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Thursday, May 16 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Practical Approaches to Technical Research in Low-Tech Settings) Thinking Outside the Box: Getting the Most Out of Scientific Research with Minimal Resources

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Efforts to understand and meaningfully interpret cultural heritage materials requires collaborative research efforts that, more often than not, are executed with minimal resources. However, success relies on clearly defined research goals that facilitate flexible outcomes – allowing research questions to be constantly rewritten as conditions, resources, data, and results change. Reliance on Bayesian approaches allows one to produce meaningful results using incomplete information by relying on all available lines of evidence (archaeological, cultural, historical, etc.) and data formats (non-numerical, numerical, qualitative, semi-quantitative, quantitative), while at the same time using a hierarchy that is changeable and dependent on the available data sets and research questions. As a conservation and conservation scientist, I have found this methodology crucial when working in the field and elsewhere, where access to collections, resources and time are at a premium. Further, by thinking outside the tightly constrained box associated with any single discipline, I am able to consider a wider range of pathways towards producing meaningful results. Fundamental to my research is the use of conservation and materials science approaches to understand the archaeological and historic past via analysis of materials, structure, and technology. These are considered and assessed through the lens of archaeology, culture, and history to provide conclusions that have meaning for all participants and stakeholders. This paper will present a number of case studies illustrating this methodological and collaborative research approach to cultural heritage materials in archaeological field and museum laboratory settings. They rely on a mixture of low-tech, low-cost methods to test physical, mechanical and chemical properties (e.g. hardness, liquid/plastic limits, microchemical spot-testing, solvent solubility, UV autofluorescence, etc.), as well as the use of more expensive specialist instrumentation (e.g. binocular microscope, portable XRF, etc.) to understand and identify materials, technology and deterioration mechanisms. Case studies will focus on: (a) the interpretation and understanding of Maya wall painting technology and artist practice, as well as lime plaster deterioration, condition and approaches to mural reconstruction, (b) the interpretation and analysis of materials recovered from excavations in Turkey, and, (c) the interpretation and understanding of historic conservation materials used to preserve archaeological ceramics recovered from excavations in Egypt. These case studies serve as a models for the production of meaningful technical research using minimal resources in a variety of settings.

avatar for Caitlin R. O'Grady

Caitlin R. O'Grady

Professor/Educator, UCL Institute of Archaeology
Dr. Caitlin R. O’Grady is a Lecturer in Conservation at University College London where she teaches in the MA and MSc conservation programmes at the Institute of Archaeology. With an undergraduate degree from Case Western Reserve University, she trained as a conservator and conservation... Read More →

Thursday May 16, 2019 3:00pm - 3:30pm EDT
Salon A1, Uncas Ballroom Sky Convention Center, Mohegan Sun
  General Session, Practical Approaches to Technical Research in Low-Tech Settings
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Caitlin R. O'Grady
  • Abstract ID 18718
  • Tags archaeological conservation,materials science,scientific analysis,materials properties