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Preventative conservation and storage

The items from the “Library Cave”, Mogao Cave 17, spent about nine hundred years undisturbed by human hands. The cave provided relatively good atmospheric conditions, although scrolls were not safe from water incursion or the effects of sharing a space with animals. It has sometimes been described as a “time capsule”: if they had not been sealed away and left untouched, would any of them have survived?

An ink analysis machine analysing a scroll
© The British Library

Paper manuscript Or.8210/S.6349. In the format of a horizontal scroll with Chinese text. The scroll is rolled up at both ends, but there is some damage and missing sections.
A manuscript from Dunhuang which is thought to be an example of the ‘whirlwind’ binding mentioned in historical texts. © British Library Or.8210/S.6349

Lessening the opportunity for damage is a crucial part of conservation. We take care of items by keeping them in stores with controlled and stable environmental conditions and by creating enclosures that keep the item stable. For example, fragments of palm leaf manuscript might be kept in clear inert polyester envelopes so that they can be studied without direct handling.

Conservators working with IDP collections work with such varied items that storage can be very complicated. This article by Thórdís Baldursdóttir discusses how the V&A improved storage of the Stein Loan collection, which is mostly textiles. This blog post by Paulina Kralka and Marya Muzart from the British Library Conservation Centre looks at how conservation efforts can lead to new storage needs, focusing on the 2017-22 Lotus Sutra Project.