Conservation and Agents of Deterioration

What exactly are safe and stable storage conditions?

At the MOA, we are responsible for providing safe and stable storage conditions for the artifacts in our Sustainable 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.