News from the Conservation Lab

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

I love many things about working as a conservator, but Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is not one of them. Thankfully, my colleague Carrie is quite into this activity, which is part entomology and part detective work. IPM is an important part of “preventive conservation,” a phrase that refers to the actions you can take to prevent conservation problems before they ever start. Like, for example, having your valuable library chewed up by book lice.

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Carrie Roberts, Conservator, with a month’s haul of sticky bug traps from around the museum.

Once a month, Carrie collects bug traps from all around the museum and then examines them to see what critters are getting in and where they’re hanging out. We have some repeat visitors: silverfish, spiders, house centipedes…. But every now and then, look out!!! Stranger Danger! Carpet Beetle who could eat all our textiles! Wood-boring beetle who could eat up the wood! Where did they come from??!! Where are they going? How many are there? How close are they to the objects we don’t want them to eat?

These gripping questions — and more — can be asked and answered, all with the help of sticky bug traps and Carrie’s careful tracking. Yes, sometimes STEPS must be taken, and Carrie is on it. That’s IPM. Glamorous it’s not, but I’ll tell you — there’s never a dull minute here in conservation at ye olde Kelsey.

 

Bug Busters

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Conservators at the Kelsey Museum wear many hats, and one of them has a scared-looking bug printed on it. That’s because in addition to documenting and treating objects in the collection, Suzanne and I oversee the Kelsey’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.

The goal of IPM is to prevent or mitigate damage to the collection due to pest activity through preventive action, monitoring, and (whenever possible) pesticide-free intervention. In implementing our museum’s IPM plan, Suzanne and I look out for and identify insect infestations and other pest activity at the Kelsey. This task might make some cringe, but I’ll confess — I enjoy being the Museum’s bug watcher. And I really enjoy the part where I get to identify bugs, especially when the bug is carefully trapped and presented to me by a vigilant Kelsey colleague, as below.

 

 

Recently, I noticed a particularly tiny bug on a few of our sticky traps. To the naked eye it looked like a speck of dust. But under the microscope their little insect bodies were immediately apparent. The would-be wood dust specks are in fact minute brown scavenger beetles, a type of beetle that eats mold (gross)! I suppose there’s no accounting for taste. But these bugs are considered “museum pests,” so we are keeping a close eye on them.

So, Kelsey colleagues — if you find a suspicious bug on the premises, you know who to call.

From the Archives — January 2016

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Happy New Year, readers. The Kelsey Museum is back in the swing of business, and we are already in the midst of the semester, working with students, classes, and upcoming exhibitions. As it is the Winter term, some people begin planning for fieldwork and being overseas. Some Kelsey staff will be leaving for the field in just a matter of days, while others will wait until May/June/July to be at their respective projects.

For those who have never been on an archaeological dig, you are missing out! There is so much to learn, to experience. Being overseas, especially, affords a person the opportunity to interact with different people, eat different foods, and lead life at a different pace. There is also the opportunity to travel, see the sites a country has to offer. And there is, of course, the actual archaeology, what there is to discover that gives us a better understanding of the past. It truly is a magical experience.

But it’s not all fun and adventures. Sometimes being overseas brings with it some hindrances and annoyances that add up to interesting stories, but not exactly a great experience. For those not used to travel, new water and new foods will have an adverse effect on digestive system. Dealing with customs and authorities might be an issue. Many people will miss their family and friends, and the comforts of home.

In other cases, the environment is pestering, quite literally. Working as an archaeologist, one will find themselves outside often. Sun, wind, occasional rain, heat and cold all contribute to grueling days. And in many areas of the world, the flora and fauna of the region pose risks to health and work. Wild animals and overgrown plants get in the way, not caring for the work one is pursuing. Some, like the mosquito, will carry diseases one has to be wary of.

This is a problem that affects the modern archaeologist, but it is not a new dilemma. The papers of Qasr al-Hayr, an excavation headed by Oleg Grabar in the 1960s and 1970s, show how the simple fly was proving to be a nuisance even back then. Professor Grabar reached out to colleagues and experts for resources or suggestions for ways to handle the fly problem. In this month’s “From the Archives,” we see a response from a colleague at the Freer Gallery of Art, along with a pamphlet discussing the household fly from the US Department of Agriculture. The pamphlet makes recommendations, such as traps, screens, insecticides. However, the letter expands on this, noting that the region is rife with flies, and trying to tackle the situation would demand many more resources than realistically available, and any efforts would be lost as flies from surrounding regions would just fill the vacuum created.

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Letter from Qasr al Hayr archives on fly problem in Syria
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Pamphlet from the Qasr al-Hayr archives on the fly problem in Syria.

Qasr al-Hayr was a medieval Islamic town found between the Euphrates and Damascus. By its placement at the foot of one of the few mountain passes in the central Syrian desert, it commanded a commercial and strategic position of importance between settled and nomadic groups. Those of us who have worked in that area of the world know how prevalent flies are, and any efforts to lessen their numbers seem to be fruitless. They are a constant presence.

Being out in the field is truly a great experience, one many students, staff, and professors look forward to every year. But it comes with a price. Sometimes that price is large, other times it is small, but even those small problems have ways to multiply and cause big headaches.