1. What kind of research do conservators do, and where is conservation research published?
  2. Where can I find some general publications about Conservation?

What kind of research do conservators do, and where is conservation research published?

There is a large body of conservation research that conservators refer to and build upon when evaluating objects and choosing and performing treatments. Much research concentrates on materials characterization, materials degradation, materials technology, evaluation of modern polymers, and the effects of conservation treatments on materials. Much conservation research has practical applications.

Conservation research takes place in many different venues, including museum laboratories, conservation study programs, and other university laboratories. In addition, research from other disciplines, including dentistry, corrosion science, coatings technology, bio-deterioration, is highly valuable to conservation.

Below are several examples of past and ongoing research topics that are important to archaeological conservation in particular:

  • Identification of metal corrosion products, pigments, and organic residues by different analytical techniques.
  • Mechanisms of diffusion of various modern polymers into different degraded materials.
  • Artificial aging of modern conservation polymers.
  • Identification of degraded animal and vegetable fibers with SEM imaging.
  • Identification and monitoring of indoor pollutants.
  • Laser cleaning of different materials.
  • Comparison of the efficacy of different methods of removing chlorides from iron artifacts.
  • Use of supercritical fluids for treating waterlogged iron and organic artifacts.
  • Effects of sulfur in the breakdown of waterlogged wood.
  • The use of cross-linked silicone oils for consolidation.
  • The effects of disodium EDTA (a chelating agent used to remove metal staining) on organic materials.
  • In situ preservation of archaeological materials.
  • Determining appropriate endpoints for desalination of artifacts.

Another type of research that is valuable to the conservation profession is studies that document and evaluate past conservation treatments. Evaluating conservation materials and techniques used in the past helps to understand the condition of treated artifacts in older collections, and also helps to guide research into new modern materials and techniques. Some examples of this are:

  • The evaluation of artifacts treated with soluble nylon, a widely used consolidant that was found to break down after a relatively short time, degrading the objects treated with it.
  • The comparison of the condition of iron objects desalinated with different techniques.

A survey of the different polymers used to consolidate archaeological and palaeontological bone

Conservation research is published primarily in journals dedicated to conservation and in conservation conference proceedings. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of many conservation projects, conservation research may also be published as chapters in archaeological reports, and in journals dedicated to materials science or to the material under study. Many research projects are unpublished reports in laboratory archives, or unpublished dissertations from academic conservation programs. Some of the major conservation publications are below:

  • Studies in Conservation (the Journal of the International Institute of Conservation)
  • Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
  • The Conservator (journal of the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation)
  • The Journal of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials
  • Reviews in Conservation (produced by the International Institute of Conservation)
  • Getty Conservation Institute newsletter
  • Getty Conservation Institute Research in Conservation series
  • Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies

The two primary databases for searching conservation literature are:

Archaeological Conservation Bibliography

General Texts:

Cronyn, J. (1990) The Elements of Archaeological Conservation. London: Routledge.

Corzo, M. & Hodges, H., eds., (1987) In Situ Archaeological Conservation. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute.

Pearson, C., ed., (1987) Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Robinson, W. (1998) First Aid for Underwater Finds. London: Archetype Books.

Sease, C. (1994) A Conservation Manual for the Field Archaeologist. Los Angeles: UCLA Institue of Archaeology.

Singley, K. (1988) The Conservation of Archaeological Artifacts from Freshwater Environments. Michigan: Lake Michigan Maritime Museum.

Watkinson, D. & Neal, V. (1998) First Aid for Finds. London: Rescue/UKIC Archaeology Section.


Jones, J. (2001) “A Bronze-Age Burial from North-East England: Lifting and Excavation.” In: Williams, E. (Ed.), Human Remains: Conservation, Retrieval and Analysis. BAR International Series 934. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Payton, R. (1992) Retrieval of Objects from Archaeological Sites. London: Archetype Books


Koob, S. (1986) The Use of Paraloid B-72 as an Adhesive: Its Application for Archaeological Ceramics and Other Materials. Studies in Conservation 31:7-14.


Johnson, J. (2001 ) “A Long-Term Look at Polymers Used to Preserve Bone.” In: Williams, E. (Ed.), Human Remains: Conservation, Retrieval and Analysis. BAR International Series 934. Archaeopress: Oxford.

Johnson, J. (1994) Consolidation of Archaeological Bone from a Conservation Perspective. Journal of Field Archaeology (21): 221-233

Material Stability:

Horie, C.V. (1987) Materials for Conservation: Organic consolidants, Adhesives and Coatings. Butterworth-Heinemann: London.


Lang, J & Middleton, A. (1997) Radiography of Cultural Material. Butterworth-Heinemann: London.

Ceramics-Repair and restoration:

Acton, L. & McAuley, P. (1996) Repairing Pottery and Porcelain: A Practical Guide. Lyons and Burford: New York.

Buys, S. & Oakley, V. (1993) Conservation and Restoration of Ceramics. Butterworth-Heinemann: London.

Williams, N (2002) Porcelain Repair and Restoration. The British Museum Press: London.


Newton, R & Davison, S. (1997) Conservation of Glass. Butterworth-Heinemann: London.


Most of the general texts cover metal corrosion and stabilization well. The following articles deal with specific techniques or materials:

Carlin, Keith, & Rodriquez (2001) Less is More: Measure of Chloride Removal Rate from Iron artifacts during Electrolysis. Studies in Conservation, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 68-76.

Gilberg, M, & Seeley, N. (1981) The Identity of Compounds Containing chloride Ions in Marine Iron Corrosion Products: A Critical Review. Studies in Conservation 26:50-56.

Keene, S., & Orton, C. (1985) Stability of Treated Archaeological Iron: An Assessment. Studies in Conservation 30:136-142

Merk, L. (1981) The Effectiveness of Benzotriazole in the Inhibition of the Corrosive Behavior of Stripping Reagents on Bronzes. Studies in Conservation 26:73-76.

Turgoose, S. (1982) Post-Excavation Changes in Iron Antiquities. Studies in Conservation 27:97-101.

Turgoose, S. (1985) The Corrosion of Archaeological Iron During Burial and Treatment. Studies in Conservation 30:13-18.

Watkinson, D. (1983) Degree of Mineralization: Its Significance for the Stability and Ttreatment of Excavated Ironwork. Studies in Conservation 28:85-90.

Wihr, R. (1975) Electrolytic Desalination of Archaeological Iron. In Conservation in Archaeology and the Applied Arts, pp. 189-191. IIC: London.


Most of the general texts cover wood deterioration and stabilization well. The following articles deal with specific techniques or materials:

Hoffmann, P. (1986) On the Stabilization of Waterlogged Oakwood with PEG. II: Designing a Two-Step Treatment for Multi-Quality Timbers. Studies in Conservation 31:103-113.

Parrent, J. M. (1985) The Conservation of Waterlogged Wood Using Sucrose. Studies in Conservation 30:63-72.

Unger, A., Schniewind, A., and Unger, W. (2001) Conservation of wooden Artifacts. Springer: Berlin

Watson, J. (1982) The Application of Freeze-Drying on British Hardwoods from Archaeological Excavations. In Proceedings of the ICOM Waterlogged Wood Working Group Conference, edited by D. W. Grattan, pp. 237-242. Waterlogged Wood Working Group, Committee for Conservation, ICOM, Ottowa.

Copyright © 2006 Colleen Brady, Molly Gleeson, Melba Myers, Claire Peachey, Betty Seifert, Howard Wellman, Emily Williams, Lisa Young. All rights reserved. Commercial use or publication of text and graphic images is prohibited. Authors reserve the right to update this information as appropriate.