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General Recommendations for Care of Artifacts

The environment in which objects are stored and exhibited can substantially effect their stability.
  • High temperatures and light levels accelerate chemical reactions and can increase the speed of degradation.
  • Fluctuating relative humidity can cause damage to organic materials by causing dimensional change and to inorganic materials by causing efflorescence of soluble salts.
  • High relative humidity will corrode metals and can cause molds to flourish and low relative humidity will cause organic materials to become dessicated and weak, leading to cracking and other structural damage.
  • Pollution from industrial sources and from paints, wood and other construction materials can effect the chemical stability of objects.

While ambient temperature and relative humidity can be safe for many objects, more tightly controlled environments may be needed for others. Exhibit and storage conditions may be achieved by relatively simple measures such as introducing the use of air conditioning, humidifiers and de-humidifiers, and silica gel in enclosed containers. A range of 68 to 74 degrees Farenheit and 40 to 55% relative humidity is generally considered acceptable for the majority of ethnographic and archaeological objects, though a conservator should be consulted about environmental requirements for unstable objects.

The following general recommendations for care of your collections will help prevent unnecessary damage.

  • Make an assessment of the condition and vulnerability of your object before you handle it. Use both hands to lift object and support it as near to its center of gravity as possible. Do not pick objects up by projecting parts such as handles, spouts or other appendages that may be insecure. Inspect the surface for powdering or flaking areas and avoid them when handling. Wear plastic or cotton gloves when handling metals in order to avoid causing fingerprint tarnishing.
  • Keep artifacts away from direct light and sources of heat and away from direct sources of air-conditioning or ventilation.
  • Do not apply waxes, oils or other products to the surface of objects in an attempt to stop cracking of wood or other organic materials. Contact a conservator if cracking appears active after a fairly stable ambient environment has been provided.
  • Whenever possible, keep your objects in closed frames, vitrines or cabinets.
  • When necessary, dust objects very carefully. A clean feather duster is the most gentle tool. When dusting, be extremely careful over splintery or cracked surfaces, as well as those with pigment. Do not use sprays, water or other products to help remove dust or dirt.
  • If you notice a persistent accumulation of "dust" underneath or around a wood object it could be evidence of insect infestation. Vacuum away the accumulated dust or frass and isolate the object by enclosing it in a plastic bag. Do not disturb the object for several weeks and monitor it to see if more frass accumulates. If so, contact a conservator for advice on the best means of insect eradication for the object.
  • Do not clean metals with ammonia-containing substances.
  • Do not attempt to repair broken objects yourself. Improper use of materials can cause damage that cannot be reversed in the future. Contact a conservator for treatment referral.

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192
Phone: 212-769-5100

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