​Conservation Frequently Asked Questions

What do archaeological conservators do?

Conservators assist in the long-term preservation and study of archaeological material recovered by archaeologists. In the field, conservators work to protect fragile objects during excavation and transport to a lab or storage facility. In the lab, conservators document and analyze artifacts as well as stabilize these objects for study and interpretation.

Why do we conserve artifacts?

Some artifacts have the ability to tell archaeologists details about a site or group of people. By treating these objects we are able to learn how the objects are made, how they were used, who used them, and what their significance is within the greater context of the site.

What does conservation treatment cost?

Conservation is an expensive process, largely because of the amount of labor hours spent by conservators working directly on the objects. Due to their fragile nature, few objects can be treated by automated or chemical processes, for fear of losing important archaeological information or causing irreversible damage.

Many archaeological projects use pre-planning methods to prepare for conservation costs. Some types of object treatment can be organized in bulk or batch treatment to reduce costs.

How do conservators decide what treatments are needed?

There are many factors that go into determining what conservation treatments are used:

  • selection of a treatment that will not cause additional damage to the object
  • treatments or chemicals applied to the object should be as reversible as possible
  • consideration of how the object will be used following treatment (museum display, research collection, etc.)
  • available treatment facilities

Does the MAC Lab offer internships?

The Conservation Department accepts 3-6 month internship placements, depending on the individual's internship requirements. They can be full or part-time depending on circumstances. While it is useful to have a background in archaeology or conservation, it is not necessary. If you are interested in applying for an internship, please contact the Head Conservator.

The MAC Lab also takes on any willing and hard-working volunteers throughout the year. If you are interested in volunteering, please visit the volunteer pages of the website.

How can I get my artifacts treated?

The MAC Lab can only provide services to museums, non-profit organizations, government agencies and Cultural Resource Management firms. We are not able to treat objects belonging to private individuals, but will provide information on how to contact a private conservator upon request.

If you have a project requiring conservation treatment, please review our Service Rates on the Conservation Home Page and contact the Head Conservator who will review the needs of your objects and provide a cost estimate and treatment proposal.

What are some recent conservation projects at the MAC Lab?

AECOM: West Shipyard Excavation
Excavations along the Philadelphia waterfront exposed some of the city's earliest shipping wharfs occupied by shippers and tradespersons. The MAC Lab conservation department is assisting with the project by conducting x-radiography surveys of the recovered metal artifacts and stabilizing the many waterlogged organic objects recovered including a large assemblage of leather shoes. ​

George Washington's Mount Vernon
Conservators at the MAC Lab are assisting in the repair of glass window panes removed from the mansion at Mount Vernon. These glass panes are etched with signatures from guests to the house but have suffered cracks and breakage. Once repaired, the glass will be restored to the house by Mount Vernon's architectural preservation staff.​

Alexandria Archaeology: Carlyle Warehouse
The first public building in Alexandria, VA was uncovered during development excavations.  The wood foundations were removed by the MAC Lab conservation staff and will undergo polyethylene glycol impregnation followed by freeze drying, making it possible for the timbers to go on future display. 

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