South and Central American Archaeological Ceramic Treatment

We recently completed a multi-year project to address salt contamination in the Museum's Central and South American Archaeological Ceramics. A condition survey identified those ceramics exhibiting deterioration from soluble salts. Stabilization was primarily achieved through the removal of the salts. Contamination with water soluble ground salts, especially chloride salts, is common to archaeological materials. With fluctuations in relative humidity, these salts crystallize and rehydrate near the surface of the ceramic, causing the surface to breakup and powder or flake off. The ceramic is weakened and critical surface detail is lost. Eventually the ceramic can be lost entirely. The preservation of surface detail and ceramic body is critical to their research value, making the stabilization of these ceramics a high conservation priority for the department.