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Optimisation of Environmental Control in Museum Collections of Bone and Ivory


Project Description

English Heritage holds a very significant collection of archaeological bone, displayed and stored in a much wider range of environments than most other heritage institutions. There are important displays at Stonehenge, Lullingstone Roman Villa, St Augustines Abbey, St Peters church, Chesters Roman Fort amongst others. A number of forthcoming projects will incorporate bone materials on display. Over 10,000 boxes of bone are stored in Dover, Fort Brockhurst, St Peters Ossuary, Helmsley and Wrest Park Stores. In 2010 a national audit of collections identified major degradation of materials and work is now underway to address this; however we still lack vital information for our archaeological bone collection. A review of the literature has identified critical gaps in knowledge about RH and acetic acid response. Managing our bone collection is hence particularly challenging due to this lack of evidence.

This is the first piece of research to address archaeological bone behaviour to fluctuating relative humidity across the spectrum of collections and to apply acoustic emission to these materials. The applicant will work at the interface between conservation science and physical/biological sciences, whilst being exposed to world-class facilities in the centre of London. For the physical/biological sciences the student will have the opportunity to interact with the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB) (joint Birkbeck/UCL). For conservation science the student will have the opportunity to interact with the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA) at UCL (http://www.seaha-cdt.ac.uk/).

Preventive conservation of bone and ivory objects in collections has very limited scientific underpinning, with few studies on the determination of suitable relative humidity (RH), pollution and light levels. A review of the literature has identified critical gaps in information concerning the effect of fluctuations in RH, effect of volatile organic acids, and effect of light exposure for these materials. Damage assessment will be based on a multi-disciplinary and multi-scale approach ranging from nanometrology to the meso and macro scale and will include non-invasive imaging techniques, atomic force microscopy (AFM), together with thermoanalytical, spectroscopic, mechanical, and dielectric techniques. The aim will be to develop minimally intrusive to completely non-invasive methods for damage assessment. The starting point will be the established procedures and damage markers that have been developed for another collagen-based material (parchment) in two major multi-disciplinary projects MAP (MicroAnalysis of Parchment) and IDAP (Improved Damage Assessment of Parchment. The work will involve characterisation of archaeological bones with different degrees of degradation. Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) will be used to image the bones and record micro-cracks, together with imaging (AFM), mechanical testing and thermogravimetric analysis (TGA). Controlled RH accelerated aging (thermal) studies on bone will be undertaken to determine kinetics of degradation. DNA preservation will be determined with DNA kits to add to the kinetic information. Accelerated ageing will also include exposure to various levels of acetic and formic acid vapours.
This studentship is funded through the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. Collaboration between a Higher Education Institution and a museum, library, archive, or heritage organisation is the essential feature of these studentships. This project will be supervised jointly by Dr Marianne Odlyha (Birkbeck College), Dr Laurent Bozec (UCL Eastman Dental Institute) and Dr David Thickett (English Heritage). The student will be expected to spend time at Birkbeck, University College London, and English Heritage; particularly to undertake training and development opportunities in conservation science. This is a 3.5 year award (includes a Student Development Fund equivalent to 0.5 years of funding) which starts October 1st 2017. The award pays tuition fees up to the value of the full time home/EU rate for PhD degrees as well as full maintenance (UK citizens and residents only). The value of the stipend will be a minimum of £17,103 (includes London weighting and additional payment for CDA students). The student is eligible to receive an additional grant (for travel, expenses, research consumables etc.) during the course of the project courtesy of Historic England (on behalf of English Heritage). The studentship will be held open until a suitable candidate is found. Interested candidates should contact Dr Odlyha () or Dr Thickett () in the first instance.

Funding Notes

• Have a first or upper second class honours degree or equivalent.
• Have a strong background in materials science or conservation science /imaging techniques and working with museum
collections.
• Be a resident of the UK or European Economic Area (EEA).
• In general, full studentships are available to students who are settled in the UK and have been ordinarily resident for a period of at
least three years before the start of postgraduate studies. Fees-only awards are generally available to EU nationals resident in the
EEA. International applicants are normally not eligible to apply for this studentship.

Related Subjects

How good is research at Birkbeck, University of London in Biological Sciences?
(joint submission with University College London)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 21.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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