Tom Bown, Volunteer Archaeology Research Associate.
The first artifacts to arrive at the Royal British Columbia Museum from the Esquimalt Harbour Remediations dredging project (Esquimalt Harbour Remediation 2019) were a pair of pop or mineral water bottles from Charles Mumby, Portsmouth and Gosport.
This establishes a direct link between the Royal Navy Base in Portsmouth and Esquimalt.
As many of the Royal Navy ships would have been resupplied at Esquimalt, bottles and other artifacts from British Columbia companies will likely be found in Portsmouth.
Fig. 1 C. Mumby glass bottle from Esquimalt Harbour, DcRu-1278:125
(photo by author)
The first of these two bottles, is a short squat, amber coloured, cylindrical, bottle with a hand finished blob top. It is 15.5 cm. in height and 7.7 cm in diameter. Remarkably the cork is still in the neck and the bottle might still have the original contents. The front is embossed C. MUMBY & Co with a double circle embossed TRADE MARK P & G and a fouled anchor in the center. A bottle such as this would likely date between 1884 and 1910. Hannon and Hannon (1976) state the term trade mark on Mumby’s bottles post dates 1884.
Fig 2a C. Mumby “torpedo” bottle from Esquimalt Harbour DcRu-1278:36 (front). Photo by author
Fig 2b C. Mumby bottle from Esquimalt Harbour (reverse side). Photo by author
The second, is a “torpedo” shaped bottle also known as a Hamilt on style named after the inventor. In aqua coloured glass, it has a hand finished blob top. It is 19.0 cm in length and 6.1 cm at its widest diameter. On the front it has a double circle with TRADE MARK at the top and P&G at the bottom with the fouled anchor in the center the same as the one in figure 1. Above the circle only the last two letters are legible as ER the phrase was likely SODA WATER MAKERS and below the circle TO HER MAGESTY THE QUEEN. On one side it’s embossed C MUMBY & Co PORTSMOUTH AND GOSPORT on the opposite side. This bottle likely dates between 1884 and passing of Queen Victoria in 1901.
The torpedo style bottle was initially designed to withhold the pressure of the carbonation as well as keeping it from standing up right allowing the cork to dry and the carbonation to escape. They were used extensively in the mid 19th century and a few companies kept the design until the start of the 20th century. In British Columbia, there are no known bottlers that ordered torpedo style bottles embossed with company names.
Fig. 3 Colonel Charles Mumby. Photo with permission of David Moore, Historic Gosport
Starting on the mid-19th century, both the Royal Navy and British Army were recognizing alcohol as a serious problem. Lloyd and Coulter (1963:96) state: “Heavy drinking especially on shore, diminished towards the end of the century when tea and coffee were fast supplanting grog…” Increased levels of technology required higher levels of training that had little tolerance for drunkenness. In addition, the temperance moment was having an influence. As a result, many of the Royal Navy Clubs and regimental canteens were supplying their own soft drink bottles with club names and regimental crests (Bown 2015). A second advantage of these products was the carbonation which acted as a preservative keeping the contents for long sea voyages.
It would appear Charles Mumby saw an opportunity and was close at hand to supply the Royal Navy with a good supply of non-alcoholic beverages. Even his choice of logo with the fouled anchor was likely designed to appeal to the Navy.
Like many prominent businessmen in the Victoria era, Mumby was an officer in the local militia. This may have given him the necessary status and connections to supply the Royal Navy. The following was provided by David Moore at Historic Gosport (2019):
“Charles Mumby set up business in Gosport in 1849 as a chemist and manufacturer of mineral waters. His shop was at 47/48 High Street. His supply of water was a large bore hole in the yard at the back of the shop, which had rear access from North Street. At 345 feet he hit natural water in the chalk subsoil. He installed machinery to increase the production of natural ice. He produced famous soda water, ginger beer and lemonade, selling across the south of England. He supplied the Army and the Navy, receiving a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria. The manufacture of mineral waters continued at his original premises in the High Street, and an office was opened up at Portsmouth, first at 71 St George’s Square, then, from the late 1870s, at 34 The Hard. Charles Mumby was a Poor Law Guardian, a magistrate, a County Councillor for Hampshire, and sat on innumerable public and social committees. Charles retired in 1885 leaving the business to his son Everitt.” It was floated as a company in 1898.”
WikiTree (2019) also states Mumby and Company was awarded a Royal Warrant to supply King Edward VII and the company continued to supply the Royal Navy until about 1970.
Fig. 4 A Photo of Mumby’s Shop, Photo with permission of David Moore, Historic Gosport
Located at 47/48 High Street sometime after the reign of Queen Victoria as the banner states TABLE WATER MAKERS TO HM THE KING. His business in Gosport was conveniently located within a kilometer of the Royal Navy base at Portsmouth across the harbour.
Bown, T. and C. Addams, 2015. Glass and Pottery of the Royal Navy and British Military: Historic and Archaeological Finds form the 18th, 19th and 20th Century. First Choice Books Victoria B.C.
Jade Savage¹, Art Borkent³, Fenja Brodo¹¹, Jeffey M. Cumming², Gregory Curler⁴, Douglas C. Currie⁵, Jeremy R. deWaard⁶, Joel F. Gibson³, Martin Hauser⁷, Louis Laplante⁸, Owen Lonsdale², Stephen A. Marshall⁹, James E. O’Hara², Bradley J. Sinclair¹⁰, Jeffey H. Skevington²
1 Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada 2 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 3 Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 4 Mississippi Entomological Museum, Mississippi State University, Starksville, Mississippi, USA 5 Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 6 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 7 California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento, California, USA 8 Unaffiated, Montreal, Quebec, Canada 9 University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 10 Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 11 Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The Canadian Diptera fauna is updated. Numbers of species currently known from Canada, total Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs), and estimated numbers of undescribed or unrecorded species are provided for each family. An overview of recent changes in the systematics and Canadian faunistics of major groups is provided as well as some general information on biology and life history. A total of 116 families and 9620 described species of Canadian Diptera are reported, representing more than a 36% increase in species numbers since the last comparable assessment by JF McAlpine et al. (1979). Almost 30,000 BINs have so far been obtained from flies in Canada. Estimates of additional number of species remaining to be documented in the country range from 5200 to 20,400.
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Diptera, flies, systematics
1 Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St., Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9W2, Canada 2 School of Environmental Sciences, 50 Stone Rd. East, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
In the last 40 years, the number of species in the orthopteroid orders has increased by ~10% from that known in 1979. The largest order, the Orthoptera, has increased from 205 to 235 species known in Canada. The number of Blattodea has increased from 14 to 18 species, while Dermaptera has increased from 5 to 6 species. The number of species of Mantodea (3) and Phasmida (1) known in Canada have remained unchanged. Most new species records reported in Canada since 1979 have resulted from new collections along the periphery of the range of more widespread species. Some species reported since 1979 are recent introductions to Canada, including species restricted to homes or other heated buildings. The taxonomy of these orders has also changed, with only the Dermaptera having maintained its order definition since the 1979 treatment. Additional orthopteroid species are likely to occur in Canada, particularly in the orders Orthoptera and Blattodea. DNA bar-codes are available for more than 60% of the species known to occur in Canada
1 Department of Entomology, Natural History Section, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9W2, Canada 2 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, 579 Gordon Street, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
In 1979 nearly 1400 spider species in 32 families either had been recorded (1249) or were believed to occur (~140) in Canada. Twenty years later, although significant progress had been made in survey efforts in some regions, Canada’s spider inventory had only increased by approximately 7% to roughly 1500 species known or expected to occur. Th family count had increased to 38 but only two additions were truly novel (fie family additions and one family deletion were the result of advances in family-level systematics). The first comprehensive taxonomic checklist of Canadian spider species was published in 2010 documenting the regional distributions of 1376 species representing 42 families (three novel since 1999). From 2010 through 2017 new national records steadily accumulated resulting in the current (2018) Canadian inventory of 1477 species classified in 45 families (one novel since 2010). Although there has been close to a 20% increase in the number of spider species recorded in Canada since 1979, much greater increases have occurred in some of the regional species checklists, indicating increasing knowledge of the regional distribution of species previously recorded elsewhere in Canada. For example the regional checklists for Newfoundland, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island have increased by 69%, 339%, and 520%, respectively. The national and regional increases reflect significant advances in the fist two decades of the 21 st Century in spider faunistics research in previously under-sampled habitats and regions and the development of molecular techniques and consequent bar-coding of spiders. Of the 1477 species recorded in Canada, 92% have been successfully DNA bar-coded resulting in 1623 unique Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs). At least 25 of the BINs are associated with relatively easily distinguished but undescribed morpho-species. Th majority, however, appear to indicate the existence of many cryptic species within Canada’s known spider fauna. Thse data, coupled with the fact that novel Canadian or even Nearctic spider species records (including of undescribed species) continue to accumulate annually (especially in habitat-diverse regions such as British Columbia), suggest that Canada’s tally of spider species may approach or even exceed 1800.
Araneae, BINs, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, checklist, classification, DNA barcoding, faunistics, spiders
This year’s fieldwork was our 17th in the alpine of the northern B.C. We made collections from six mountains. The area is so vast and remote and access is difficult, thus few if any biological inventories have been undertaken in many large areas. Many peaks and lakes have no names; in fact there are no names on entire mountain massifs. I feel like we are to some degree just ‘scratching the surface’ of what is out there.
We again worked together with the insect and spider experts at the museum. And we followed our typical approach of setting up camp for 2-3 days and collecting specimens of every species we encounter, being intentional to reach as many different habitats as possible.
Field camp at Laurier Pass. Note the diversity of habitats ranging from alpine wetlands, to a relative dry, windswept ridge.
One shelter is used for cooking, one for processing specimens.
Typical day of hiking (dotted line) and collecting, striving to reach as many habitats as possible. Upper part of figure documents elevation changes during the day. Three of the four plants in this illustration were encountered only once, highlighting the importance of having several botanists in the field and covering as much ground as possible.
At one mountain, Mt. Whitford, we were joined by two staff and a contract photographer of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative https://y2y.net/about-us and their guest freelance journalist who produces pieces for both CBC and NPR. At a second mountain, south of Tumbler Ridge, we were joined by two staff members of the Tumbler Ridge Geopark, http://tumblerridgegeopark.ca/. What is a Geopark? According to their website “A UNESCO Global Geopark is an area recognized as having internationally significant geological heritage.” These groups are all interested in knowing as much as possible about the biota of these areas and we will share everything we learn with them.
As we have in the past, we contacted the local indigenous groups and informed them of our work and will provide them species lists when the identifications are complete.
We are often asked if we notice any of the effects of climate change during our fieldwork. Treeline is controlled by temperature, not elevation and is highest at the equator – where temperatures are warmer at higher elevations – and becomes lower and lower further north and south. One likely consequence of a warming planet is that forests will advance into the alpine, reducing the available habitat for tundra plants that generally require open, i.e. non-shaded habitats.
Young trees in alpine meadows at 1750 m north of Laurier Pass, Graham-Laurier Provincial Park. Note the dark skies of a storm about to dump
For a number of years I’ve noticed small trees in the alpine and of course wonder if their appearance is related to climate change as a consequence of global warming. I’ve also noticed the absence of dead trees. The absence of dead trees may mean that tree populations in the alpine are relatively young, compared to lower elevation forests where trees have been growing and dying for thousands of years.
Young trees on a ridge at nearly 2000 m north of Laurier Pass, Graham-Laurier Provincial Park.
Current years’ growth – the portion of the stem beside the lens cap – of young trees at 2000 m, north of Laurier Pass, Graham-Laurier Provincial Park.
Two hypothetical graphs of tree age versus elevation curves. The upper one portrays trees that become gradually younger with elevation gain, much as one might expect if treeline was moving higher gradually. The hypothetical curve on the lower graph describes a more abrupt change, i.e. what one might expect if tree line had been stable for a relatively long period of time, slowly moving to higher elevations, then suddenly and relatively recently, young trees became established higher than before.
But a further question is this: have the young trees in the alpine arrived relatively suddenly and recently because of recent rapid increase in global temperatures, or are they gradually moving upwards due to a long term warming trend that has been taking place ever since the end of the Pleistocene, ca. 13,000 years ago? Dating trees by their growth rings could provide the answer by measuring the ages of trees along an elevation gradient from well below tree-line into the alpine. I suspect this kind of research is underway.
Every year we seem to encounter botanical surprises, either range extensions or species that we haven’t seen before. I like these kinds of discoveries because distribution patterns tell us something about the history of the landscape and when those distribution patterns are found to be different from what was previously known, the background story might change.
One notable collection this year was Dodecatheon frigidum (northern shootingstar) that we collected in northern Graham Laurier Provincial Park, about 200 km south of where it has been collected previously near the Alaska Highway. We’ve visited 8 mountains in the intervening area and have not encountered this species. What does this occurrence mean? Have we merely overlooked it in other areas or is it in fact not present for this 200 km distance?
Another interesting find was Claytonia lanceolata (western spring beauty) which I saw in the alpine for the first time. Previously I had encountered it at lower elevations in Botanie Valley north of Lytton. Indigenous people in the southern interior of BC eat the tubers either fresh or cooked. Perhaps indigenous people in the Tumbler Ridge area also eat the tubers. I haven’t had a chance to ask local people or to investigate the literature.
Dodecatheon frigidum (northern shootingstar) relativly abundant in Graham – Laurier Provincial Park.
Claytonia lanceolata (western spring beauty) south of Tumbler Ridge.
The Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM), Canada, houses a collection of almost 7 million artifacts, archival records, and natural history specimens. Three comprehensive collection risk assessments over the past decade have resulted in improvements to the physical environments of the collections as well as new policies and procedures to reduce risk. However, there remain ongoing risks that can only be mitigated through major facility renewal. The last collection risk assessment, completed in 2016, was revisited to review the data and build a defensible case for funding to replace the RBCM’s on-site collection storage facilities. Changes to overall collections risk is a complex function of collection development and use trends, evolving risk factors both internal and external to the museum, a growing understanding of the relationship between risks and preservation, in addition to reduction due to risk mitigation projects and building systems aging and wearing out. A defensible method for illustrating the facilities-related risks over time involves estimating the expected loss of individual collection items or loss in value of a group of items that may occur if a major facility upgrade or redevelopment is not realized in the near future. Risk assessment data for representative collection units were reviewed to differentiate risk due to permanent facility characteristics versus more active controls, operations budget controlled risk versus capital budget controlled risk, and collection management-controlled risk versus facility management-controlled risk. This enabled the risk model to isolate risks that could only be mitigated through major facility upgrades. Change in collection value was expressed as Object Equivalents Lost (OEL) and its compliment Object Equivalents Remaining (OER). Projections into the future indicating the effect of varying facility renewal dates could then be clearly shown. Losses, when presented as numbers of items expected to be lost from the collection, become emotionally salient to persons in senior management and governance roles.
Heidi N. Gartner, Cathryn Clarke Murray, Melissa A. Frey, Jocelyn C. Nelson, Kristen J. Larson, Gregory M. Ruiz and Thomas W. Therriault
Marine fouling communities on artificial structures are invasion hotspots for non-indigenous species (NIS). Yet, little is known about NIS infouling communities of British Columbia (BC), Canada. To determine NIS identity and richness in BC fouling communities, we deployed settlement plates at 108 sites along the coast of BC between 2006 and 2012. Of the 295 invertebrate taxa identified to species, 20 were NIS while an additional 14 were cryptogenic, including several global invaders. This study documents the range expansion of tunicates Botrylloides violaceus Oka, 1927 and Botryllus schlosseri (Pallas, 1766), including the first known records on Haida Gwaii. NIS were detected within each of the six distinct geographic regions with the southern, more populated regions of BC (Straits of Georgia and Juan De Fuca) having the highest NIS richness and frequency of occurrence compared to the less populated northern regions. This study provides a contemporary baseline of invertebrate NIS identity and richness in fouling communities that will allow comparisons through time and a means to focus research and prioritize management efforts.
Key words: non-native species, introduced species, invasion, Northeast Pacific, West Coast, North America, biofouling
The introduction of potentially invasive species remains a global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services. The spatial distribution of introduced species can provide insight into present and historical vectors of invasion. Here, we aim to investigate the influence of environmental, demographic and vector variables on the spatial distribution of non-indigenous species (NIS) in coastal marine ecosystems.
Coastal British Columbia, Canada.
We used subtidal settlement plates to sample NIS richness at 81 sites. Spatial patterns for seventeen environmental, population, and vector variables were created using a Geographic Information System (GIS). We used multiple regression with model selection and spatial autocorrelation to define a statistical model that best explained the spatial distribution of NIS.
Four variables, salinity, human population density, port arrivals and marina propulsiveness (probability of boater travel from home marina), best explained the observed spatial distribution of subtidal NIS. Aquaculture, an original global introduction pathway, did not significantly explain the contemporary distribution of NIS. Results suggest that recreational boating is the most probable pathway of fouling NIS spread in this region, driving their current distribution. Spatial autocorrelation was significant for environmental, demographic, and aquaculture variables. However, marina propulsiveness and attractiveness were not autocorrelated, suggesting that boater behaviour varies on a finer scale.
A simple model using a combination of vector, demographic, and environmental characteristics can explain 43.6% of the variation in the spatial distribution of NIS. Our study provides further evidence that recreational boating is a significant pathway for the contemporary spread of NIS in marine environments. With projected increases in human population, we expect a continued rise in introduction rates and spread in this region and elsewhere in the world.
Here, we report the first records of the non-native amphipod Caprella mutica along the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Between 2006 and 2009, we surveyed marine fouling communities across 81 subtidal sites, and sampled hulls and sea-chests from 18 domestically operated commercial vessels. Caprella mutica was present at 33% of the sites and on 22% of the vessels, sometimes at remarkably high densities (>10,000 individuals m-2). Our findings confirm an extensive distribution of C. mutica along the coast of the northeast Pacific, and offer additional evidence in support of hull fouling as an important vector for secondary spread. Key words: caprellid, introduced, northeast Pacific, biofouling, sea-chest, vector, museum records
Marine fouling communities on artificial structures are invasion hotspots for non-indigenous species (NIS). Yet, little is known about NIS in fouling communities of British Columbia (BC), Canada. To determine NIS identity and richness in BC fouling communities, we deployed settlement plates at 108 sites along the coast of BC between 2006 and 2012. Of the 295 invertebrate taxa identified to species, 20 were NIS while an additional 14 were cryptogenic, including several global invaders. This study documents the range expansion of tunicates Botrylloides violaceus Oka, 1927 and Botryllus schlosseri (Pallas, 1766), including the first known records on Haida Gwaii. NIS were detected within each of the six distinct geographic regions with the southern, more populated regions of BC (Straits of Georgia and Juan De Fuca) having the highest NIS richness and frequency of occurrence compared to the less populated northern regions. This study provides a contemporary baseline of invertebrate NIS identity and richness in fouling communities that will allow comparisons through time and a means to focus research and prioritize management efforts. Key words: non-native species, introduced species, invasion, Northeast Pacific, West Coast, North America, biofouling
Originally published in What’s inSight Magazine, Winter 2013. Subscribe to What’s inSight by becoming a member here.
Close-up of the damaged and spine of a Dally album, suffering badly from red rot.
Digitization is the big buzz word in archives and museums these days. We can digitize documents, images, sounds, even whole objects and we can share them on the internet, in our galleries, in on-and off-site educational programs and in our reference room. The Royal BC Museum even has a 3D digital printer that uses high-tech laser scans to produce replicas of almost anything.
But is a digital facsimile really an exact replica of the original? Digital copies are created using a finite number of data points. These points represent samples of the surface of the original object. The more data points, the higher the resolution of the digital copy. It is impossible to gather every possible data point, so what you have is actually an approximation of the original, not an exact copy. There are many other reasons why a digital replica is not identical to the original: the colour might be a little different depending upon the calibration of the equipment; the texture can be slightly smoother or rougher, due to the method by which the software fills in missing information; the sound may be a little fuzzier or missing certain registers due to equipment limitations; even whole parts of the original might not be reproduced, by choice or by accident. These copying deficiencies are why it is so important to retain and preserve the original.
This is where the relationship between digitization and conservation comes in. Museums and archives do not seek to replace the original (except in very Conserving Collections in a Digital Age rare circumstances when the original object faces imminent demise), but rather to make copies as accurately as possible, even though they are incomplete.
Preservation copies of original materials may be made to save what is left of a rapidly deteriorating object. An example is magnetic sound recordings, which have a short lifespan. Many videotapes have an expected life of 30 years, less if they have not been stored and used in ideal conditions. Digital copies of videotapes and sound recordings may be the only surviving record in the near future. As you may have read in the previous editions of this magazine, cool storage can prolong the life of magnetic media, but because it cannot be frozen, the deterioration is only delayed, not halted. Adding to this problem is the obsolescence of formats and playback equipment. Who remembers reel-to-reel tape recorders, eight-track music players or vitaphones? Even if the recordings survive, what use will they be if the machines required to play them no longer exist? For these reasons, digitization may represent the only means of saving large segments of our media culture.
Digitally reconstructed animation of a Chinese Freemasons’ lantern as it may once have looked.
The conservator’s role is to facilitate digitization, to help make the collections more accessible. In rare cases an archival record or museum object is not appropriate for digitization. An item may be so large and/or heavy that it cannot be scanned or photographed safely with existing equipment. In the case of books, the text may extend into the gutter of the spine, so that the only way of exposing the information is to remove the binding – something rarely done, especially if it means damaging a historic book. If an item requires significant conservation work, digitization may not proceed until there is sufficient project time and funding to do the work.
Conservation is often the first stop in a digitization project. Before an original record is digitized, a conservator will inspect and assess it to decide if it can go straight to the imaging studio or if it needs some minor repairs or preparation first or requires stabilization treatment before digitization can take place. Simple preparatory work might include surface cleaning to prevent the spread of dirt to other parts of the object during handling or to make details of the surface clearer. Occasionally a complex conservation treatment may be necessary before digitization. Broken bindings should be repaired and leather with red rot requires consolidation. Loose and torn pages must be secured, areas affected by mould should be cleaned and may require repair. Powdery or flaking pigments need consolidation. Rolled documents and textiles may require humidification for flattening before digitization and custom supports are usually a must for three dimensional objects. The conservator may suggest specific support and handling techniques be used during the digitization process. A collection manager or preservation specialist may be required to assist or, in extreme cases, conservators may do all the handling themselves.
Conservation and digitization are related in other ways too. For example, digital facsimiles can be used to analyze and even enhance the original for research and presentation purposes. Conservators have used laser scanning and reflectance transformation imaging to examine and measure minute details of objects, including clues to manufacturing methods and changes due to use and deterioration. As discussed above, 3D printers can also be used to reproduce objects so that they can be shared with more people and in vastly different locations and for different purposes, without compromising the original – an effective preservation strategy.
The Chinese Freemasons’ lantern arrived at the museum and archives in such dilapidated condition that even heroic conservation treatment methods could not restore it to its former glory but could only stabilize what was left. Further restoration would have been based on guesswork, and therefore not appropriate. Fortunately, a digital representation of the lantern as it may have once looked when the moving parts rotated, the coloured lights were illuminated, and the paints and textiles were vibrant, presents the viewer with an amazing likeness of something that no longer exists. Digital imaging has also been used to replicate the unsalvageable decorative plastic film on the lantern, replicating the original pattern on a new, more stable Mylar material. The Chinese Freemasons’ lantern does not sit well on a flat surface, but rather is supported and secured with lead weights. In the future the Royal BC Museum hopes to use laser scanning and printing to build precisely fitting supports to cradle fragile objects on exhibit or to pack them gently inside a shipping crate.
Clearly, conservation and digitization are intrinsically linked in the world of museums and archives. The next challenge facing us is just how we are going to conserve all the digital information we are creating.
Generations of people have grown up at the Royal BC Museum. This includes the babies that come in strollers with their parents, the multitudes of youth that visit with their school groups, college students who find summer employment as camp leaders, tourists, parents and grandparents. Museums attract them all. Museums also attract insects. Vast collections of furs, feathers and textiles – on exhibit and in storage – provide a tempting food source for young larvae.
The adult insects arrive on the clothes of staff and visitors, through cracks in the walls and under door sweeps. Occasionally, these opportunistic interlopers find their way to collections, where they settle down to raise their families. Their needs are basic; a quiet place in the dark that is free of predators, a nice stable climate and an ample source of food. A bear skin rug, woolen uniform, or a cozy moccasin is move-in ready.
After they take possession of their lovely new home, the eggs are laid and not long after, the larvae hatch. The larvae create their very own receiving blanket, a sort of cocoon made of extruded silken material mixed with fibres stolen from the artifact around them. Larvae are hungry little beasts and waste no time beginning to feed … on their own home of all things! This is where the story gets scary. Those furs, feathers and textiles can be digested at lightning speed, leaving nothing behind but frass, or tiny fecal pellets. The damage is done, and often it is devastating.
I arrived at the Royal BC Museum in May, just as Mammoths! Giants of the Ice Age was opening. As I walked among the mammoth ivory, I considered the importance of ivory identification. Elephant ivory is regulated due to the threat of poaching. (For more information, check out the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES). I recalled flow charts, diagnostic tables, and diagrams, but could I identify ivory in practice?
Although most of our work is stabilization, Conservation has a small store of supplies for restoration, including ivory piano key veneers. I compared these with a souvenir piece of mammoth ivory to see if I could differentiate between elephant and mammoth. The mammoth ivory displayed very clear Schreger lines, crisscrossing patterns visible in cross section, which are only present in proboscidean ivory. I thought I would finally be able to use Schreger lines to distinguish between elephant and mammoth. Elephant Schreger lines cross at an angle greater than 115°. Mammoth Schreger lines cross at an angle less than 90°. More information on how to measure Schreger lines can be found in CITES’ Identification Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutes found here.
Schreger lines in mammoth ivory
I took five angle measurements from the mammoth ivory and determined a Schreger angle of 92°. This favoured mammoth, as expected, but is technically in a gray zone. Schreger lines are not always conclusive and often not visible on art objects.
There are many ivory substitutes including other animal products and plastics. I found an unidentified piece of “ivory.” It had a different texture and heft and “felt” like plastic to me. I tested my hypothesis using a variety of methods, starting non-destructively.
Ivory has a wide range of fluorescence including bluish white while plastic ivory substitutes fluoresce dull blue. Everything fluoresced bluish, but I couldn’t confidently characterize the colour beyond that. I moved to a static test that I found in Eva Halat’s Contemporary Scrimshaw. I rubbed the ivory samples and unidentified “ivory” with wool and touched them to small polyester fragments. According to Halat, artificial materials retain more static charge than ivory. The unidentified piece picked up and held the fragments … as did the mammoth ivory. Confused, I tried again. Upon closer inspection, I realized the mammoth ivory was coated. The very glossy surface had brush strokes. This may also explain why fluorescence was inconclusive.
I moved to the destructive “hot pin” test in which a red-hot metal pin is held against the sample; this test is NOT for museum objects! The pin produced small dark burn marks on the veneers. In contrast, the pin sank into the mystery sample, melting the surface. This was dramatic confirmation that the sample was plastic.
This testing could not have been performed on museum collections, but it gave me some hands-on experience for the next time I am presented with “ivory.”
Result of the hot pin test on ivory piano key veneers under magnification. The pin created shallow, charred-looking indentations in the surface.
The result of the hot pin test on the mystery sample under magnification. The pin melted a deep recess in the surface with blackened edges.
Queen’s University Master of Art Conservation Program 2016