Research on identifying organic pesticide residues at the National Museum of the American Indian

Jennifer Bosworth, Jessica Johnson, and Rolf Hahne

Abstract

Pesticides have long been used by museums and collectors to protect objects from insect infestation. The use of chemicals and substances lethal to insects may have preserved the physical manifestation of many objects, but it has also served to place those who handle contaminated objects at risk.

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) has an inclusive program to repatriate sacred and ceremonial items, and objects of cultural patrimony, to their culturally identified lineal descendants throughout the Western Hemisphere. The museum strives to provide as much information as possible to repatriating tribal communities, and to museum staff in contact with NMAI collections, about pesticides that may be present on objects.

In order to fulfill this responsibility NMAI has been conducting research to evaluate its pesticide use history, and to develop methods to test for the presence of pesticides. This paper identifies some of the pesticides found on objects, and describes the current testing program.

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