Collections Care by Type— Archeological & Natural History Collections

In the world of museology, collection care is deemed among the most significant attributes as it is the essence of the preservation and conservation of collections. While it may seem like a relatively easy task, the objects collected come in different sizes, shapes, types. Some belong to a certain era or a culture that may require specific attention and care that remains quite different from others. Collections care comprises the entire resources and standards of collection management required to maintain the timeless pieces.

What constitutes Archeological & Natural History Collections?

  • Archeological remains
  • Natural History
  • Wet Archeological Artifacts
  • Plant Materials

Archeological Remains

These are the remains derived from skeletal materials. Teeth, bones, antlers, and ivory are durable and versatile. They are used in many traditions for several rituals and even ornaments.

How were the items separated and used?

  • Detach- the ivory, teeth, or bone is separated from the connective tissue and muscles of the creature.
  • Clean- blood and marrow are removed from inside of the bones.
  • Gradually dry the objects to prevent splits and cracks.
  • Grinding the items into desired sizes and shapes.

Causes of Deterioration—

  • Extreme heat and dryness. This causes the item to shrink due to loss of moisture.
  • Excess moisture leads to mold growth and swollen protein portion.
  • Destruction of ossein (bone collagen) leading to cracks and warping.
  • Acids
  • Exposure to UV or strong daylight
  • Rodent attack

Care & Storage

  • Consistent Humidity and temperature are maintained.
  • Relative humidity ranges from 30% during winter and 55% during summer.
  • Optimum temperature 68°F.
  • Avoiding storage and exhibits

Natural History

Natural history forms the biological, entomological, vertebrate, botanical, geological, environmental, and paleontological research collections.

Why is natural history important?

Natural history remains an integral part of collections as it is the foundation of evolution and global change. It documents disappearing paleontological and geological sites, habitats, art conservation, etc. Collections care enhances the value of natural history as it helps develop new interpretations. Guide to Environmental Protection of Collections by Barbara Appelbaum is a great book to understand how to care for collections of art, museum studies, historical artifacts, or any other kind of cultural material or for natural history collections.


What are the types of natural history collections?

  • Biological collections
    • Botanical specimens- dried plants, lichens, mosses, fungi, wood samples, pine cones, flowering plants, etc.
    • Entomological specimens- mites, ticks, insects, termites, eggs, nests, wasps, etc.
    • Invertebrate specimens- corals, sea urchins, snails, lobsters, worms, etc.
    • Vertebrate specimens- amphibians, fish, reptiles, mammals, birds, etc.
  • Geology collections
    • Minerals
    • Soils
    • Gems
    • Bio minerals
    • Mining concentrates
    • Fossils
    • Powders
  • Paleontological Collections
    • palynology specimens (pollen)
    • frozen specimens – collected from permafrost areas
    • vertebrate and invertebrate body fossils
    • mounted skeletons
    • amino acids, DNA, and other materials extracted from specimens 
  • Environmental Research Collections
    • Air, water, soil samples
    • Biological tissues
    • eggshell and mollusk shell samples

Wet Archeological Artifacts

These are the excavated archeological artifacts from freshwater sites. This is followed by drying the organic materials. It varies according to the nature, type, and material of the object. The drying treatment should be done within 24 hours of removal and treatment.

What is the order of priority for drying treatment?

  • Botanical and Plant materials
  • Leather & skin
  • Textiles
  • Bones, antlers, horns, teeth, shell
  • Non-glazed ceramics
  • Reconstructed ceramics and glass
  • Glazed glass and ceramics
  • Untreated metal
  • Conserved metal
  • Lithic

What is the ideal drying procedure?

Although most objects, materials, and artifacts can be air-dried using fans easily, it would be best not to directly blow-dry the objects. In case of excessive wetness and moisture; clean towels, sponges, paper towels can be used. As long as the object does not have mold growth every day, it is in good condition. Still, a dehumidifier should be set up in the storage room to maintain relative humidity at 50%. Metal materials need to be cleaned well with clear water and a soft-bristle brush and dried immediately to remove all signs of corrosion. The optimal relative humidity for metal objects is 30%-35%.

Plant Materials

Plant materials can be derived from a wide variety of plant species and their parts. The most common categories include gourds, rushes, seeds, grasses, stems, barks, roots, woods, and leaves. These can be generally found in items such as mats, baskets, containers, hats, fabrics, netting, and cordage.

What are the common types of deterioration?

  • Physical Deterioration: Excess light exposure to the plant materials causes fragility. Other than that, extreme dryness or humidity can cause swelling or shrinkage. Other forms of physical deterioration include breaks, soiling, distorted structures, tears, and abrasion.
  • Biological Deterioration: Bacterial, an infestation of rodents, mold, fungi, or infestation of insects.
  • Chemical Deterioration: Reaction between the plant material with other items resulting in chemical alterations like embrittlement.

What is its Basic Care & Storage?

  • Always wash your hands before routine handling
  • When handling plant material, always wear gloves.
  • During transportation, use additional boards and boxes for support.
  • Be extra careful while handling three-dimensional plant material products as they are all the more fragile. This prevents breakage and damage.
  • Always analyze the structural condition of the object or material before putting it on display.
  • Protect the items from excessive light exposure, dust accumulation, dryness, and humidity.

Collections Care is required for objects, items, and materials and their various types, sizes, textures, and shapes. This remains a fact for Archeological & Natural History Collections as well.


Collections Care and Management: Museum Standpoint

“Museums hold in one body the diverse physical and intellectual resources, abilities, creativity, freedom, and authority to foster the changes the world needs most.”

Curator: The Museum Journal, 2017.

A museum and the entire team of curators, educators, collections managers, registrars, exhibit designers, conservators, and researchers have high regard for environmental impact and related factors that affect collection care and art conservation.  Other than that, the landscape managers, facilities operators, administrators, media managers, and fundraisers also remain wary of the contributing factors that threaten the cultural heritage.

The antiques and other collections, at some point, are exposed directly or indirectly to storm events, mechanical impacts, atmosphere, heat, and which lead to deterioration and loss.

Intersections of environmental and climate issues with Collections

• Systems

• Collections

• Institutional

• Environment & Climate

• People

• Care professionals

• Institutional leadership

• Outside partners, vendors, bureaucracy

• Consumption

• Energy

• Materials

• Content

• Protection

• Information

What are the environmental impacts?

• Creating and releasing toxic chemicals in air, soil, and water

• Creating and disposing of waste instead of resources

• Over-consumption of resources, damaging systems

• Damaging or destroying habitat for plants and creatures

• “Harvesting” plants or creatures past viability and recovery

• Emissions from fossil fuels, animals, food, and waste that form a heat-trapping blanket in the atmosphere

• Resource consumption that disrupts systems by limiting cooling (hard surfaces, deforestation, changes in plant growth)

• Habitat damage and loss; over “harvesting” destroys species integral to ecosystems

What are the Collections care environment and climate concerns?

• Materials Consumption

• Store, display, ship and exhibit them

• Clean and conserve and protect them

• Energy Consumption

• Manage T/Rh for collections in storage and exhibits

• Light them in exhibits

• Clean and conserve and protect them

• Move them around

What are the agents of deterioration?

  • Physical forces
  • Thieves, Vandals, Displacers
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Pests
  • Pollutants
  • Light
  • Incorrect Temperature
  • Incorrect Relative Humidity
  • Custodial Neglect & Dissociation


Factors to consider while creating storage space

  • Shape/Size- It is important to know how the object size and shape of your object and how that interacts with the area
    • what are the  limitations in Space
    • what orientation and shape should your object be in
    • what kind of adjustments you might make
    • how to do those most safely
  • Support
    • Individual materials and what they need to be safe in terms of those physical forces.
  • Surface
    • Estimating the fragility of the object
    • Figuring the surface strength
    • How smooth surfaces can be used or how can you protect the surfaces better in storage.
  • Sensitivity
    • Storing the object/collection in the most appropriate manner that remains respectful to its culture.
    • Giving say to the people who have cultural links to the collection.
    • The collection is cared for according to tradition. They are stored with appropriate materials to honor their traditions.
    • Consultation and Research included
  • Access
    • Providing ways and means for researchers or bicultural groups to access the objects safely.
    • Easy and safe access that aids them in research and keeps the object protected.
  • Special environment
    • Microclimates like increased air circulation.
    • Controlled humidity
    • Controlled oxygen
    • To protect the object from outside
    • pollutants
    • To contain hazardous materials
    • To absorb products being generated by the collection object

Special environments for Collections

  • Mylar enclosure for PVC
  • Anoxic environment for rubber
  • Ventilated storage for cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate leading to low humidity for metals.
  • Paper products
    • Tissues, paper, folder stock/card stock, board, corrugated board. It can be used to line less ideal materials.
    •  Acid-free
    • Buffered (can use with papers, cotton, and other plant-based fibers; do not use for photographs, silk, or wool)
    • Unbuffered (Photographs, wool, and silk. When in doubt, use Unbuffered paper products)
  • Textiles
    • Unbleached cotton muslin
    • Silk crepe line
    • Polyester organza
    • Reemay
    • Hollytex
    • Cotton twill tape
    • Polyester batting
  • Adhesives
    • Hot-melt adhesive. Lower melt for foams and higher melt for boards
    • Double-stick tape
    • Fish glue (for use where you may want to use non-synthetics for cultural reasons)
    • Non-adhesive methods

These timeless pieces of art, cultures, and traditions require immediate attention at all times. Right from tools to storage materials, everything matters. Art preservation is a crucial agenda and from curators to archivists and suppliers should be able to handle their responsibility with utmost vigilance and care.

In the museology domain, Preserve, Protect, and Defend: A Practical Guide to the Care of Collections remains a great source of information about the various aspects of museums and their collections care and the people associated with them.


Connecting to Collections Care: Museum Resource for and From Home

The pandemic has brought several changes to the lives of people. Museums all over the world were forced to shut their doors when the coronavirus struck. During this period, people started relying on digital content and there was a lot of emphasis on the virtual world for engaging the visitors and to keep history alive.

The digital and communication departments of a museum generally hold the responsibility of ensuring the content regarding collections care reaches the public with authenticity adding value to them. There have been many incidences where new content has been added to various departments marking history, but due to the restrictions imposed by covid, this value addition has been difficult to share with people.

To help the communication, members of various other departments are sharing their insights and additions with the audience online using digital channels. Many educators are having prepared videos that are read aloud and revised lesson plans for parents to teach their children who are at home as the schools are closed. On the other hand, live streaming of the animals at the zoo has been initiated by animal trainers and keepers.

With the increase in this digital era, one can gather all relevant information about connecting to collections care using social media such as Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube videos. Apart from this, various organizations also stream live videos that can be watched sitting at home.

There are also people whose love for history and information has made them experts while sitting at home. The resources collected by them go beyond artifacts and you can find resources in the form of books, live stream videos, and advice and insights by these experts.

Below is a random list of resources for and from home.


These are some of the museums across the world that offer online exhibits and tours.

American Museum of Natural History

Is the world’s known scientific and cultural institutes known for their scientific collections and exhibitions serving as a guide to presenting the world’s different cultures to the planet as a whole? Post pandemic, the scientists of the museum have giving virtual tours and field trips to the audience across the world live along with guided field tours exploring the behind the scenes. You can take quizzes as well.

British Museum, London

This British museum is home to many artifacts on its premises. While on a virtual tour of this museum, you can also get a glimpse of the Egyptian mummies as well as the ancient Rosetta Stone.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Has a large collection of 500 drawings, more than 200 paintings, and over 750 personal letters of the famous tragic painter Vincent van Gogh. His works have been well preserved in this museum and all his fans can get the opportunity of virtually seeing all his works under one roof.

MASP, Sao Paulo

The Museum De Arte de Sao Paulo is the first modern museum in Brazil that works on a non-profit basis. The placing of artworks is done in such a way that they appear to be hanging in mid-air. Going on a virtual tour will help you to get the real experience of these works of art.

Pergamon Museum, Berlin

The Pergamon Museum in Berlin is one of the largest museums in Germany. The museum houses several artifacts which are ancient and rare such as the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. Sitting across the world, you can still take a virtual tour of this museum and its artifacts.


Below is a list of books by Barbara Appelbaum that will help you read about various artifacts, museums, and curators including how to professionally start your own collection if you want to.

Preserve, Protect, and Defend: A Practical Guide to the Care of Collections

This book provides a lot of information about the many aspects of a museum and the collections and artifacts housed in it. Ways to maintain these collections and also members associated. This book is a great read for relevant information for curators, art historians, museum educators along all the professionals associated with the museum.

Conservation Treatment Methodology 

This book is a must-read for any collection care professional or conservator. One can find a detailed approach towards making conservation treatment. It will help conservators to take the right decision and for the treatment of properties of all cultures irrespective of material or type.

Guide to Environmental Protection of Collections

This book speaks all about the various methods of caring for historical artifacts, art collections, natural history collections, or any other cultural material. Any individual who owns some kind of collection but doesn’t have any technical knowledge about the maintenance of collections will find the book very useful.

Hope this article brings out the historian in you and gives you all the relevant information about collections care virtually.

Colllections Care

Connecting to Collections Care – Protection from Hazardous Materials

The significance of collections care is almost critical as preservation of cultural property is among the most effective means of protecting and conserving antiques and precious collections. This is why connecting to collection care is critical. Fortunately, this domain sees a growing number of collections care professionals and conservators with strong museology backgrounds, interests, and responsibilities who have worked on several projects that eventually support the ethical practice of collections care.

What is Connecting to Collections Care?

Among the major pillars of museology and collection management and perseveration of collection, collection care deems the most crucial as it involves caring for the collection through careful strategies and values. Effective care of collections includes-

  • Strategic Mitigation

Generally, according to regular norms like storage in a dry, cool, dark place is followed but not entirely relied upon. Regardless of how sensible it sounds; the plan is to systematically mitigate the conceivable risks concerning the costs and usefulness of collections that get tarnished over time.

  • Systematic Values

The purpose of following these strategic values is to solely protect its solid-state but also other values that contribute to the entire purpose of preserving a collection.

  • Consider all risks

The idea is to mitigate all risks and not focus on the received wisdom of concentrating on few tell-tale risks. Everything should be deemed suspicious and all risks should be considered a priority as anything can inadvertently cause harm to the collection. It begins with prioritizing physical risks such as wear and tear, pests, breakage, theft, flood fire, misplacement, and distortion. Following with damage-inducing agents such as light, temperature, relative humidity, and contaminants, etc.

The entire team of professional collectors, conservators, curators, facility managers, archivists, architects, designers, collection managers, exhibit designers, maintenance staff, and security staff give a new meaning to connecting to collections care through effective preservation.

According to AIC Health and Safety Network, Unlike industrial workers who are likely to encounter higher doses of potentially hazardous materials resulting in acute exposure, museum workers are more likely to be exposed to low-level doses of heavy metals [and other toxins] over an extended period, resulting in chronic health problems.

This is why safety against hazardous materials for museum works is no less than combat. Museum workers are constantly around these toxic materials for a long period so it becomes all the more critical that such objects are encountered and how the team can limit the exposure to such hazards.

Hazardous Materials to Collection Care

As crucial preservation is to the collections, hazardous materials and risks are not highlighted as evidently as they should. Therefore, it is important to how to approach it and what measures should be taken to protect the actions taken towards preservation.

Everyday routine has the team engaged in daily museum tasks and adds to the exposure to hazardous materials. It includes tasks such as exhibition preparation, Object photography, Complying with strategic measures, and storage reorganizations. Each of these tasks has the member/employee dealing with hazardous elements such as naphthalene, DDT, asbestos, and Arsenic mercury and lead in rather close proximity.

What makes an element hazardous?

Although anything with a danger sign or related symbol will have you alerted there are roughly three categories-

  • Chemical hazards- these are toxic or poisonous toxins that can have short-term or acute effects on the body. These could also be carcinogens that could cause accumulate and cause damage for a longer time and have a chronic effect. In collection care, chemical hazards would be pesticides, formaldehyde heavy metals that appear in a wide variety of forms, and ethnobotanical toxins. 
  • Physical hazards- these might not be toxic but dangerous that can harm the body physically. These include flammable or explosive agents such as cellulose nitrate and pressurized objects that might explode (radioactive materials) and cause physical damage. Also, objects with sharp edges are dangerous as well. Asbestos can fall under this category as its accumulation causes physical trauma inside the lungs.
  • Biological hazards- include infectious substances through organic materials or creatures. For instance, hantavirus which is spread by mice is dreaded in collection care. It includes other pathogens, molds, bird droppings, etc.

Connecting to Collections Care– Evaluation & Preservation

There are certain steps that help in locating and identifying the potential hazards in the collection. This is really important as it can prevent the potential dangers in the museum.

  • Research

The best and the most ideal way to reduce exposure to hazardous materials would be to research to build familiarity with toxins from a collection care standpoint. This includes valuable literature and information available in several institutions to identify and manage. There are a lot of toxicological data available on various substances so that you exactly how dangerous an element is and gets. Research helps you identify certain pharmaceuticals and related terminologies easily that would otherwise be slightly challenging.

  • Collection Exploration

Evaluation is incomplete without surveying the object records and storage. This way you as a curator, collector, or carer can easily detect the historical notations of toxic or poison in the collections. This includes intrinsically toxic objects or collections treated with pesticides. Surveying helps in making oneself familiar with the collections as it later becomes easy to detect and identify hazards.

  • Analytical Testing

There are a lot of toxins that do not get detected by the naked eye and can be identified through analytical testing. The two most useful techniques are X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS). These non-invasive to minimally invasive techniques can be used for detecting toxic elements like heavy metals, organic pesticides, and ethnobotanical toxins.

Connecting to Collections care is possible by preventing hazardous elements from overpowering the environment of the museum or any space for that matter; enabling safe and healthy space for the entire team.

Colllections Care

Expert Collections Care Tips To Store Your Artwork

Your guests love the beautiful art on the wall of your home. You do too, however, you know there will be certain art pieces that will have your attention which would eventually replace the original. Regardless of whether you are a budding collector or a gallery enthusiast, art maintenance is the key to keep the art in its valuable, pristine condition. However, there could be other antiques, paintings, sculptures, sketches, and other collectibles that cannot be simply accumulated in your home. This implies especially if one has a small living space. Either way, with time, you are going to consider collecting other artworks which would call for storing them. Otherwise, they will get damaged.

Special Collections Care Tips :

What are the Right Places for Storing Art?

There is no one ideal place to store art. Different artworks require different preparations, settings, and environments. The first step would be to choose the right premises artwork storage. Yes, any room can be converted into a storeroom but you will have to make arrangements to make it suitable for your artwork to remain in its original condition.
The most essential factor that plays a pivotal role in art storage is to prepare a room that is absolutely isolated from the outside world. The room should be closed at all times and there should be zero human traffic and natural interferences like weather, sounds, temperature changes, structural damages, and other natural factors like sunlight, etc.
One can also turn a walk-in closet or an office into an art storage space but then again you must be careful that the room is not attached or adjacent to a space that is supposedly too “active”. You are highly mistaken if these suggestions make you think of attics or basements because they are not properly insulated or equipped with climate control technology.
Another factor that you must consider while converting a room into an art storage room is to check for open air vents and broken windows. The first thing possibly that you must consider is to hire a handyman or consult an art specialist to inspect your potential artwork storage facility. A mild stench or speck of dust are indications of mold which wouldn’t work in your favor in the long run. Get the room treated before using it.

What are the Ideal Conditions for Art Storage?

Artworks and antiques have stood the test of time and have survived eras and years and remained unfazed by external conditions even though they were never kept in climate-controlled rooms, to begin with. Technically they have all existed or pre-existed in times with no air conditioning or proper ventilation so why are we intrigued by storage solutions?
The answer is simple, times have changed and evolved. The way of the world is not similar to what it was fifteen years ago. Natural Environmental conditions have altered for the worse and would reflect on precious antiques. It is all the more applicable to modern art. For instance, one has to work with caution when it comes to wax-based paints as they could start dripping all over your furniture if there is a slight change in thermostat controls.


The ideal temperature to store artwork ranges from 70 to 75°F. This includes most art pieces and antiques. Fluctuating or extreme temperatures would only lead to cracks, chips, and mold growth. If you cannot arrange a room with a steady temperature you must go for climate-controlled storage units.


No, this is not about light fixtures and ceiling lights. It’s the harmful and invisible radiation of UV rays that could damage the art. Regardless of the material or object, you must keep all your antiques and collectibles away from direct sunlight. If there happens to be a window in the room, make sure to use UV filtering agents that would minimize UV exposure. Instead of using glass as picture frames, Acrylite or Plexiglas can be used to filter UV radiation.


An artwork is composed of various materials and there are several different types of agents in the air that could have them respond accordingly. However, the average recommended humidity for art storage ranges from 40-50%. All in all, the aim should be to stabilize humidity without fail. Installing a smart thermostat, sensor, or home assistant would keep the humidity constant and alert you, in case of any fluctuation.

What Are the Ground Rules for Artwork Storage?

· Always wear cotton gloves or latex ones when handling artwork.· Use Ph neutral slip-sheets to separate paper artwork while stacking them.· Fresh oil paintings must not be stored immediately. They could take more than a year to dry. · Framed and stretched artwork must be stacked on racks with gaps for air to flow freely. In this case, a little sunlight sometimes would avert the possibilities of mold and fungus development. · Wooden drawers are not recommended to store artwork since wood itself is vulnerable to insects and other pests. · Always use a microfibre cloth to gently clean the artwork occasionally. This will enable the extension of its lifespan. · Examine the artwork regularly for signs of pests and infestation.
A word to the wise, despite following all the tips and precautions, there is always room for damage due to unexpected problems. Therefore, it is important to keep a check on museum Art collections care tips regularly despite creating favorable and probably the best conditions for your art.