AIC-CERT Report on the South Carolina Department of Natural Resourses Archeological Recovery

Katherine Singley, AIC-CERT

October, 2015

On Saturday October 17, Alex Klingelhofer and I drove over to Columbia SC for the day to advise and help in the recovery of archaeological collections that had been inundated during the flooding in Columbia two weeks ago.

At the time of the flooding, an archaeologist on contract to SC DNR was using the collections to prepare research reports, and this work was being done at his home office. The collections, with a variety of material from prehistoric and historic sites in SC and NC, were stored in about 2,000 banker’s boxes. Each box had been packed solidly with artifacts in zip-lock bags, with provenance and identifying information marked with Sharpie on the bags’ exteriors. Floodwater got into the zip-lock bags, even ones that had been packed bag-within-bag. The banker’s boxes had collapsed, making removal difficult. There were also approximately 100 cubic feet of associated paper files and photographic records.

Meg Gaillard, the South Carolina DNR Heritage Trust archaeologist, is the point person for the recovery. Luckily Meg had attended two training sessions: on archival processing (taught by Jeannette Bergeron) and emergency preparedness (taught by Sharon Bennett). This training has been critical to what has been achieved by Meg over the past two weeks. Kudos for Jeanette and Sharon, their handouts, tip sheets, and web links. Meg pulled the class binders out and went to work.

The paper records were addressed first. These are now frozen, to be processed in batches. Greg Wilsbacher, the Curator of Newsfilm Collections at USC, is ready to help Meg with the recovery of paper and photographs through the USC library. Meg also has sought help from area archivists, and digitalization of the paper records is planned.

The 2,000 boxes have been removed from the flooded house and have been placed in a redundant building in West Columbia. The building has HVAC, and the temperature is kept low. Fans have been provided to stimulate air movement. The building can be secured. This recovery work is expected to continue through the winter.

A multipurpose room is being used to process the collection: rewashing the artifacts, and repacking them once dry. There is clean water on site. The room has been divided into clean and dirty area. The soggy collapsed boxes have been sorted and placed around the perimeter, arranged by site. Long tables have been set up for workstations. There is a check in station.

Supplies are organized. There appears to be enough equipment borrowed, bought, or donated to do this: PPE, new U-line bags, Sharpies, paper toweling, brushes, basins, drying racks, paper trays, etc.

And all of this in 2 weeks, based on a training course. Remarkable.

What Meg says she needs now is labor. On Saturday about 20 volunteers made a good dent in the processing, perhaps washing the equivalent of 10 of the 2,000 boxes. Meg was pleased with the progress, but realizes it will be hard to keep volunteers for the long haul. Most of the volunteers on Saturday were other archaeologists and their spouses, and members of the Georgia Archaeological Society: in other words, individuals who are familiar with archaeological processing and the importance of the associated labeling and information. This transfer has to be done multiple times and is tedious and exacting. All old packing materials are being discarded.

Alex, Greg, and I talked about the possible toxicity of the fine silt film that now covers the artifacts and bags. Sewage in the floodwater also has been a problem; Columbia’s boil water advisory has not been totally lifted. With re-washing in clean water, the silt is brushed off wet and trapped in the wash water. But not all of it may not be truly removed. I feel that Meg needs to have her superiors at DNR understand the possibility of toxic exposure to pesticide residues, chemicals, and bacteria. The SC DNR needs to get that silt analyzed. Greg felt that Meg may be too overwhelmed to fight that fight.

While a final rinse in isopropanol is a possiblilty, this will require a lot of volume as well as another stage of manipulation. At the very least, children should not be encouraged to help with washing.

water damaged collections jpeg Arch recovery 1 jpeg bagged collections 2 jpg drying rack jpg recovery set up jpg work tables jpeg

It was encouraging to see a well-executed triage site with staff who had taken the paper knowledge they had and translated into a well-organized, if bare bones, operation. With archaeological recovery, it is clearly the zip-lock bag that is paramount. Preserving provenance information as well as the artifacts will contribute to the further study of the archaeological heritage of South Carolina.

Websites consulted for information on the SC recovery

Uniting to Save: Sharing the Importance of Cultural Heritage Protection in Your Community

October 13, 2015

Originally published at

Last week I attended Uniting to Save World Cultures: Investigating the Attributes of Successful Cultural Heritage Protection Interventions at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Organized by the Smithsonian’s office of Cultural Heritage Protection, the conference was broken into four panels: Risk Reduction, Building the Capacity for Resilience, Local Leadership During Crises, and Negotiations and Collaborations During and After a Crisis. The presentations were rich with alliances, education, innovation, and sometimes pure luck. Speakers from Haiti, Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and others recounted efforts to save and salvage culture in duress, poignant reminders of what is at stake.

Life safety is foremost in a response effort, but for return to normalcy, we seek connection with our communities and what defines them. To hear that iconic historic sites and cultural resources have been damaged or destroyed compounds our feelings of loss. The United Nations established a structure of UN agency clusters that are active early in response to “turn the dividends of humanitarian action into sustainable crisis recovery”, but as Aparna Tandon of ICCROM noted, it includes no cluster for cultural recovery.[1] In areas stricken by natural disaster and conflict, the UN’s very own cultural arm, UNESCO, has outlined the importance of access to education and cultural heritage as a right and stabilizing force where tumult is the norm.[2] To fail to include cultural heritage response and recovery is to salvage human life, without salvaging what makes us human.

It is possible to begin building awareness of cultural needs in an emergency now at the local level. First, as collection stewards, we must make preservation activities in our institutions more visible. Heritage at risk is highly visible in the media today, given the destruction and looting of cultural sites in Syria and Iraq. Culture is lost during conflict, flood, or even as the result of an isolated pipe burst. For susceptible materials, even a small emergency can mean loss of some unique part of human experience. Risk mitigation, trained response and recovery can prevent that loss. If our stakeholders don’t know about the steps institutions take to protect heritage, we can’t expect them to support cultural property protection in an emergency. Here are a few ways cultural institutions can connect to community to support the recovery of cultural heritage after a disaster:

  • Work with local emergency managers and first responders to make them aware of your institution and its collections. Invite them for a tour. Ask them about their interests; identify ways to create personal connections between them and your collections.
  • Join or request assistance in developing an Alliance for Response(AfR) group in your area. AfR connects emergency managers, first responders, and the cultural community to find common ground before emergencies happen. Recently, this program has moved from Heritage Preservation to the Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation. Visit
  • Meet with local cultural community leaders to understand cultural heritage priorities in the community. Recovery requires the involvement of the community regardless of what expertise and money emergency managers bring to the table. Doing this work ahead of emergencies facilitates recovery sooner.
  • Hold a brown-bag lunch, disaster-related historical lecture series, or other programming that can provide a venue for you to talk about how your organization and the cultural sector prepares for and responds to emergencies today. Other ways to get this message out include newspaper articles, websites, and behind-the-scenes tours. Emphasize what the loss of your cultural resource might mean to your various institutional stakeholders. If collections are lost, what will that mean to school children, a particular ethnic group, alumni of a historic school, women, or the impact on tourism in your community? Highlight institutional preparedness to start a conversation about community preparedness.
  • Host an emergency management agency public preparedness program at your institution, and insert a discussion about how your institution prepares for emergencies.

Acting on any of these ideas assumes that your organization has done the vital work of preparing for emergencies, identifying risks, and developing mitigation strategies. If your organization has yet to begin establishing an emergency management program, including assessing risks, writing a plan, and training staff, start right away. See my post Five Small Ways to Boost Your Institution’s Emergency Preparedness or any number of resources through the FAIC website.

Thanks to Corine Wegener, Cultural Heritage Preservation Officer at the Smithsonian for her vision and hard work forwarding this mission. You can review the Twitter feed from the conference at #unitetosave . Visit the SI Heritage and Disaster Response website at

[1] United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. 2015. Knowledge Portal: Space-based information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response.

[2] United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. 2010. The right to education in emergency situations, A/64/L.58. (24 January 2015).

American Institute for Conservation – Collections Emergency Response Team Ready to Assist

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Current forecasts suggest that while Hurricane Joaquin may not make landfall, the system still threatens to bring wind and torrential rain to a region from Georgia to southern New England. Flooding is likely in many areas, as already rain-soaked regions faces additional heavy precipitation from Joaquin.  The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) offers free emergency response assistance to cultural organizations in the storm’s path. Please help ensure that staff members of collecting institutions know to contact AIC-CERT if their collections have been damaged.

  • Call our 24-hour hotline at 202.661.8068 for free advice by phone.
  • Call 202.661.8068 to arrange for a volunteer team to come to the site at no cost to complete a damage assessment and help organize salvage operations.

AIC-CERT volunteers have provided assistance and advice to dozens of museums, libraries, and archives since 2007. AIC-CERT teams were on the ground following the Midwest floods in 2008 and in the Galveston area following Hurricane Ike later that year. AIC-CERT members and other AIC conservators participated in an 18-month-long project in Haiti assisting with recovery of cultural materials damaged in the 2010 earthquake, and responded to Tropical Storm Irene and flooding in Minot, North Dakota, in 2011. AIC-CERT led the way in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, working with local conservators and artists to save thousands of works damaged by storm surge and mold.

AIC-CERT is supported and managed by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation. In 2007 and again in 2010, FAIC received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to support an advanced training program for conservators and other preservation professionals that resulted in a force of 107 “second responders” trained to assess damage and initiate salvage of cultural collections after a disaster. They are ready to assist.

Resources and information on disaster recovery and salvage can be found on the AIC website at  The public may also call the AIC-CERT hotline.

About AIC

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works is the national membership organization supporting the professionals who preserve our cultural heritage. AIC plays a crucial role in establishing and upholding professional standards, promoting research and publications, providing educational opportunities, and fostering the exchange of knowledge among conservators, allied professionals, and the public. Learn more about AIC at

About FAIC

The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works supports conservation education, research, and outreach activities that advance the conservation profession nationally and internationally while promoting understanding of our global cultural heritage. Learn more about FAIC at

The HERA Steering Committee wants you!

Anyone interested in getting more involved in HERA and perhaps joining the steering committee is welcome to join us at the next committee meeting, Wednesday, Oct 7th from 3:00-4:30 PM at Manuel’s Tavern.

602 North Highland Ave, NE, Atlanta, GA

If you are coming to the committee meeting at 3:00 PM, please RSVP so we can get the right size table. The meeting will be followed by a happy hour/social starting at 5:00 PM.

If you are new to HERA or want to re-connect with colleagues please stop by!

–Christine Wiseman and Tina Seetoo



RSVP to Christine Wiseman, cwiseman   at