Collections Team

Charlotte Wong gives us an insight into her recent internship with the Collections team.

I have completed my master’s degree in Material Culture and Artefact Studies. Part of the course included undertaking a work placement in the heritage sector, and I was fortunate enough to land an internship with the Collections team.

The team look after various objects associated with HES properties and archaeological excavations, which are stored and displayed all over Scotland. My 10-week internship was filled with various projects and a broad range of activities. The two I focused on were the repacking of archaeological collections unearthed during sponsored excavations, and checking the condition of objects displayed and stored at various sites.

Making notes on the archaeological finds excavated from Bearsden

Making notes on the archaeological finds excavated from Bearsden, including a piece of shoe leather

One of the first activities I did was audit the archaeology storeroom, which meant updating the current location of the collections. There are aisles and aisles of archaeology. You could easily spend months in the storeroom looking through each box at all these fantastic objects – if you don’t mind the cold and occasional encounters with dead spiders! I was able to work with incredible collections that ranged in material type and time period, from Bearsden, a Roman bathhouse along the Antonine Wall, to Cathcart Castle, once a 15th-century medieval castle in southern Glasgow. The tasks I undertook included re-packing the objects with fresh conservation grade packing materials, creating endless box content lists, and re-labelling the boxes. Any boxes that contained metal objects were also packed out with silica gel to reduce the risk of corrosion.

conservation cleaning of collections at the teams large object store

Getting involved with conservation cleaning of collections at the teams large object store

I was lucky enough to visit several sites, including Balvaird Castle, Aberdour Castle, St. Andrews Castle, Scotstarvit Tower, and St. Andrews Cathedral. My supervisor and I visited these sites to do a condition check of the items on display or in storage. Each object was given a number on a scale of 1 to 5 to reflect its current condition and conservation needs.

My favourite site to work at was Balvaird Castle, a medieval tower house near Bridge of Earn. Nearly 150 architectural carved stones, once part of the building, are now stored on the ground floor and needed to be assessed. The site has no power, so we worked with head and hand torches, and had brushes and dust masks to clean the stones as we went along – no one said this was glamorous work!

checking and cleaning the architectural stones at Balvaird Castle

Hard at work condition checking and cleaning the architectural stones at Balvaird Castle

At the beginning, I imagined collections management only involving the care of objects. How I was quickly proven wrong! I gained an incredible amount of transferable skills, which I can now apply to my future career. The internship taught me valuable skills in project management and extensive record keeping. I am sad that this wonderful internship ended, but I am beyond happy to have become acquainted with the team and had the opportunity to work with some of the most important archaeological collections from all over Scotland. I highly encourage everyone to check out the Collections online; there are numerous types of intriguing objects from archaeology to maritime, and everything in between!

Historic Environment Scotland cares for a varied number of collections and archives. To see the full range of our work in this area, explore the archives and collections part of our website.


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About Author

Donna Laidlaw

Donna works in the Digital Team and looks after our websites, making sure they are kept up-to-date. She's also managed several projects, including the new Edinburgh Castle website.