Pachacamac Survey Project: Ceramics Update

July 24, 2012

So we are almost at the end of our IMLS survey of Pachacamac textiles and ceramics. As mentioned in previous blog posts, this one-year grant covers a detailed condition assessment, photography, and rehousing of the archeological textiles and ceramics from Max Uhle’s 1896 excavation at Pachacamac, Peru.  We have gotten a lot done over the last 10 months thanks to our dedicated team of volunteers, interns, and work-studies. All of the Pachacamac ceramics (approximately 1000 vessels) have been moved, photographed, and surveyed. While a significant selection of the Pachacamac ceramics had been previously photographed by students working with curator Clark Erickson, we have photographed these pots again and have finished photographing the remainder of the collection (See examples of our photos below- note the gray scales are used to correct the color for each photo). You can now access these photos online through the Penn Museum Collections search page!

Examples of photographs taken for the Pachacamac ceramics survey

Volunteer Nicole Bull making a ceramic storage mount

We are currently in the re-housing phase of the project. This involves the creation of a custom made storage mount for each ceramic made from archival materials. These storage mounts provide protection for the ceramics on the shelves, ensuring they don’t bump into one another or even roll off! They also make it easier to move and access the ceramics for research purposes without excessive handling. This is particularly valuable for ceramics with delicate surfaces or large cracks. For more about photography and rehousing completed for the Pachacamac survey, see the recent blog post “Pachacamac Survey Project: Textiles Update.”

Pre-program conservation intern Hong Gyu Shin places a newly re-housed ceramic back on the shelf

Another component of this project has been the conservation treatment of vessels that were found to be dusty or unstable. While most of the Pachacamac vessels were found to be in good condition, there were approximately 50 that required conservation treatment ranging from surface cleaning to reconstruction. Dust that accumulated on the surface of the pots while at the museum was removed by careful vacuuming using a soft brush and a HEPA filtered vacuum.

Pre-program conservation intern Elissa Meyers vacuums a pot

Some of these pots also showed evidence of soluble salts, which can cause damage over time. After chemical testing and evaluation of several factors, we decided to desalinate a number of these ceramics, meaning they were soaked in deionized water in order to remove the salts. Conservators monitor the release of salts in the water using a conductivity meter and can use these measurements to determine when to remove the ceramic from the desalination bath (for more information on the desalination method). The end result is a clean, stable pot- one that is also stored safely and is easily accessible both digitally and physically for researchers and the public.

Team Pachacamac (Top left) Jacob Bridy, Elizabeth Levitz, Laura Walsh, Nicole Bull, Hong-Gyu Shin (Bottom left) Elissa Meyers, Fran Baas, Ainslie Harrison

Many thanks to our team members for all their hard work! Those not pictured above include: Karen Tickner, Kelsey Wingel, Natalie Kendall, Adam Kapasi, Bronwyn Hinkle, Robert Franco, Sarah Schelde, Ting Lau, Vicki Chisholm, Cassia Balogh, William Gilbert, and Amanda McGrosky.