Department of Collection Care – Conservation
The British Museum
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DG
Our conservation specialists preserve the Museum's Collection through a combination of preventive, interventive and analytical techniques.
Conservation contributes to our knowledge of the collections in aspects of manufacture, meaning and context. Working alongside curators, scientists and researchers, we've revealed many new discoveries.
By understanding a wide range of materials found in archaeological, historical and contemporary works, and the mechanisms by which objects deteriorate, we can address their stabilisation and long-term preservation.
We use a combination of old and new techniques. Some conservation practice is grounded in long-standing tradition and we also innovate and develop new conservation techniques and approaches.
We're unable to carry out treatment on non-British Museum collections. Please check the Conservation Register website, operated by the Institute of Conservation (Icon) for approved professionally qualified conservators.
As conservators we:
- Use our professional knowledge and expertise to help the Museum deliver:
- A full public programme including exhibitions, gallery developments and international touring shows
- Object loans
- The Portable Antiquities Scheme
- Preserve the collection for the future through preventive conservation measures.
- Develop conservation treatments and increase knowledge of the Museum's collection through an active conservation research programme.
- Contribute to the development of the profession through participation in national and international working groups and organisations and by setting conservation standards for others to follow.
- Contribute to the training and development of present and future conservators through work placements, masterclasses and exchanges.
Conservation at the Museum is made up of many specialisms, which are outlined below.
Our work 2
Collaboration and engagement
Conservation works with many regional, national and international partners to provide consultancy, advice and skills sharing. Our conservators:
- Contribute to conservation and collection care training courses such as the Iraq and International training programmes.
- Play a central role in the Portable Antiquities Scheme, assisting with site excavation and processing potential Treasure.
- Collaborate with artists, makers, and indigenous and local communities – this informs conservation treatments and leads to a valuable exchange of knowledge about the collections.
Collaboration and engagement 2
We regularly highlight our work through:
- Public gallery talks and lectures
- Events like 'Zoom In', which is held during British Science Week
- Behind-the-scenes visits to the Conservation studios for Museum Members
In September, the display case in the Museum Members Room will showcase our innovative work on laser cleaning archaeological terracotta and limestone objects, during the Centenary celebrations of Conservation and Scientific Research at the Museum.
Combining knowledge and skills in art, craft, science, engineering, computer-based technologies and imaging techniques, Conservation has a unique and significant contribution to make to the Museum's Research Strategy. Conservation and Collection Care research focuses on three main themes:
To find new materials and develop new techniques to conserve and preserve the collection. This includes investigation into more effective, bespoke, and 'green' conservation materials.
To develop systems and methodologies that reduce or mitigate risk to collection items when they're on display, on loan or in storage. For example, researching the impact of vibration on collection items during transport to inform the development of improved packing cases to protect them when they're used for loans and touring exhibitions.
Research into original materials and techniques to study them and learning about how objects deteriorate. For example, this would include investigation of deteriorated surfaces on stone monuments to understand how they were originally decorated in colour.
These three research themes aim to:
- Expand the understanding and care of the collection
- Contribute to the Museum's overarching aims and objectives
- Increase public access to the Museum's collection
Conservators actively disseminate their work through presentations at national and international conferences, and by publishing in peer-reviewed professional journals.
Find out more about our conservation research projects on the World History Lab.
History of Conservation
Early 19th century
1840s – 1850s
1930s – 1950s
1960s – 1970s
1983 – 1994
2014 – now