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Investigative Cleaning in Conservation (HS2122)

Course Description

This module provides a framework for investigative cleaning of archaeological and historical objects. This module categorises treatment procedures that are used to reveal the shape, history and technology of cultural objects. Students learn how to apply selected investigative cleaning techniques via structured practical work on cultural objects. Students will develop their ability to apply conservation treatments to a range of substrates in order to identify appropriate conservation treatment options. They will also develop their analytical skills, ability to critically assess the conservation literature and the evaluation and communication of conservation outcomes.

Documentation and reporting this work and its outcomes is used to assess student performance. The module includes an extensive introduction to laboratory health and safety. There is significant linkage to the Introduction to Conservation Practice and Polymers in Conservation modules.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: BSc Conservation of Museum Objects and Archaeology

Tutor: Jane Henderson

Teaching methods                              

Approximately 14 hours of introductory lectures and seminars.

At least 50 hours of practical classes and demonstrations where the student’s ability to understand and apply conservation theory will be developed using a combination of simulated and real archaeological artefacts.

Students will carry out precise cleaning tasks which require good fine motor control.

Students will need good colour vision, and be able to visually examine objects utilising appropriate equipment such as microscopes (sometimes using them for significant periods of time to carry out tasks).


Summative assessment: Two written exercises related to practical work, contributing 25% of the final assessed mark each.  One fully documented illustrated laboratory record and report on conservation work on an archaeological object. This will contribute 50% of the final assessed mark for this module.

Summary of course content           

A series of lectures and demonstrations to provide an overview of the ethics, rationale and practice of investigative cleaning in conservation with an emphasis on archaeological material. Teaching centres on implanting the thought patterns of the conservation process into students, using discussion of theory and of practical techniques. Underpinning theory is translated into practice via demonstration and via student exercises, including student work on archaeological or historical objects.

Lectures will be balanced with supervised practical classes where students will experiment with conservation techniques and then develop and evaluate them on materials selected to represent a range of artefact types.

  • Introduction to investigative cleaning : Lecture and discussion
  • Safety procedures and laboratory good practice : Lecture and tours
  • Practical time to read and complete safety procedures and initiate research:
  • Introduction to mechanical cleaning, lectures and demonstrations: Principles of mechanical cleaning, ethics of interventions, use of equipment
  • Introduction to chemical cleaning, lectures and demonstrations: Solvents, detergency, chemical cleaning, concepts of control, speed and ethics, cleaning techniques and materials.
  • Practical laboratory sessions to complete assessed exercise and record findings 
  • Leather structure technology and decay: Lecture and discussion
  • Introduction to the conservation of leather : Lecture and discussion
  • Introduction to laboratory documentation: laboratory practice
  • The conservation of leather: laboratory practice
  • Introduction to freeze drying: Lecture and demonstration
  • Documentation and recording of conservation: laboratory practice
  • Introduction to packaging : Lecture and discussion

Learning outcomes                            

On completion of this module students should be able to :

  • Describe the nature of dirt and purpose of and options for its removal.
  • Integrate research from introductory conservation text books into conservation planning and action.
  • Recognise and act on HS&E regulations applicable to conservation.
  • Operate a range of mechanical and chemical techniques for cleaning a variety of materials and surfaces.
  • Demonstrate practical abilities required to carry out simple investigative cleaning tasks under supervision.
  • Synthesise observation and research to make simple decisions about conservation processes.
  • Produce a professional level conservation laboratory record including images.
  • Critically evaluate outcomes of conservation treatments and identify their personal role in achieving these outcomes.
  • Take responsibly for the preservation of the artefacts upon which they work.

Suggested book purchases             


Suggested preparatory reading    

Buys S and Oakley V (1993) Conservation and Restoration of ceramics Butterworths (Chapter 7 – cleaning)

Caple, C ( 2000) Conservation Skills: judgement, method and decision making Routledge

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

Feller, R.L., Stolow, N.E. and Jones, N.  (1971) on Picture Varnishes and their Solvents 2nd ed. Cleveland. Ohio Press.

Ganiaris H. et al (l982) A Comparison of Some Treatments of Excavated Leather The Conservator 6 l2-23. UKIC.

Gettens, R.J . and Stought. L. (1966) Painting Materials - a Short Encyclopaedia  New York. Dover publications inc.

Horie, C.V., (1998) Materials for Conservation Architectural Press

Moncrief, A., Weaver, G. (1983) Cleaning. Science for Conservators  Book 2 Routledge/Museums and Galleries Commission.

Morrison L. (l988) Some suggested materials for the repair and reconstruction of archaeological leather. Conservation Today, UKIC Anniversary Conference (Ed Todd V). London pp l07-lll.

Phenix, A. & Burnstock, A (1992) Removal of surface dirt on paintings with chelating agents. The Conservator 16: 28 – 37

Torraca, G. (1975) Solubility and Solvents for Conservation Problems  International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of  Cultural Property Rome.

Watson, J. (2004) The freeze-drying of wet and waterlogged materials from archaeological excavations Physics Education 39 (2) 171- 176, Special feature: archaeology.