Pachacamac Survey Project: Wrapping Things Up

August 26, 2012

IMLS Project Conservators Ainslie Harrison and Fran Baas

It’s hard to believe that our year here is coming to an end. We’re wrapping up the final details and writing our final reports on our IMLS Pachacamac Survey Project.  When I wrote my last blog post, we were in full photography and housing mode.  I am delighted to report that we have finished that portion!  We photographed over 1100 textiles (with over 5000 photographs now available through the Museum’s collections database).  We have rehoused over 1900 textiles into new and improved housing solutions and relocated over 2500 textiles from the previously cramped storage situation into a roomier and more accessible location.

Special attention was given to the large textiles, a subset of around 100, and once identified and located, received the highest priority during the early part of the project.   Early campaigns of rehousing and photography had never fully dealt with these since they were fragile, unwieldy and space-intensive.  Our largest textile (a plain weave cloth that wrapped the outside of a mummy bundle) measured 10’ x 16’!  Like all the large textiles, they now have their own drawer, completely padded out, wrapped in Tyvek, photographed, and received a full condition assessment.   Our immediate impact on those large pieces was immense, but their preservation needs will continue into the future.  In the upcoming months, the plan is to rehouse certain ones in a custom-made cabinet.

Object 29766: This textile, one of the larger ones measuring 9′ x 5′, had to be photographed using a boom arm to support the camera directly above it. Additionally, we wanted to take some close-up detail shots showing the condition issues and the weave structure.

A major portion of the project which I haven’t gone into much detail yet, was the condition assessment survey that my Project partner Ainslie Harrison and I were conducting simultaneously as the other activities were being done.  Ainslie was in charge of surveying the ceramics in the Pachacamac collection (roughly 1400 objects), while I surveyed the textile portion (roughly 2600 textiles).  In order to streamline and standardize the compilation of this information, we developed a digital checklist to be used during examination of each object.  While using a similar systematic approach, each portion was designed with our specific materials in mind (typical methods of construction, materials, and condition problems).  Working with the Database Administrator, Scott Williams,  the survey was designed so there would be a seamless upload of the large amount of data we gathered into the museum’s collection management system Ke Emu, where the information will become a permanent part of the objects record.

Ainslie surveyed the ceramics portion of the Pachacamac collection, while I surveyed the textile portion.

The primary goal of the grant was to increase researcher access, and I can proudly say that this goal was reached in leaps and bounds! Many research questions can now be answered just by searching the collections database online through the Museum’s website, saving time for the curator, the collection staff, and researchers miles away.  Access to the digital documentation also has an important preservation aspect since it minimizes the handling of the object. If a question can’t be answered by viewing its color digital photograph or by reading the newly added collection information gathered during the survey, the piece can be easily retrieved safely and quickly.

What we accomplished in one year was amazing.  I feel that we did make a big difference in the care and well-being of the Pachacamac objects and textiles.  Being part of a larger team filled with such hardworking preservation-minded people was a rich and rewarding opportunity for us both.  We are also grateful for those that helped lighten the often dauntingly large task with humor.  You all deserve a round of applause.  We are looking forward to hearing about all the exciting research that comes out of the study of this newly accessible collection!

We’re done! Here’s to a great year!