Material & artefact conservation - about
Heritage Victoria Centre for Conservation and Research
Why does Heritage Victoria practice artefact conservation and have an artefact collection?
When development is proposed on a significant archaeological site on land, a consent is usually issued on condition that an archaeological excavation is carried out, the site is documented and any artefacts are retrieved. See the permits webpage for more information.
Artefacts are removed from historic shipwrecks by maritime archaeologists to protect them from physical danger or from looting. Other valuable shipwreck artefacts were handed in during 1993 when an amnesty was declared on artefacts from historic shipwrecks.
During alterations to a registered building or garden, samples of materials, construction techniques or artefacts may be removed. Artefacts from all these sources are conserved in the Heritage Victoria Centre for Conservation and Research and then kept in the collection and used for research, education, publicity and displays.
What are some of the most interesting objects in your collections?
- Toilets from 'SS City of Launceston', wrecked in 1865. These have very ornate blue and white ceramic bowls and lead surrounds.
- Archaeological champagne, wine, salt pork and oil dating from c.1840.
- Crockery and cutlery.
- Servants' bells c.1840
- Building materials e.g. nails (datable), unused Minton tiles, slate ventilator grill
- Children's toys made of pipe clay.
Can I access the collection?
The collection may be viewed by members of the public and students by appointment. Objects are also available for loan to other organisations for exhibitions. From time to time artefacts may be available for loan to teachers. For more information, call 9415 4444.
The Victorian Archaeological Artefact Database holds records of more than 60,000 artefacts held at Heritage Victoria’s Centre for Conservation and Research.
The database is designed to assist researchers, curators or others interested in exploring the material culture from more than 300 archaeological sites throughout Victoria.
What is materials conservation?
It is the art and science of preserving cultural artefacts and materials to ensure their survival for future generations. Materials conservation is a technical activity based on knowledge of the structure and chemistry of artefact materials. It includes treatments to stabilise and repair artefacts, researching treatment materials and the preventive care of artefacts.
What types of materials can be found at heritage places?
- Architectural ceramics (tiles, chimney pots)
- Coatings (signs, graining, varnish)
- Wood (furniture, interior fittings)
- Stone (headstones, sculpture, gargoyles)
- Metals (sculpture, commemorative plaques, cast iron fencing/lace, roofs)
- Glass (leadlight, stained glass)
- Textiles (carpets, wall-coverings)
- Paper (wall paper, drawings)
- Modern materials (linoleum, rubber)
- Electrical items (light fittings, signs)
- Artworks (oil paintings, wall paintings, watercolours)
- Photographs (portraits, documentation)
- Historic shipwreck material (waterlogged and corroded artefacts)
What sort of advice can a conservator offer?
They can advise on how to care for materials (non-structural) from registered places. This may be advice that an owner or custodian can apply themselves or a referral to an appropriate materials conservation consultant. The conservator might also be available to visit a place and assist with project briefs or artefact proposals and treatments.
Who is this advisory service available to?
- Owners and custodians of registered places.
- Nominated custodians of shipwreck materials under the Commonwealth Amnesty scheme
- Consultants or tradespeople carrying out work under a Heritage Victoria permit or funding program
- Staff of regional and local historic and maritime museums with collections relating to Victoria's registered places
- Local Government heritage advisers and employees.
- Management committees for places on the Victorian Heritage Register.
- Staff of other State heritage agencies.
Others will be referred to appropriate organisations.
Heritage Victoria Centre for Conservation and Research
We operate the only Centre for Conservation and Research (formerly known as Heritage Victoria laboratory) in Victoria.
Artefacts regularly enter our collection having been retrieved from archaeological sites on land, from shipwrecks, or from other registered heritage places.
What the Centre does:
- Manages our collection of artefacts from land archaeological sites, shipwrecks and buildings with the aim of making it more accessible for public access, research and exhibition
- Advise and analyse on artefact and material conservation issues in historic buildings and sites.
- Advise heritage consultants, owners of registered places and registered custodians of shipwreck artefacts on the preservation of artefacts and materials associated with registered sites.
What types of artefacts are conserved at the Heritage Victoria Centre for Conservation and Research?
Most artefacts are from archaeological sites both on land and underwater, but some are from buildings and cemeteries. These include a wide range of materials and some examples include:
- Ceramics (crockery, pipes)
- Glass (bottles, window glass)
- Metals (cutlery, copper alloy portholes and ships' hull fastenings, lead plumbing)
- Leather (shoes, saddlery)
- Wood (floor boards, cork, pork barrels, waterlogged ships' timbers)
- Textiles (clothing, rope)
- Paper (bottle labels)
- Stone (ballast, marble)
- Archaeological foodstuffs (wine, oil, oyster shells, livestock and fish bone)
- Building materials (stone, bricks, wall plaster)
- Archival materials (plans, photographic slides)