Archaeological conservator’s top tool?

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Meet the wooden skewer, an archaeological conservator’s best friend. At the MVAP conservation laboratory, we frequently use wooden skewers to help stabilize and preserve recently excavated finds from the Etruscan site of Poggio Colla. Humble but versatile, the wooden skewer can work wonders. Conservation staff and students at Poggio Colla use wooden skewers to:


Collect dirt from the interior of a ceramic vessel base. We give the dirt to a paleoethnobotany student who will investigate possible contents of the vessel by “floating” the dirt, or using the relative buoyancies of soil components and lighter organic materials to separate out and recover small seeds. Identifying the seeds can tell us about what the vessel once held.




Reveal the surface of a ceramic rochetto, or ancient spool. This one has an X-shaped siglum mark, a (somewhat mysterious) symbolic character sometimes found on ceramic objects.





Create a cotton wool swab to remove dirt from the delicate glossy black slip decorating the surface of a ceramic sherd. A swab dampened with deionized water can remove burial dirt obscuring features like the rouletting marks seen here.





Document the location of a small sample of corrosion removed from a copper alloy coin. Simple microchemical spot tests performed on the sample can help to characterize how the coin is corroding.





Excavate a block of soil that contains a fragile artifact. At the bottom of this block of soil there is a fragmentary copper alloy artifact. While the object was still in the ground, we created rigid plaster bandage walls around the entire block of soil containing the object. The archaeologists then “block lifted” the whole plaster-reinforced block. Back in the lab, we turned the block over, and are now carefully excavating it from the bottom up.


All images courtesy of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project.



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