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.

Museology Uncategorized

Top 5 Best Books on Museology – Must Read!!

Whether you are a restorer, a curator, or any other museum professional, museum care can feel sometimes intimidating. You have to handle a lot of responsibilities—from protecting the objects to managing the exhibition and everything in between.

While you can reach out to your peers or seniors for guidance, picking a book from top 5 books on museology by a museum expert who thoughtfully presents and explains the concepts and guidance on museum care is a great help. Resources like these can help you realize that museum care doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming when done right.

Fortunately, books on museology , these have been written by experts to help understand and address all important aspects of museum care such as restoration, marketing, and conservation.

Below are our recommendations of the best books on museology you should own.

What Makes a Great Exhibition? By Paula Marincola

Let’s admit it.

Museums are changing from a house of rare art into audience-friendly institutions that often showcase items to draw crowds. However, in midst of this transformation, there is an unanswered question pops out—What makes a great exhibition?

Here comes this book that compiled the views of museum experts, including the world’s leading curators and art historians.

The book “What Makes a Great Exhibition?” probes into the challenges being faced by American and European art. The distinguished experts put forward their views on diverse topics. Some of the interesting topics that have been addressed by the contributors are “ethnically-focused exhibitions” and “exhibition and exhibition-maker”.

What Makes a Great Exhibition? is really a thought-provoking piece on the practice of curatorial work and the mission of modern museums.

Shop The Book from HERE!

The Conservation and Restoration of Paintings by John Clifton:

This is a detailed guidebook to the interesting aspects of conservation and restoration of paintings. The book talks about the issues of confusing and multilayered problems.

The author has also explained basic techniques, materials used in both the original paintings and in restoration, chemical formulas, and the tools and methods of storage and handling. He has also advised on how to avoid the common pitfalls. The book includes chapters on the Restorer and the Studio; Construction of Paintings; Technique of Painting; Renovation and Repair; and a bibliography, glossary, and index.

Plus, the chapters are made more engaging and understandable with illustrations on techniques and the assembly of the components.

Shop The Book from HERE!

Museum Marketing and Strategy by Philip Kotler, Neil G. Kotler, and Wendy I. Kotler:

Revised and updated, this book is a useful resource when it comes to museum marketing and strategy.

It explains a tried and tested framework for examining marketing and strategic goals associated with the museum’s mission, opportunities, challenges, and resources.

The book includes a complete range of marketing techniques and covers the most current information on branding, positioning, and e-marketing.

Besides, it outlines the issues associated with the museum community and provides solutions such as the definition of the exchange process between a consumer value and a museum’s offerings; differentiating a museum and communicating its unique value in a competitive marketplace; finding, creating, and retaining consumers and converting visitors to members and members to volunteers; and achieving financial stability.

The book guides you on how to develop a consumer-centered museum. A must-have for new museums or the one that wants to draw more visitors!

Shop The Book HERE!

The Curator’s Handbook by Adrian George:

This is the essential resource for the curators and curatorial students, covering every stage of the process of organizing an exhibition, regardless of the venue, from initial idea to final installation.

It explains curatorial work from its origins in the 17th century onward and highlights the roles of the modern curator. Its chapters cover the tracing of the various stages of the exhibition process and present information in a lucid, informative language through helpful illustrations and tables.

Some of the important topics covered by this book are creating the concept to writing contracts and loan requests; aligning budgets and schedules; creating exhibition catalogs and interpretation materials; designing gallery spaces; working with art handlers, lenders, and artists; organizing private exhibitions or shows; and documenting a show.

Shop The Book From HERE!

Conservation Treatment Methodology by Barbara Appelbaum:

It is important to know how to interact with an object before you start handling and treating it.

All you need to shop this book by Barbara Appelbaum.

The book has listed all the visual examination and documentation to help you choose the right method and materials for treating the objects. The author has also guided on all the different things you should have for successful conservation.

You will also find out why one approach might not work for every object even if it is made from the same material or by the same artist. The book also highlights the importance of going through the material science of the object as well as its historical and cultural significance and sentimental value while “treating” it.

Shop The Book From HERE!

So these are the books on museology to help you hone your skills as a museum professional. Which one is your favorite?