Assessing the potential of historic archaeological collections: a pilot study of the British Museum’s Swiss lake village textiles

Higgitt, C., Harris, S. , Cartwright, C. and Cruickshank, P. (2011) Assessing the potential of historic archaeological collections: a pilot study of the British Museum’s Swiss lake village textiles. British Museum Technical Research Bulletin, 5, pp. 81-94.

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The British Museum houses a significant collection of organic material from prehistoric Swiss Lakes Villages (c.4000 BC to 500 BC) excavated in the late nineteenth century. The unusual waterlogged, anaerobic, alkaline burial environment provides suitable preservational conditions for a range of organic materials including many textiles. The textiles, which include fine complex weaves, netting and skeins, remain as treated at that time, mounted between sheets of glass or in vials but are now at risk due to acidic mounting materials, broken glass, or the fragments being insecure in their frames. The condition of the textile collection has been assessed with a view to improving the storage and display of these rare survivals, while preserving the original and highly informative historic mounts. Although often poorly provenanced, the opportunity was also taken to assess the potential of the textile collection for detailed study, including fibre identification and weave analysis. Many of the textiles showed signs of early consolidation and the presence of detrital material but it was possible to identify a range of plant materials in all samples examined. The consolidant used on OA.10836 has been identified as a carbohydrate material, possibly a gum or sugar solution. Although there was no clear visual evidence for the use of organic dyes, the chemical condition of fibres in OA.10836 suggests that no evidence would now remain.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Archaeology, conservation, textile, neolithic, Switzerland.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Harris, Dr Susanna
Authors: Higgitt, C., Harris, S., Cartwright, C., and Cruickshank, P.
Subjects:C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Archaeology
Journal Name:British Museum Technical Research Bulletin
Publisher:Archetype in association with the British Museum

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