It’s a pet peeve of many friends of mine (and, by extension, one of mine as well). Did you know that conservators and conservationists are not one and the same? That even though they both conserve something, conservators and conservationists have very different jobs?
A conservator is a person who works to keep works of art safe, ensuring that precious artefacts and paintings are in stable condition in a museum or repairing those that have suffered some kind of damage.
A conservationist is a person who advocates for the protection and acts for the preservation the environment and wildlife on our wonderful planet.
These two words are constantly confused, most often by the media, and for a museum professional (even if you’re not a conservator), it is frustrating when people don’t use the correct word. Now that you know the difference, dear readers, spread the word!
This post is dedicated to all my conservator friends. I’ve got your back, guys!
Did you know that 2,048 years ago one of the most important naval battles of history took place near Actium, on the western coast of Greece? On 2 September 31 B.C., the forces of Octavian (future Emperor Augustus) opposed those of the famous Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The battle itself is indecisive, but Octavian gained the upper hand when Cleopatra fled with her Egyptian galleys and Mark Antony managed to follow her. A few days later, their ground troupes surrendered and the victory went to Octavian. The Battle of Actium changed the face of the Mediterranean in Antiquity. Not only did it put an end to the civil war of the Roman Republic, it gave birth to the Roman Empire, with Octavian becoming its first emperor.
In the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art there is a gilded tempera painting on panel that depicts this very important naval battle important. The painting was created in 1475-80 by Italian artist Neroccio De’ Landi and his workshop.
Did you know that Julius Caesar is generally acknowledged as the father of the leap year? Back in the day, the Roman calendar only had 355 days (!) and was evidently shorter than the solar year (the time it takes for the Earth to orbit around the sun—365 ¼ days). In order to keep the calendar aligned with the seasons, the Romans would add a month here and there (what a mess!)… until Caesar became dictator and sorted things out by consulting with astronomers in 46 BC. It was decided that a day should be added to the calendar every 4 years to make up for the discrepancy between the lunar and solar calendars. The Leap Year came into effect in 45 BC.
Julius also took the opportunity to rename one of the months in the calendar. He picked Quintilis, the fifth month of the year (which started in March back in those days, not January) and renamed it after himself… a month we all know today as July.
I have simplified things a bit, but that’s the upshot of it all!
My July ARCHAEO-Crush is a spectacular Inca site with which you are all familiar… but did you know that it was “discovered” on July 24, 1911 by Hiram Bingham III from Yale University. The discovery is somewhat controversial because the local populations already knew of Machu Picchu, but it is Bingham who made this extraordinary site known to the rest of the world.
The superb Inca site perched in the mountains of Peru: Machu Picchu (photo courtesy of my Dad)
MACHU PICCHU Type: site (historic statuary) Civilisation: Inca (Peru) Date: 15th century, circa 1450. ARCHAEO-Crush: Machu Picchu is an breathtaking feat of civil engineering: the site is perched on rocky mountain cliffs at more than 2,400m of altitude. Religious centre, residential sector, citadel, agricultural zones… this rigorously planned space incorporates approximately 200 stone constructions in upper and lower towns. This massive stone architecture, assembled without mortar, is harmoniously integrated with its spectacular surroundings. After this tremendous effort, it seems rather incredible that the site was abandoned 100 years or so after its construction… but the Spaniards had disembarked and started colonizing. Fortunately, they never did find out about the city on the old mountain… Bucket list status: Oh! This is soooooo at the top of my list! I’m rather jealous that my parents got to visit Machu Picchu… Additional information: Not surprisingly, Machu Picchu is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. You can read about it, it’s number 274.
Did you know that since 1977 museums are celebrated internationally each year on or around May 18. International Museum Day was declared by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in order to raise awareness in the fact that “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.” (As quoted from the IMD page on the ICOM website.)
In 2015, the theme of IMD is “museums for a sustainable society.”
Today, I’m combining two chronicles—Did You Know? and ARCHAEO-Crush—using one group of artefacts: the Chinese Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Did you know that on this day back in 1974 two local farmers in Xi’an came upon this incredible discovery while digging a well? Archaeologists soon arrived to investigate and the rest is history…
Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army, intended to protect him in the Afterlife. (Photo taken by my Dad during his trip to Xi’an.)
CHINESE TERRACOTTA ARMY Type: artefact (funerary statuary) Civilisation: ancient China Date: 210–209 BCE ARCHAEO-Crush: I love those terracotta warriors and other figures. There are so many of them (more than 8000 soldiers, horses, chariots and non-military figures) and remarkably each one has individual features. There aren’t two alike! What I find utterly fascinating (and horrifying) is that the statues were fully painted, but in just a few minutes the pigments dry up and flake away with exposure to the dry air at the time of excavation. After much research, scientists and conservators have been able to consolidate the pigments with polyethylene glycol 200 (PEG200) and electron beam polymerization. I find conservation absolutely fascinating… You may have hear of PEG before as it is also used in the consolidation of water-logged wooden artefacts like Viking ships. Bucket list status: I have seen a selection of soldiers, chariots and horses in The First Emperor: China’sTerracotta Army, an exhibition held at the High Museum in Atlanta in 2008-09. I would definitely like to see them again, this time in China. It’s at the top of my bucket list! Additional info: UNESCO World Heritage 441
The science geeks interested in learning more about the conservation aspect can read the Getty’s 2010 Conservation of Ancient Sites along the Silk Road(PDF available online, at the virtual library on their website), which features a scientific article (pages 35-39) on the consolidation of the colour pigments of the terracotta army.
This morning, I received an e-mail from a young woman interested in archaeology who wished to find out more about the field. She wrote to the museum hoping to get in touch with a local archaeologist, someone she could shadow and observe in action. Evidently, the message was forwarded to me. While I could potentially help, I thought it would be rather boring for someone to observe me create PowerPoint presentations and write up project budgets (that’s what I’m doing these days). It’s really not as exciting as sorting arrowheads and doing data entry… something that might be possible if you volunteer at theOffice of State Archaeology. This is what I suggested to this young woman.
Although you might think there aren’t that many archaeologists in your area, there are probably several working for state, provincial or federal governments in a town near you. We’re not all employed by universities and museums! (Heck, the US Department of Defence employs archaeologists! Read this for details.) Every American state should have an OSA that focuses on the cultural heritage within its boundaries. The same goes for provincial archaeology offices (look under Ministry of Culture) in Canadian provinces and for Parks Canada, who manages and protects federal archaeological resources in the Great White North.
These are good places to start looking for archaeologists and the volunteer work there will be different from that in a museum (and probably more archaeological and hands-on). You might have to have some training before you can even begin to volunteer… but isn’t that the point? Learning more about archaeology?