Assessing the past: Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeological collection

Emily Williams

The archaeological collection at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is one of the largest and oldest historical archaeology collections in North America. Excavation began in 1930 and attempts to preserve the recovered artifacts started very shortly thereafter. Over the last 70 years a range of treatment methods have been used with a variety of success. Many of the treatment methods used at Williamsburg have been published elsewhere and used on other collections. This paper describes the efforts of the conservation lab to prioritize the levels of care required by the collection through a series of surveys designed to look at both treatment method and actual artifact condition. It is hoped that the results of the survey will serve as a framework on which logical and effective decisions regarding the retreatment needs of the collection may be based. Additionally it is hoped that the survey work may serve as guide for collections with similarly treated artifacts, identifying trends that should be monitored within those collections.

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