Lighting Talk Abstract

Articulated skeletal material is not a widely covered topic in conservation and I know that not many Conservators are faced with cleaning whole skeletons. Most Conservators find bone as parts of decorative or cultural objects, such as inlays or small carvings, which require a different approach. Less frequently, Conservators are asked to work with articulated skeletons or partially articulated skeletons. As Natural Science Conservator at the Australian Museum I often have skeletal material to work on. There are many factors that can influence the conservation approach chosen, such as the method in which the skeleton was initially prepared. Certain conditions during maceration or other preparation methods can leave the bones embrittled. Fat deposited within the bones, if not removed thoroughly, can lead to oozing and the build-up of lipids on the surface of the bones. This can greatly impact on its overall condition in the future. The type of soiling is also a major factor. For example, is it well adhered to the surface or easily dislodged through dry brushing?

I have found that there are a number of aqueous methods to choose from when cleaning bones and have used many of them. Obviously some work better in certain situations than others. Through recent treatments of medium to large articulated skeletons, one conservation method stands out to me. When working with fairly robust bones, an aqueous solution of ethanol and water applied with both a toothbrush and latex sponge works quickly and effectively to remove heavy deposits of black greasy dust. The skeletal specimens suited to this type of treatment are medium to large robust natural science specimens, such as marine mammals and large mammals.

Methods for cleaning lipids from bones, such as whales, are not covered in this talk due to time constraints.


Sheldon Teare is Natural Sciences Conservator at the Australian Museum. Sheldon works across all the Natural Sciences collections, providing conservation advice and expertise regarding the long-term preservation of these collections. Sheldon specializes in carrying out complex treatments of historical Natural Science specimens. Currently Sheldon serves as President of NSW AICCM division.

2015 AICCM National Conference; Illuminating the New
Paper author:
Sheldon Teare