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Conservation and Agents of Deterioration

In some of our recent social media posts, we have discussed the importance of safe and stable storage conditions for the artifacts in our Collections Repository. But what exactly are safe and stable storage conditions?

A cardboard box of new archaeological materials, prior to being repackaged. This style of packaging is not ideal for providing safe and stable storage conditions.

We have many types of artifacts in our repository. Predominately we have stone objects (such as grinding stones and projectile points), glass (beads), metal (copper beads, pots), bone fragments (food remains, beaver teeth, and other tools and jewelry made of animal bones), and clay pottery. All of these objects are susceptible to Agents of Deterioration.

Agents of Deterioration are forces that can harm artifacts in our collection. They include light, improper temperature and humidity, water, and pests. Our Collections Repository has been designed to help stop these problems from occurring. The temperature is moderated and the humidity is monitored in the repository. All the objects are repackaged into archival plastic bags in archival plastic boxes to help prevent water damage and keep pests out. The repository has no windows to avoid light damage. And the boxes are properly closed when not in use to protect against possible dust or pests. All of these things are done by our collections staff to ensure the artifacts are kept in the best conditions possible.

The repackaging materials volunteers and collections staff use to safely repackage artifacts for storage.

The boxes are made of polypropylene, a strong water, acid, and base resistant plastic.  Our bags are made of polyethylene, which has great flexibility in addition to these other properties. Polypropylene and polyethylene do not off-gas, a process in which plastic emits a gas that can harm the artifacts. This provides strong and durable support for the artifacts they house and help protect against water and pest damage.

Now you know what materials we use to store these artifacts and what the materials protect against, but why does it matter? Well, we hope that these conservation techniques will protect the artifacts for years to come. Conservation is an important part of archaeology and museum work in general. Ensuring objects survive for our descendants is a crucial part of the everyday work we do here at MOA.

Boxes of repackaged artifacts safely in their forever homes in the Collections Repository.

Hopefully, this blog post has taught you a little more about the work we do to ensure the safety of the artifacts in our collections. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to keep up to date with our current projects and learn more about the behind-the-scenes work here at MOA!

Written by Katie Gaskin.

All About the Repository and Contracting Storage

If you follow us on our social media platforms (Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram) you may have seen some of our recent behind the scenes posts. We’ve been taking our followers inside the Collections and Research Wing of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA) and showing them a little more about how repackaging is done, the history of the space, and its current uses.

The Collections and Research Wing.

We recently received a new delivery of artifacts and I was inspired to tell you a little more about the facility, how it works, and why it’s important. The Museum of Ontario Archaeology is home to the Collections Repository in the Collections and Research Wing. Here over 54,000 boxes of millions of archaeological items can be stored in safe and secure conditions. The collections staff at MOA works tirelessly to maintain this space so researchers, descendant communities, and others can have access to these objects. It is also important as these objects are given proper storage conditions to ensure they last over time.

You may be wondering where these artifacts come from, who they were recovered by, and how they end up here at the museum.

The recent delivery included dozens of boxes of archaeological materials.

These artifacts come from across Ontario. Our current feature exhibition, Who Cares About the Past, and our online video series, Behind the Glass, have both explained how artifacts are recovered in Ontario. Most of the archaeological work in Ontario is done by Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firms. CRM companies are contracted by developers to investigate sites earmarked for development. Before any construction can happen, the CRM company must survey the site and conduct an analysis to evaluate if the site needs to be excavated. To hear more about this, check out our Google Arts and Culture page or the Behind the Glass Series.

So, these objects are recovered by licensed archaeologists working for CRM companies contracted by developers all across Ontario, but how do they end up here at MOA? The short answer is we are contracted to store the objects by CRM firms!  They reach out to us about housing the objects in these safe and stable conditions and we draft a contract for them. If you are an archaeologist or from a CRM firm interested in this program, please see the collections page on our website.

Moving the boxes from the delivery van into the Collections Repository.

All the objects are packaged into safe storage conditions and labelled using a complex system that allows our collections staff to easily locate them. If you’re interested in hearing more about what safe storage conditions are, what it means, and how conservation is done—check out our posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and keep your eye out for a blog post right here.

We receive the artifacts in shipments and store them on our shelves. If specified in the contract, we repackage the artifacts to ensure that all materials entering the repository are in the safest storage conditions possible! If you are an archaeologist or someone from a CRM company who is interested in this service alongside our storage service, please let our collections manager know when reaching out to negotiate a contract.

Storing the boxes in their temporary location on the shelves until they can be repackaged.

As part of the agreement for this deposit, our collections staff will repackage the artifacts. That’s why you see the staff moving cardboard boxes in, don’t worry, soon they will be in conservation safe plastic! Interested in what repackaging looks like? Check out the time lapse video we posted on our social media!

Once the objects are repackaged, they are entered into our database. The boxes are labelled by site location or project name, recorded into our database, and placed in the appropriate area in the repository.

Now, these artifacts are available to researchers, descendant communities, and others, like you, who are interested in archaeology! Follow us on social media or check out our Google Arts and Culture pages to see more about the artifacts we house and hear their stories!

Written by Katie Gaskin