The Importance of Artifact Preservation

BryairArticlesThe Importance of Artifact Preservation

Archaeological discoveries let we as a species connect with our history: both our recent and our ancient past. While historians can hypothesize and postulate as to the likely conditions, cultures, and day to day life in bygone eras, the artifacts uncovered by archaeologists at sites worldwide offer us a truly tangible means of contemplating where we came from. Unfortunately, the passage of time is not kind to most human constructed artifacts. Because of the emotional significance our species places on them, artifact preservation is a vital means of protecting these physical validations of our past.

Archaeological excavations, although over time they move huge amounts of soil and other material, progress slowly and deliberately in large part due to the fragile nature of the finds they expect to uncover. Artifact preservation procedures begin even before the dig uncovers anything of value. When a miner finds something that might be an actual artifact, be it a shard of pottery or an earth-encrusted sword hilt, all nearby activity will cease while the senior archaeologists move to investigate the potential find. Airtight containers comprised of a corrosion resistant substance will be set up to receive the artifact once it has been carefully excavated and some of the dirt cleaned from it to authenticate its importance.

Transportation is treated with the same care, and the artifact in its container will be moved to a climate controlled room where air is not allowed to move freely and light is kept at a minimum. Analysis of the artifact will not generally take place until the researchers have an idea of how fragile it appears to be. Prevention from corrosion damage is of the utmost importance in artifact preservation. Some artifacts like texts and scrolls will disintegrate if exposed to too much moisture, air, or even roughly handled. Archaeologists need to be prepared to preserve any type of artifact they uncover.

Long term artifact preservation and storage is also important in order to ensure that, once at a university or other research center, artifacts can remain a tangible, visible part of history for years to come. Here again climate controlled cases and rooms are optimal to prevent corrosion damage to the artifact. Preservation can be a laborious process but when properly done artifacts ranging from pottery to dinosaur bones to writings on ancient scrolls can be kept for the benefit of future generations.

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