Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Portable Antiquity "Conservation" and Curation: UK Tekkie Style

UK tekkies are discussing the best way to get their artefacts all shiny, "Renaissance wax" seems popular. It was developed in conservation stone-age by everybody's favourite British Museum. It is a polyethylene wax based furniture finish sold by several metal detectorist suppliers as a "preservative" for excavated metalwork. Metal detectorist "Blacknred" tells of his treatment of dugup metal finds (Wed Feb 06, 2013 12:52 am):
I throw mine into a container of WD40 for about a week :-O then i use a small brass brush called a spark plug brush :-O but as it is brass it will not scratch the Bronze , but if it was a steel wire brush then it would scratch the surface , then i cover it in Renaissance wax (thanks Pauline ) then when it is dry and soaked in i buff it with a shoe brush and follow up with a micro cloth , here is a result of one tha was cruddy
The formula of WD40 is commercially protected, but it is basically some kind of a light mineral oil suspended in Stoddard Solvent and contains naphtha. It is a slimy oil used as a water-repellent for machinery.  The long term effects of leaving it in the micropores of soil-corroded metal are not known. Brushing soil-corroded metal with a metal brush of any kind is clearly going to be damaging, and we can see the effects of that on the shiny geegaw presented by "Blacknred".

Ancient coin wire-brushed by UK metal detectorist "finder".

The inscription has been almost entirely brushed off on the left, and the whole thing given a rounded surface structure, with the boundary between eroded corrosion on the highlights and the unremoved but smoothed-over corrosion remaining in the low points (for example between the lower edges of the inscription and the flan) completely obscured by oil residue and wax. This collector may appreciate the glossy ("fresh from the pocket") shininess, but a huge amount of information about the object has been removed by this mistreatment.

Shiny seems to be preferred. Another tekkie ("muckyluck" Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:19 pm) is also a great fan of "Renaissance Wax"
That stuff does work! I was on a rally and met some guy who found a smashing enamalled button, which he cleaned on camp; He put some of that stuff on and the difference was amazing! ::g
I bet it glinted and glistened full of colour like a real treasure. The trouble is if it needs proper conservation later on in its collecting history, it's going to be awfully difficult to get that wax out first (that is assuming there is any record with the artefact of what was put "in" in the first place). The thread on tarting-up finds (it's NOT about conservation of finds) began with a discussion of that traditional favourite, putting rancid olive oil into corrosion layers to "preserve" them (thread: "Re: olive oil and cleaning, FLO's (sic) doing battle"). Member "Frogeye" (Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:11 pm) likes his artefacts oily and shiny:
I dont think olive oil will do much harm to our finds , it does make them a bit darker if you soak them in it for longer. I give some coins a wipe over to bring the detail out it works a treat s;.. b;>
The thread begins with a post by "Madcowonacid" (Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:28 pm):
I got told off by my FLO for using olive oil to clean my finds.. a big No No he said, he was none to happy...!!! ;;z I think it was because it's acidic from memory, but in the end of the day there your finds... Regards, madcow...
So much for notions of stewardship and rescuing artefacts from damage. It is nice to see the FLO doing some proper outreach, I wonder whether the FLO "Blacknred" ("Warwickshire") takes his finds to says anything about the metal-bristle brush-eroded remains of artefacts he brings her? Meanwhile in Lancashire ("Leyland") "Busterhamer" (Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:36 pm) is being told something else by his FLO, on hearing that "Madcow" got told off by his FLO for using olive oil to clean "his" finds, he replied:
love it i was recommended by my FLO to do it to help preserve them, :))
Perhaps we'll hear later that the same FLO read in a metal-detecting book somewhere that coca cola was good for cleaning coins too...You'd think an organization like the PAS could get its act together and draw FLOs' attention to the fact that there IS a section of the PAS website giving some basic information about how "finders" should care for the artefacts they are curating, and if it is inadequate for the task of stopping this kind of abuse, then it should be expanded and updated.

"DevonDigger" (Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:53 pm) was told off by the FLO for using olive oil:
Apparently nobody knows how stable it will be over time or if it will do damage ;f   I guess if it isn't a find that is going to be declared treasure or end up in a museum, it doesn't matter that much but, you do risk a telling off by the FLO
It is untrue that nobody knows how stable it will be over time (depending on storage conditions, it's not "stable over time") or if it will do damage (when it decays, it will do damage). So, this "rescuing finds" argument, just how much is it worth when you get tekkies claiming that these are their finds to do whatever they want with, even if it leads to their destruction? Certainly there are grounds for contsting whether only finds that "will be declared treasure" or end up in a museum are the "important ones", even if they have been and are being hoiked wholesale out of their contexts of discovery by artefact hunters and held loose on a tabletop somewhere.

In fact many tekkies do not use olive-oil, but not for any reason connected with the well-being of the artefacts they are curating, but because "it makes the surface dark". So again aesthetic rather than long-term preservation concerns.  Member "Alloverover" (Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:51 pm) writes:
It does make things darker which is not great, a natural colour is much more sought after. I think its a bit daft to think in 100 years everything thats had olive oil on it will self destruct though :)) :)) :)) ::g
The rest of us think sprinkling texts discussing a serious issue with smileys a "bit daft", but there's no accounting for tastes I suppose. So by whom (buyers?) is this "natural colour" much sought?
Member "Frogeye" (Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:11 pm) has the right idea:
The best way to preserve your roman coins is to put them back in the field, this will keep them stable for the next 2000 years and it will also keep FLO happy :)) :)) but make sure you take some pics first ::g
This is the first time I have come across on a metal detecting forum any indication that a FLO has told detectorists about NOT digging things up. Sadly we do not know what part of the country "Frogeye" (if it's a real person) comes from, but bravo to a FLO doing some proper archaeological outreach.

UPDATE 7.02.13:

What a surprise, the day after I posted my discussion of what UK artefact hunters are doing with the finds they curate, the open discussion is halted: "The requested topic does not exist". Take a good look folks, THESE are the people the PAS is trying to get more millions of pounds to make their "partners". These artefact hunters and collectors are blithely destroying the artefacts they hoik out of the ground, and the moment anyone comments on that, they hide their discussion. Meanwhile the people who get salaries to think about how to look after the heritage keep telling each other, "let's pretend everything is OK".... 

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