roundhill
Art and Antiquities Conservation, LLC
Woodinville WA

                  Conservation DistList Instance 28:23
                Distributed: Thursday, November 6, 2014
                       Message Id: cdl-28-23-004
Received on Monday, 3 November, 2014

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