Focus on Leadership
The story of nine remarkable curators, conservators and preparators and their work in the Anthropology Conservation Lab. Learn more »



MSC Seminar Series:
Tortoiseshell and Imitation Tortoiseshell

Traditional tortoiseshell decoration is derived from the outer plates or scutes of the giant sea turtle, which are composed of keratin. Melanin provides the shell's distinctive dark mottled markings. "Tortoiseshell scute can be viewed as a giant fingernail with freckles," remarked Don Williams, Senior Furniture Conservator of the Smithsonian Center for Materials, Research and Education, who spoke at the Sept 18, 2003 seminar.

Williams has attempted to replicate tortoiseshell's natural thermoplasticity with "tordonshell,” a cross-linked collagen imitation of granulated hide glue. Its working properties are similar to tortoiseshell because they share a similar material base, and because tordonshell can be made in large sheets, it can be used in a greater range of applications.

For a copy of the paper, write williamsd@scmre.si.edu


150 Years of Collections Preservation
A review of archival records discloses shifting priorities and uncovers a few unsung heroes of this remarkable
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ICOM Ethnographic
Conservation Newsletter

ACL staff produced the newsletter from 1994–1999, reaching an international audience of more than 800 readers.

Today the newsletter is edited and produced by Marian Kaminitz of the National Museum of the American Indian.

No. 19 — April 1999
No. 18 — Oct 1998
No. 17 — April 1998
No. 16 — Oct 1997
No. 15 — April 1997
No. 13 — March 1996

Contact Us

Anthropology Conservation Laboratory
Dept of Anthropology
Smithsonian Institution
Museum Support Center
4210 Silver Hill Road
Suitland, MD 20746

Tel 301.238.1306
Fax 301.238.3109

Greta Hansen
   Conservation Manager

Department of Anthropology
Anthropology Conservation Laboratory

The ACL provides professional care for collections; reviews prospective acquisitions and loans; prepares collections for exhibit and loan; maintains objects on exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History; reviews sampling requests; advises on object care; and implements preventive conservation projects.

What's New in the Conservation Lab

Arctic Studies Center, Anchorage Museum, Anchorage Alaska. Photo by Chuck Choi.Anchorage Loan Conservation Project
Almost 600 ethnographic objects were prepared for Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage, an NMNH Arctic Studies Center exhibit in a new wing of the Anchorage Museum that opened in May of 2010. Click here to read more about this collaboration between Native consultants and conservators.

Above photo by Chuck Choi. Arctic Studies Center, Anchorage Museum, Anchorage, Alaska.

Earlier Work in the Conservation Lab

totem2.jpg Totem Poles Moved 3 Northwest Coast totem poles are moved to new locations in the Museum, requiring teamwork and precise planning.
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iraq_a130021_tiny.jpg Iraqi Colleagues Visit the Conservation Lab 10 museum professionals from the Iraq National Museum of Antiquities participated in a variety of training practicums in the ACL in March. Learn more »

Conservation and Study of Two Yup’ik Ceremonial Masks Historic 19th century masks collected by Edward Nelson are conserved, restored and recontructed. Learn more »

colorimetry_tiny.jpg Colorimetric Analysis of Seminole Textiles —The ACL uses an instrumental technique to determine when the light level in an exhibition starts fabrics fading. Learn more »
makah_tiny.jpg 19th Century Makah BasketThe ACL staff clean, humidify and preserve a large collapsable basket collected on the northern coast of Vancouver in 1874 by James G. Swan. Learn more »

Silk from the Sea ACL staff and volunteers lend their expertise to the conservation of an unusual hand glove knit from the fiber of a Mediterranean mollusk. Learn more »

Nora Lockshin Eskimo Drawings Conserved for Pathbreaking Exhibition — Read how Nora Lockshin and other Smithsonian conservators prepared Guy Kararook's drawings for exhibition at the Anchorage Museum. Learn more »
waxydeposit_tiny.jpg The Conservator's Eye: Learning to Expect the Unexpected — ACL Staff used a technique called infrared spectroscopy on a suspicious, moldy-looking deposit discovered on a wooden figurine from Mali.  Learn more »
Leanna Oversize Anthropology Collections
Totem poles, heavy statues, canoes and hundreds of other large and heavy artifacts have been moved to a special area in the Museum Support Center. Storing the big ones takes teamwork and plenty of planning. Here's how they did it.  Learn more »
Detail of Egyptian sqeeze Egyptian Squeezes Conserved
— ACL staff recently conserved 104 bas-relief squeezes from Egyptian monuments that were donated to the Smithsonian in 1874. Because they are not typically considered museum "objects," paper materials are often the most overlooked and least researched. Learn more »
Plains Indian headdress The Challenges of Ethnographic Conservation — Before an elaborate Plains Indian headdress attributed to Tall Bull (Cheyenne) could be loaned for an exhibit, it was humidified, relaxed, repositioned and placed on a special bracket. Learn more »
Sue Bosma at work Homo Neanderthalensis Specimen Rehoused — Due to its high research value, ACL staff recently designed a new storage system for a remarkable 60,000-year-old specimen of Homo neanderthalensis excavated in the Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq. Learn more »
case29_basket2_tiny.jpg American Indian Hall Objects Conserved — For 47 years, the public visited the American Indian Hall to enjoy and learn from artifacts created by the peoples of South and Central America, the American Southwest, and California. Learn more »
laminated document Guidelines for the Care of Works on Paper with Cellulose Acetate LaminationA well-intentioned attempt to address the condition of fragile historic documents is not the cure-all that librarians and archivists had envisioned. Learn more »

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