Andrew KitchenerBy Dr Andrew Kitchener, Principal Curator of Vertebrates

With the next phase of the redevelopment of the National Museum of Scotland, all the objects that could move are being packed up in the Connect gallery to be stored safely until they are redisplayed. Among these is Dolly the sheep, who must be quite relieved that she is no longer rotating endlessly while watching the countless visitors who come to see her and be photographed beside her every day.

Dolly the sheep

Dolly the sheep

One afternoon we gathered to carefully remove Dolly from her case onto a trolley. She was wheeled carefully through the galleries, down and up lifts, until she finally arrived in the packing area.  An Italian visitor, asking about Dolly’s whereabouts, was lucky to see her briefly on this nerve-wracking journey.  Once safely behind the scenes, she was once more photographed from every angle, scrutinised carefully for her current condition, and then finally her base was screwed and clamped into a very large wooden crate. Outside her case Dolly could be prey to clothes moths and other insect pests, so it is important we keep her sealed in this wooden haven.

Dolly the sheep being photographed

Dolly the sheep modelling for our photo-shoot

Dolly and her tightly sealed crate were transported carefully to the National Museums Collections Centre, which will be her home for the next year and a half until she is unveiled in the new Science and Technology galleries in 2016.

Dolly the sheep on the move

On the move!

Dolly the sheep in her crate

Have you got my best side..?

Dolly the sheep in her crate

Safely stored away in her wooden crate

You can find out more about the new galleries at National Museum of Scotland here.

Gemma Thorns, Assistant Conservator Technology

By Gemma Thorns, Assistant Conservator Technology

Recently the Engineering and Furniture Conservation Team undertook the exterior cleaning of three large aircraft in the grounds at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield. This was no mean feat, as given their size they presented the conservation team with quite a challenge. The aircraft to be cleaned was the Avro Vulcan B.2A, the De Havilland Comet 4C, and the “Lothian Region” BAC111-510ED. Each of the aircraft had interesting and significant working lives before arriving at the Museum of Flight, and so it is important to keep them in good condition.

The Vulcan was the world’s first delta winged bomber when it first flew in 1952. Our Vulcan made the headlines when, due to a fractured in-flight refuelling probe, the Vulcan diverted to Rio de Janeiro. After seven days internment the aircraft and crew were released. On the nose can be seen two mission markings and a Brazilian flag commemorating her unscheduled stopover.

Vulcan being cleaned at National Museum of Flight

The Vulcan

The Comet was the first jet powered passenger airliner, the prototype first flying in July 1949. Our Comet was the last Comet to fly in commercial colours when she flew from Lasham, Hampshire to East Fortune in September 1981.

The Comet aircraft being cleaned at National Museum of Flight

The Comet

The BAC111 was a British short-range jet airliner of the 1960s and 1970s, and was one of the most successful British airliner designs, serving until a widespread retirement in the 1990s. Our “Lothian Region” BAC111 was used for the shuttle service between Edinburgh and London

The Lothian Region BAC111 being cleaned at National Museum of Flight

The “Lothian Region” BAC111

Luckily the week the team assembled on site was dry and fairly sunny, which made the cleaning much easier. Splitting into smaller teams, and with the help of volunteers, we used hoses, a power washer, mops, brushes and aviation detergent to remove the build-up of dirt, lichen and moss from the aircraft, using lifting equipment to access the higher areas. The final areas of cleaning will be carried out later in the year.

The Vulcan aircraft being cleaned at National Museum of Flight

The Vulcan

With the conservation cleaning almost complete, it is clear to see that the aircraft has greatly benefited from the work, and they can now be seen gleaming in the sunshine once again.

Lisa BarterBy Lisa Barter, Conservation Intern

I am a Los Angeles, California, girl who chose to do her Conservation training at University College London, Institute of Archaeology. Just as I thought the weather could not possibly get any colder, I applied to do my third year internship in Scotland. Since arriving in Edinburgh at the end of September 2012, I can honestly say I have seen it snow more times than I had ever seen before in my life! Now that my time here in the Artefacts Conservation section at the National Museums Collection Centre is ending, I thought I would write a blog post about what my MSc dissertation research into the potentiostatic reduction of lead corrosion has achieved.

I have been working on 156 bullets and casings found near the Special Training Centre Lochailort (1940-1942; site near Inverailort). This was the first Royal Commando training centre set up during WWII. The bullets were found, buried in the ground, near a derelict building which is a possible site of the first ‘mystery house’. Trainees would have been sent into this building to test their new skills in an unknown scenario.

Bullets and shell casings

Small arms ammunition; 156 bullets and casings.

The bullets and casings were found buried in the ground

The bullets and casings were found buried in the ground. The National Museums Scotland collection is just a trowel full taken from this pit (Photograph courtesy of Stuart Allan, Senior Curator National War Museum, Edinburgh).

My work on the bullets was two-fold. First, by studying these bullets and the casing head stamps (impressed markings that indicate country and calibre) I could shed light on the types of ammunition and possibly also the weapons that were used at this site. Secondly, as Stuart Allan, Senior Curator of Military Collections, was concerned about corrosion to the bullets, I needed to determine a good bulk conservation treatment which could efficiently treat all 156 objects so that they could be displayed in the future.

Bullets and casings

The types of bullets and casings found in the collection, tentatively identified as a rifle round (top-left), a .45 calibre (top-centre), and a .32 calibre (top-right). The types of head stamps present are an ELEY 328-65 (British), REM-UMC .45 ACP (American), WESTERN .45 AUTO (American), W.R.A.Co .45 A.C. (American). Therefore the likely weapons used at this site were pistols, sub-machine guns, and rifles.

Because these bullets have corroding lead (Pb) cores, which are very toxic, this presented a health and safety risk to researchers and visitors, and this needed to be resolved before they could be displayed (and before the metal corrodes completely to dust!). Therefore, when I worked with the objects I wore protective gear and used other equipment to contain the lead corrosion products so that I and the other conservators would be safe.

Protective clothing

Gloves, eye-glasses, lab coat, and face mask must be worn when working with the lead corrosion, while a filter vacuum is used to contain the toxic dust.

First, I sorted the bullets visually into sizes and types, then I chose seventeen samples (four casings and thirteen bullets) which were representative of the types and corrosion products present. These would be used to analyze for composition (to see which metal alloys were present) and to undergo potentiostatic trials.

The 17 samples

Seventeen samples represented the four types of casing headstamps, the different types of bullets, metal alloys, and corrosion products visibly present.

To understand the types of metal alloys and corrosion products present I turned to several analytical techniques in addition to the desk microscope to assist me. With the help and expertise of Conservation Scientist Lore Troalen, x-ray fluorescence (XRF) was utilized to provide me with an elemental composition of the bullet shells and the casings. With this technique it was determined that there were two alloys present: copper-zinc (‘.45 calibre’) and copper-nickel (‘.32 calibre’ and ‘rifle rounds’). The cores were determined to be lead.

Two types of corrosion products were visibly present: a primary, white corrosion and a secondary green corrosion which appeared either as compact and dark green or as nodular and light green-blue.

Different types of corrosion

The types of corrosion present appear either compact or voluminous and are either plain white corrosion or a secondary light green-blue or dark green corrosion.

With the expertise of Peter Davidson, Curator of Minerals, x-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis was used to determine that the white corrosion was Cerussite (lead carbonate). However, the two green corrosion products were not as easily defined by this technique. In addition, after potentiostatic reduction trials were run on several sample bullets, XRD was used a second time to confirm that lead metal had been formed. This was the most exciting test as it showed that my project was successful!

Bullet in position for XRF analysis and data

Bullet in position for XRF analysis (left). Sample 9 spectra (right). The results show the presence of Pb, small amount of Cu, Ni, Fe, Zn. The type of equipment used was a XRF Oxford ED2000.


Sample 15 diffractogram showing that the white corrosion product is cerussite + unidentified phases (green corrosion products).

XRD PANalytical X’Pert Powder

The equipment used was a XRD PANalytical X’Pert Powder.

Because the green corrosion could not be identified by XRD, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was used to help determine which elements were present in the green corrosion products. The backscatter micrographs were truly amazing to me, as they illustrated how beautiful a mineral can look when viewed at such a magnification. This technique also indicated that these were copper-based minerals and possibly more non-crystalline in nature than previously thought. Therefore, future tests will involve Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) which can better identify non-crystalline and organic materials.

Sample bullet #4

Sample bullet #4 showed the earliest successful reduction of lead carbonate to lead metal (left image). The backscatter micrograph (SEM-BSC) showed two phases present: one more needle-like or dendritic (Phase 1) and one more compact and globular (Phase 2).

Light green-blue corrosion examined

The light green-blue corrosion that appeared nodular under a desk microscope (left image) appear drastically different using SEM. In the SEM-BSC mircograph this corrosion appears fiborous and almost flower-like in structure (right image).

Dark green corrosion product adhering to white product

The dark green corrosion product (left image) was strongly adhered to the white corrosion layer beneath it. This made taking ‘pure’ samples for XRD analysis difficult. In this SEM-BSC micrograph (right image) the lead carbonate appears brilliant white and is adhered to the dark green corrosion.

To treat the bullets I chose an electrochemical technique called Potentiostatic Reduction. This process utilizes a potentiostat machine which, with the aid of computer software, can help determine a safe electrical current to push through the circuit to reduce the corrosion to metal. Initially the software is set to run potentiodynamic scans which display a unique signature peak corresponding to the specific metal or alloy which is to be reduced. This allows me to be more selective in what potential difference (voltage) I should choose to run my trials. If I set the potential difference too low then nothing will happen and the electrolyte solution may attack the metal. If I set the potential difference and current too high hydrogen evolution (bubbles) may form.

Sycopel Enhanced Ministat potentiostat (model 256E) and PC-100 digital controller with software

Sycopel Enhanced Ministat potentiostat (model 256E) and PC-100 digital controller with software.

The aim of determining a safe current range for reduction is to avoid the rapid formation of hydrogen gas which evolves off the surface and within the structure as tiny bubbles. When the experiment is running correctly very few hydrogen bubbles will be formed on the object. Oftentimes the object to be reduced is extremely fragile, thus, the rapid evolution of hydrogen could be enough to shatter the object apart!

Test bullet

Rapid hydrogen evolution can be seen streaming off of this mock ‘bullet’ which I created to test the cell before an actual bullet was tested.

The electrochemical cell set-up

The electrochemical cell set-up. I used a platinum mesh for the anode and a calomel electrode as reference. Two electrolytes were chosen to test, sodium sesquicarbonate and sodium sulphate.

The bullet was connected to the system as the cathode, the platinum mesh was connected as the anode, and a Calomel Reference electrode was included in the cell to monitor the potential drop occurring at the cathode. This reference electrode allows the potentiostat to adjust the potential (voltage) at the cathode, in order to keep it constant. The potentiostat is set up so that I can monitor the current through the bullet (cathode). When it settles on a current for a duration of time, I can then assume that all the corrosion that will reduce to metal has done so and the experiment can be stopped. The bullet is then rinsed and dried and stored in an air-tight container.

Diagram of the electrochemical cell

Diagram of my electrochemical cell, representing the placement of the object (cathode), the platinum mesh (anode) within the cell. The current is pushed through the bullet first, which provides the necessary electrons needed to reduce the lead carbonate back to lead metal.

Samples #4, #9, and #10 – after potentiostatic reduction treatment was complete

Samples #4, #9, and #10 – after potentiostatic reduction treatment was complete.

Well, if you have all stayed with me and read this far, then I guess the big question is: “Did I have any success?” My overexcited answer is “YES!!!” I was very happy to be able to reduce three different bullets and demonstrate that both copper-zinc and copper-nickel alloy shells in galvanic connection with a lead core could be reduced, as well as bullets with the secondary green corrosion. I was also able to set up a cell with two bullets and have both bullets reduce at once. This means that future testing can begin on creating multiple-cells, with 5-10 bullets, which will allow all 156 bullets to be reduced efficiently!

Thank you for reading through my blog post and many thanks to the conservators, curators, and site staff that made my time at National Museums Collection Centre wonderful. I wish I didn’t have to leave! Now back to typing up my dissertation!

Rosina BucklandBy Rosina Buckland, Senior Curator, East and Central Asia

Rosina is curator of our past exhibition Kabuki: Japanese Theatre Prints, which ran at National Museum of Scotland from 4 October 2013 – 2 February 2014.

In April I travelled to Leiden in The Netherlands to deliver a Japanese painting to the conservation studio Restorient. The conservation work is being funded by the Sumitomo Foundation as part of their “Grant for Projects for the Protection, Preservation & Restoration of Cultural Properties outside Japan.” This programme is offered “so that cultural properties outside Japan, the common heritage of humanity, may be handed down to future generations.” Since 1998 hundreds of museums around the world have received money to help conserve their collections. Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson (yes, those surnames are different!) have been running Restorient Studio since 2005. They provide conservation of East Asian painting in all formats (screens, handscrolls, hanging scrolls), a kind of work which requires a very particular set of skills, and tools!

Processing Courtesan, by Utagawa Hiromaru

‘Processing Courtesan’, by Utagawa Hiromaru.

In pre-modern Japan, paintings played a central role in the decoration of a room interior. The most common format for display was the hanging scroll, which would be shown for a brief period of time and then rolled up and stored away. The subject matter was chosen to harmonize with the seasons or with a special occasion, such as a family member’s birthday. The Museum has a small, but growing, number of these hanging scroll paintings, but the work I delivered had been cut from its mount before it was acquired by the Museum in 1887, and so had never been displayed. It also had significant creasing and some water damage, so was well overdue for some TLC!

The painting is done in ink and colours on paper, and measures 127.3 by 28.8 cm. The subject is a courtesan of the pleasure quarter, in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) dressed ostentatiously in several layers of kimono for the procession which took place from the brothel itself to the teahouse where the client was waiting. Edo was known as a “city of bachelors” because of the large number of young single men who lived there in attendance on the military regime during the sixteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. There were several pleasure quarters where men could retire for entertainment and companionship. In the procession the courtesan would have been accompanied by attendants, the brothel owner and porters, but here the artist focuses on her alone. She wears an elaborate hairstyle, with long pins and a tortoiseshell comb at the front. The painter has sharply cropped the composition at left to convey the impression of movement as the woman sashays before the viewer.

The painting is signed by the artist Utagawa Hiromaru, who was active in 1804–18. The inscription brushed at the top is a poem by the literary figure Tōian Kowatari (1774–1823). It translates:

“The common people admire her,
While well-educated gentlemen revile her.
After giving the matter careful thought,
I go along with the common people.”

A playful inscription by Master Ko.

The poem pokes fun at the moral criticism directed towards women of the pleasure quarters according to strict Neo-Confucian morality, and clearly expresses the poet’s approval of these beautiful and talented women.

On my first visit to the conservation studio in Leiden we discussed the treatment that would need to be carried out on the painting. Then came the fun part, where we tried out various swatches of material, considering what would be suitable as the fabrics that will surround the painting surface and frame it visually. These need to harmonize with the colours in the painting, and also the motifs within the fabric should be appropriate to the subject matter. There were no final decisions at this stage, but we very much liked a pale blue colour with a wave motif, which worked well with the subtle wave pattern in the white robe worn by the woman.

Examining the scroll in the Restorient studio

Examining the scroll in the Restorient studio.

Over the coming months I’ll be posting with updates about the various stages of the conservation process, so watch this space!

Diana de BellaigueBy Diana de Bellaigue, Artefact Conservator

This post was originally published on 1 October 2012, but has now been updated with the final results of the project.

This autumn marks the exciting culmination of several years’ work on a multidisciplinary project to uncover the hidden story of a very rare early 17th century stone overmantel. It shows the Classical Greek tale of the Race of Atalanta and Hippomenes. You can find it on display in the Traditions in Sculpture gallery in the National Museum of Scotland.

17th century stone overmantel

17th century stone overmantel showing the Classical Greek tale of the Race of Atalanta and Hippomenes.

When we first started the conservation of the piece several years ago, we spotted beneath the dirty brown surface a wealth of vibrant colour, including greens, reds, gold and silver.

Detail of the overmantel showing traces of colour

Detail of the overmantel showing traces of colour.

Using traditional techniques of paint analysis and new technologies, we have been able to analyse how the piece might have looked when it was made and throughout the intervening years.

We took tiny paint samples to get an accurate idea of all the layers of colour lying beneath the blackened surface.

Colour samples from the overmantel

Cross sections of paint samples from the overmantel.

Above are pictures of just a few of the paint cross-sections – each about the size of an ant, mounted in resin and polished to be analysed using several techniques, including Scanning Electron Microscope and Fourier Transmission Infra Red.

We found gold and silver leaf glazed with bright washes to give the impression of rich brocades on the clothing; vivid, naturalistic azurite blue skies; copper green grass; pinkish carmine skin tones; and, rather startlingly, gold leaf on the hair and beards.

Colin Muir from Historic Scotland kindly created this laser scan of the piece so that we would have a totally accurate 3D image to work with for our colour recreation.

Laser scan of the overmantel

Laser scan of the overmantel.

We then approached the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University and Leah Ferrini, currently studying for a Digital Media degree, translated our findings so that we could peel back the layers and show digitally what can never again be seen in reality.

Overmantel showing the original colours and where the samples were taken from

Overmantel showing the original colours and where the samples were taken from.

This version shows the colours we are sure are from the first colour scheme, and the areas the samples were taken from.

A best guess of the original colour scheme

A best guess of the original colour scheme.

This is our best guess of the original colour scheme, based on the results of the analysis and our knowledge of the artist’s palette. The area left white was also brightly coloured but we decided it was too complex to include in the project so far.

Plaster frieze from the Great Hall of Hardwick Hall

Detail of plaster frieze from the Great Hall of Hardwick Hall. Photo courtesy of The National Trust: Perry Lithgow Partnership

Although we know the general colours are accurate, the image above, from a plaster frieze in the Great Hall of Hardwick Hall, shows the sort of detail we are probably missing, particularly in the grassy areas.

Watch this space for the next blog post about the project, as Napier students are going to continue the work to show the subsequent repaints and improve the accuracy of the digitised colours. We are really looking forward to being able to present this vivid reflection of changing fashions in British interior decoration over the past 500 years and are very grateful to Historic Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University for helping to make this happen.

You can find out more about the history of the overmantel here.

Overmantel update – August 2013

Since the post was published in October 2012, Digital Media students and tutors at Edinburgh Napier University have been hard at work over the past year working  improving the colour recreation of the overmantel to give a closer idea of the original surface finish, tones, hues and textures. Joanna Jamrozy, Aleksandra Mysliewiec and their tutor Gregory Leplatre have done a fantastic job and an image of their recreation will be on display in the gallery next to the overmantel for all to see soon.

The final digital recreation of the overmantel in all its colourful glory

The final digital recreation of the overmantel in all its colourful glory.

Diana de BellaigueBy Diana de Bellaigue, Artefact Conservator

Conservators are frequently asked to name the most unusual object they have treated. A wasp nest forming the eyes of a plastic doll’s head within a contemporary art sculpture is definitely now top of my list!

Our work in the Conservation Department is very varied and one never knows what one might have to conserve next: that is one of the reasons why it is such a rewarding job. It can also be quite a challenge.

'L'Ange' by Gérard Quenum

‘L’Ange’ by Gérard Quenum.

Gérard Quenum’s contemporary sculpture entitled ‘L’Ange’ is a very striking addition to the Museum’s World Cultures collection. It is made of a reclaimed drum, upended, with a plastic doll’s head tinted with brown earth and scorched. Even within the scope of his very individual art, this piece is particularly unique: the eyes of the doll were fabricated by chance in Gerard’s studio by a wasp. He had left it in the corner of his workshop only to find one day that the eye sockets which he had left empty were now filled.

'L'Ange' by Gérard Quenum

The eyes of the doll in Gerard Quenum’s sculpture ‘L’Ange’.

In the autumn of last year I was asked to advise on the conservation of those eyes; they had been damaged while on display and the whole effect of the piece had been greatly diminished. So the following week, one early morning before Museum opening, armed with my stepladder, magnifying visor, head torch and tweezers, I gingerly fished out tiny fragments of wasp nest from the eye cavities, where they had seemingly been pushed by an unknown hand.

The eye cavities of the sculpture had seemingly been pushed by an unknown hand

The damaged eye cavities of the sculpture.

The artist had already been contacted by our Curator of African Collections, Sarah Worden, and had planned a visit. He had suggested that he would re-make the eyes himself. However, we all agreed that were it possible to reconstruct the work of the wasp then this would be preferable. We couldn’t very well coax another wasp in to copy the work of her predecessor and so without reconstruction, this fascinating aspect to the sculpture’s creation would be lost.

Back in the lab I studied the fragments under a microscope to see how and if the brittle material fitted back together – a jigsaw puzzle more fitting for a Borrower than for my hands! Fortunately I found that although there were a few missing areas I had two almost complete eyes.

Fragments of the right eye

These were the fragments of the right eye. I managed to reattach them under our microscope, carefully using tweezers and cocktail sticks to manoeuvre them.

The benefit of working at National Museums Scotland is that there is always an expert on hand in all manner of subjects. I enlisted the help of Richard Lyszkowski from our Entomology section to look at the pieces and tell me a bit more about how the nest (or in fact nests – as there was one in each eye) were constructed.

Potter wasp

A potter wasp: probably the species responsible for the nest.

He was very surprised by the wasp’s work. He identified what he considered typical wasp nest materials: a brown organic mass of fibres. But on top of this was the striking white layer which Quenum had admired. This, the artist had conjectured, was probably taken from the white muddy shores of a lake outside. A quick trip to see Lore Troalen in our Analytical Science section confirmed this was calcium based and therefore could be a chalky material. Richard thought this was unusual wasp behaviour, as usually the insects would take steps to make their nests as unobtrusive as possible rather than daubing them in white. This aspect remains a bit of a mystery and any feedback from you, the public, would be greatly appreciated.

When we told Gérard of our assessment he was much amused by this analytical assessment of part of his sculpture.

We also discovered that there was another applied layer over the top of this white, which Gérard had applied to preserve the wasp eyes. Though this did preserve the eyes as they were, it also had the unfortunate effect of entombing the wasp larvae. I found fragments of insects within the eye sockets and it is probable that the pupated wasps could not escape their nests. At any rate the eyes would have been destroyed if they had.

Fragments of the wasp nest

Left: A magnified cross section showing the layers of construction: brown organic matter, white chalky layer and the top protective coat Quenum told us he had applied. Right: The reverse of the eye showing the more typical wasp nest material.

Insect debris in the eye sockets

Insect debris within eye sockets: I wanted to interfere as little as possible so left these in place.

Meanwhile my reconstruction was not complete. Though I had reassembled the fragments and stuck them together, I still had to attach them into the eye sockets, fill the missing areas, and in the case of the right eye, find a way of replicating the surface finish which sadly had been lost in this case.

Studying the sculpture

Matching the restored eyes to a photograph of the original eye sockets.

Applying the wasp nest fragments to the eyes

Applying the wasp nest fragments to the eyes.

Following many trials, I finally concocted a combination of cellulose powder and an acrylic adhesive, which I toned slightly to match the original. This also replicated the slightly lumpy surface texture of the original eyes. Back in the gallery, I carefully attached the wasp nest fragments back in place using a conservation grade adhesive and then filled the gaps with my pre-tested mix to match the picture I had of the eyes before the damage.

Before and after

Left: Before the damage occurred. Right: After treatment.

Gerard Quenum was due the following week to survey the results. Fortunately he was satisfied with the outcome. It was fascinating to hear him describe his sculpture, what it meant to him and the techniques he used after my own at times agonising but ultimately very satisfying experience of working on ‘l’Ange’. You can see Gerard talking about the sculpture in the video below.

You can see the newly restored sculpture in the Artistic Legacies gallery, on Level 5 of National Museum of Scotland. We’ve now decided to keep the sculpture in a case, to protect it. You can find out more about ‘L’Ange’ here.

Carenza MurrayBy Carenza Murray, Work Experience Student with Collections Services

Hello everyone!

I’ve been the work experience placement at the wonderful National Museums Collections Centre in Granton for the last surprisingly short five days. For four days I’ve been based in the Collections Centre but on Tuesday I was in the National Museum of Scotland itself. If you – yes, you! – haven’t been yet, then you should go: the Museum is amazing in size and structure, and magnificent in its collection content, as, including the reserve collections, they have over four million objects and counting, in case you were wondering.


After arriving at the National Museums Collections Centre on a rather cold and dreary morning, what struck me at first was the very friendly and warm welcome from the staff at the Collections Centre. I thought it would be full of people who were going to be depressed and stocked up on way too much caffeine, but no, there was a surprisingly happy atmosphere for a Monday morning and some genuinely nice people too!

I was given the tour of the Collections Centre buildings (only five currently contain collections, as some of the older buildings are being demolished to make way for a shiny new storage building) and I was startled by the sheer size of the site. I’m not exaggerating when I write that it’s huge. When I first walked into Building 14 (the first building in the tour of the site), I was overwhelmed by the vast size of it; the buildings were all like the TARDIS.  I was quite unresponsive throughout the rest of the tour because I was speechless!

Specimens in the Collections Centre

From whale bones to frogs pickled in jars the Collections Centre has it all.

In the afternoon, I learned how to handle the artefacts with the care that they require. I found it amazing how close conservators get to objects. I was able to see these objects from a conservator’s point of view, so with that came an almost overwhelming sense of responsibility. After that I knew that my work experience week was never going to be ordinary.

A lesson in object handling

1, 2, 3 Lift! A lesson in object handling, and packing practising on an office chair,
before getting close to real objects.


Tuesday entailed a different venue to explore: the Museum itself on Chambers Street.

I was given a tour of this site: mind-blowing isn’t it? It’s hard to take in the actual age of some of the objects: when I was shown the Early People section of the Museum it was very difficult to think that the objects on display are over thousands, if not millions, of years old.

Tyrannosaurus rex cast and amethyst geode

From the terrific T-Rex to the amazing amethyst geode, the range of collections of the Museum are spectacular.

On Tuesday afternoon, I was taken to the Loans and Collections Development departments, where I learned how objects are loaned and transported to and from the Museum, such as the current Vikings! exhibition, which is mostly on loan from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. I was also shown the ADLIB database, which contains information on most of the objects in the collection and their whereabouts. I found this very intriguing, especially the amount of work the system actually requires. You need to enter information about each component part of an object individually, for example, a teapot and its lid have separate object records.


Half way through the week, Wednesday involved looking at artefact conservation and paper and textile conservation back at Collections Centre HQ.

In the morning with the artefact conservators, I looked at how to conserve objects and the various different methods which can be used. It was incredible how varied their work can be. One day they’ll be working on some taxidermy, the next day they could be working on some objects made entirely of glass. It also struck me how precise you have to be in this work: a mistake could mean that an irreplaceable object is damaged beyond repair.

The afternoon entailed learning about the conservation of Paper and Textiles. The fragility of these objects is unbelievable, how they survived centuries of different owners and conditions is something I can’t understand. I made a padded hanger (which I think I made rather clumsily). These help to conserve clothing. They stop any acid within the wooden hangers from damaging the textile, and also support the costume seams. I was able to use my hanger on a piece of clothing, (after three attempts with different outfits) we found it fitted into a beautiful pink dress covered in small flowers which had a great level of detail and accuracy.

Packing a dress

Third time lucky; the padded hanger fits!


Thursday’s tasks included some work in the Analytical Research labs and a look at the conservation of different works of Engineering.

I was very excited about Thursday morning as Analytical Research is in some ways similar to what I want to do when I’m older: forensic anthropology. It didn’t disappoint. With the Analytical Scientist, I looked at different ways to analyse objects to find out many different things. It was a great insight into the way we understand objects.

Engineering conservation was very interesting in the afternoon. I was shown around another section of storage in which there were contraptions of all kinds. It was great to see that many of the items in storage still actually function. Some of the objects come into the Collection Centre in pieces, and some of the time the engineers have to guess what they would have looked like, which requires a great deal of patience. They then rebuild the object, and to see the finished piece is amazing. It’s rare to get the chance to see behind the scenes at Granton, so keep an eye out for any opportunities that come up, like Doors Open Day last year.

Cars and carriages in the National Museums Collection Centre

Cars and carriages in the National Museums Collection Centre.


My fifth and final day at the National Museums Collections Centre included a look at ways that objects from the collections are photographed.

I saw the range of objects that photography has to work around and I can tell you now, it’s not a walk in the park! Glass particularly is difficult. The photographers have to work around so many different objects and take photographs with a great deal of care. They also have to work with many different camera angles, and work with a high level of accuracy. It was very intriguing, but I don’t have a very high level of patience so I found it quite trying to get the perfect angle for an object.

So that’s it for my round up of my week here at Granton. It was a great experience and an unmissable opportunity. It was good to work with such great people and I am so lucky to have gotten the chance to work here.

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