Waterlogged Organic Artefacts

Guidelines on their Recovery, Analysis and Conservation

Front cover for Waterlogged Organic Artefacts

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Angela Karsten, Karla Graham, Jennifer Jones, Quita Mould, Penelope Walton Rogers

These guidelines cover waterlogged organic artefacts, which range from minute fibre remains to complete items such as shoes, garments or containers. Waterlogged environmental remains (ecofacts such as pollen, plant remains and insects and unworked organic materials such as human or animal bone) are not included in these guidelines as they do not merit conservation in the same way as artefacts.

These guidelines are written for anyone working with archaeological waterlogged organic artefacts and cover all stages from project planning and initiation to archive deposition and curation. They are intended to make people aware of the wide variety of waterlogged organic artefacts that may be encountered during archaeological investigations. The overall aim is to ensure that the significance of waterlogged organic artefacts is appreciated, their research potential is fully realised and that they are integrated during the excavation and post-excavation phases. An overview of most waterlogged organic materials is given and good practice for the care of such artefacts is outlined. A bibliography and points of contact are provided for those who require more detailed information.

Sample page from Waterlogged Organic Artefacts guidelines Sample page from Waterlogged Organic Artefacts guidelines Sample page from Waterlogged Organic Artefacts guidelines

Organic materials were exploited from the earliest times. Their survival however is often poor, so that our understanding of their use in the past is limited. They can be preserved in wet or waterlogged (anoxic) sites. This includes seas, rivers, lakes and marshes, and excavations that reach down below the water table. Low-lying urban sites are often particularly rich in organic remains. Waterlogged organic artefacts are unstable when found and sensitive to rapid changes in environmental conditions, which, if not carefully controlled, can lead to the deterioration of artefacts upon excavation. Uncontrolled drying of organic materials and outbreaks of mould can lead to the total loss of archaeological evidence. To prevent this, some simple steps need to be taken. Correct packaging and storage and a swift workflow will not only benefit the preservation of organic materials after excavation but will also ensure that costs are minimised.


  • Introduction
  • Project planning stages
  • Condition of waterlogged organic materials
  • Lifting, handling and processing on site
  • Documentation, examination and analysis
  • Conservation
  • Where to get advice
  • Glossary
  • References
  • Status: Completed
  • Publication Date: 01/03/2012
  • Product Code: 51748
  • Series: Guidelines / Standards

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