Conservation at Sardis (2020)
by The Sardis Conservation Team
Conservation of Small Finds
Conservation of Small Finds
During the excavation season, the team working in the Conservation Lab at Sardis is responsible for the treatment of objects that range in scale from Lydian coins to fragments of monumental architecture. Small finds conservation at Sardis encompasses any intervention performed on materials that are typically excavated from a trench on-site. Common materials represented include metal, stone, ceramic, glass, bone and ivory, and painted wall plaster.
Finds are usually removed from trenches and brought to the lab by excavators and/or locally-trained technicians at the end of each workday. For particularly unstable or sensitive objects, conservators may also carry out in situ treatments and perform delicate or complex lifts in the field. Lifting is often supported or executed in part by excavators and technicians.
The epicenter of small finds conservation at Sardis is the conservation laboratory in the Expedition compound. This purpose-built laboratory space was constructed in 2006 as part of a new excavations storage and support complex. Unlike the previous space, which had been in use since the 1960s, the current laboratory is located in close proximity to the on-site operations of the recorder, photographer, illustrator, numismatist, and researching scholars.
The bulk of small finds conservation work is performed by two or more graduate students studying conservation, typically from American or Turkish training programs. On-site training in conservation began in 1964 with Lawrence Majewski bringing students from the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Beginning in 1983, a new two-year commitment protocol was initiated to maintain the continuity and quality of the training that students received.1 Conservation students are required to commit to two seasons of work at Sardis on a schedule that ensures a new student and a returning student can work together the full length of the season. Students work alongside a variety of supervising and special project conservators throughout the season, and often assist with site conservation projects (Fig. 1).
Small finds conservation activities are primarily focused on cleaning, stabilization, reconstruction, and study of recently excavated materials (Figs. 2, 3, 4). The lab regularly carries out hundreds of treatments each season. A significant portion of time is often also spent on restoration for publication and display. Given the long history of excavation activity at Sardis, there are many objects stored on site that require re-treatment (Fig. 1). These usually include unstable metal artifacts, artifacts repaired with materials that have exceeded their expected lifespan, or artifacts that require new compensation efforts.
The conservation lab also performs technical analysis of finds during the excavation season, including but not limited to: microchemical testing and polarized light microscopy for materials identification, photomicrography, computational imaging (i.e. reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), photogrammetry, decorrelation stretch, etc.), and multiband imaging (Figs. 5, 6).