UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

A graduate conservation training program focusing on the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials

Student Class Projects Focus on Technical Examinations of Cultural Materials

In the fall of 2009, the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program offered the course “Introduction to Archaeological Materials Science: Scientific Techniques, Methodologies and Interpretation” (CAEM M210) that focused on basic scientific techniques employed for the examination of archaeological and cultural artifacts to answer questions of anthropological significance and their state of preservation. Among the techniques covered were UV/VIS/NIR spectrophotometry, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), X-ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR). Students were assigned small research projects in which they would apply these techniques, in addition to others discussed in this and other courses, to the investigation of various materials to answer questions about technology and condition.

The four groups of artifacts studied were:

  • samples of a Byzantine wall painting from St. Neophytos, Cyprus
  • samples of fibers associated with a mummy bundle excavated by the Tarapaca Valley Archaeological Project in Chile
  • glazed ceramic sherds from the American Southwest
  • 2 Balinese paintings on canvas belonging to the Fowler Museum at UCLA

At the end of the term, the students presented their poster, which was displayed at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Below are two of the posters produced as the final project for the class.

Make sure to stay tuned to this blog for upcoming posts on the other posters presented, as well as future student projects.

Investigation of Pigment Alteration in the Wall Paintings at the Enkleistra of St. Neophytos, Paphos, Cyprus
Steven Brightup, Sara Kiani, Nicole Ledoux, James Ma, Saurabh Sharma

Project Summary
A series of 5 blue and 5 red pigment samples from the Enkleistra of St. Neophytos, the place of reclusion, in Paphos, Cyprus were analyzed to determine the pigments identity and possible alteration products. Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), Variable Pressure Scanning Electron Microscopy – Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (VPSEM-EDS), Polarized Light Microscope (PLM), and Binocular (stereo) Microscope (BM) were used to analyze the samples and due to the limitations of the techniques, only inconclusive assignments can be made on the pigments’ identity.

From elemental analysis it is suspected that the blue pigment is lapis lazuli and that there are two different red pigments which are cinnabar HgS and red lead (Pb3O4). However, without phase analysis of these samples, a positive identification cannot be made. Alteration of red to black and dark blue to light blue were observed for the samples analyzed. A possible alteration of Cinnabar is to metacinnabar. Documented alteration products of red lead are to plattnerite [β-PbO2] and anglesite [PbSO4]. Fading of lapis lazuli has been attributed to the breakdown of the Al-O-Si in the literature. However, it was not possible to verify if these are the alteration products with the available tools.

The Identification of Fibers from a Mummy Bundle, Tarapaca Valley, Chile
Tessa de Alarcon, Elizabeth Drolet, Robin O’Hern and Cindy Lee Scott

Fiber samples from a formative period mummy bundle from Tarapaca 40 in the Atacama desert of Chile were examined in an attempt to identify
them. Standards of human hair and alpaca were used for comparison. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) spectra were collected on the samples and standards. The morphology of the fibers and standards were examined using polarized light microscopy (PLM), scale casts and cross-sections. The spectra from the FT-IR analysis could not be used to differentiation between human and alpaca hair. Based on morphology, three samples were identified as camelid and two were tentatively identified as human.

Students attend Ceramics Research Group pit firing at Dockeweiler State Beach

Post and pictures by Dawn Lohnas

We went to the Dockweiler State Beach last Saturday to fire our ceramic pinch pots that we made for Prof. David Scott’s “Archaeological Materials: Technology and Characterization” course. We fired them in a pit fire to get a better understanding for this ancient technology.

Here are our vessels before firing…you can see the pit warming up there in the background.

Vessels waiting to be fired

Vessels waiting to be fired

After the initial fire heated up, a layer of ceramic sherds was laid down to insulate the pots from the heat. Then our pots, along with all the other greenware (unfired pieces) were placed in the pit. Another layer of large sherds was placed on top of the greenware, and layer of bisqueware (previously fired ceramics) was placed on top of that. Then we added more wood, and fired it up again!


Vessels were placed in pit on a layer of ceramic sherds that act to insulate the pots from the heat


Then more wood was added

After firing for a good few hours, and reaching close to 900 degrees celsius, the pottery was ready to be retrieved.


Firing the pots

Most everything survived! Success!! Now we all know a little bit more about a technique that has been around for many millennia…Thanks to Don Corbett and Marilyn Beaudry-Corbett, Director of the Ceramics Research Group, at UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology for organizing all of this!


Removing the pots after firing


Happy students with their fired pots. (L to R) Dawn Lohnas, Cindy Lee Scott, Nicole Ledoux, Tessa de Alarcon, Robin O'Hern, Elizabeth Drolet, Lily Doan (conservation students) Don and Marilyn Corbett (organizers)

Start of term for the class of 2012

This week marks the beginning of classes at UCLA and the entry of the class of 2012 into the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program. This first few days of this week are filled with various orientations to lab spaces and the program in general. The conservation students attend a portion of these orientations with the incoming students to UCLA’s Archaeology graduate program to give them an opportunity to interact and enjoy tours and luncheons together before classes start later in the week.

We wish the incoming classes of both the Conservation and Archaeology program lots of success in their graduate studies!

The class of 2012! (front row, L to R) Robin O'Hern, Elizabeth Drolet, Tessa de Alarcon, Dawn Lohnas (back row, L to R) Cindy Lee Scott, Lily Doan, Nicole Ledoux

The class of 2012! (front row, L to R) Robin O'Hern, Elizabeth Drolet, Tessa de Alarcon, Dawn Lohnas (back row, L to R) Cindy Lee Scott, Lily Doan, Nicole Ledoux

Incoming conservation and archaeology students at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology

Incoming conservation and archaeology students at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology

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Program alumni organize 2009 AIC Angel’s Project

Recent graduates Molly Gleeson (’08) and Ozge Gencay-Ustun (’08) are the organizers of this year’s American Institute for Conservation’s (AIC) Angels Project taking place at the Sherman Indian Museum. Each year, in conjunction with the AIC Annual Meeting, an “Angel’s project” takes place providing conservation and collection care for institutions with important cultural collections but may not have enough resources for certain conservation or preservation initiatives. The organizers chose the Sherman Indian Museum after meeting and working with Lorene Sisquoc, Curator, as part of a course offered through the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program. During this year’s project, the volunteers will travel down to Riverside to inventory, survey and re-house objects and archival materials from the museum’s collection.

The project is supported by contributions from Metal Edge, Inc., Southwest Museum of the American Indian, Autry National Center, PACIN – Packing Art handling and Crating Information Network (a Professional Interest Committee of the American Association of Museums), the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, and Paul Messier of Paul Messier, LLC.

For more information on AIC or the Angel’s Project, visit AIC’s website.

2009 Angel’s Project Press Release Press Release