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Recessed Support for Fragile Specimens


This system provides proper housing for fragile artifacts such as basketry and cordage fragments. It eliminates unnecessary handling and protects specimens from abrasion and overcrowding.


Mei Wan Campbell
Museum of Texas Tech Univ.
Fourth and Indiana Avenue
P.O. Box 4499
Lubbock, TX 79409-3191 USA
Tel (806) 742-2479
Fax (806) 742-1136

Figure 1: Nick Olson
Figure 2: Jennifer B. Clark and
Victor Krantz

Publication: 1992


The fragile specimens or fragments are placed in custom-cut cavities made of polyethylene or polypropylene foam sheeting and lined with pH neutral tissue paper or cotton muslin (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Several fragments stored in individual cavities within one tray unit.

The cavity supports are placed in commercially, or in-house fabricated individual trays. The trays are covered with sheets of pH neutral or alkaline reserve paper.

Materials Tools Supplies

  • 100% cotton muslin, washed
  • Alkaline reserve or pH neutral paper
  • Double-coated tape
  • Pencil
  • pH neutral, paper board, stackable specimen tray
  • pH neutral tissue paper
  • Polypropylene foam sheeting and/or polyethylene foam sheeting
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Tracing paper


  1. Prepare the basketry or cordage fragments and place them on a piece of paper. Trace the shapes of the individual or groupings of fragments on the paper and cut out patterns leaving an extra 0.5cm space around all sides.
  2. Select a commercially available archival specimen tray or construct a tray. (See Davis, “Tray and Box Construction”, this volume).
  3. Cut polypropylene and/or poly-ethylene foam sheeting to the dimensions of the tray. Use as many foam sheets as necessary to completely fill the specimen tray.
  4. Arrange the paper cut-out patterns over the foam sheeting.
  5. Trace and cut the corresponding shape in all sheets except the bottom two sheets of foam (0.6cm thick) which should be left uncut for padding. The cut-out cavities should be slightly deeper than the fragments.
  6. Arrange the foam sheets inside the tray.
  7. Line each cavity with a piece of washed 100% cotton muslin or pH neutral paper. The liners should be large enough to extend over the edges of the cavity approximately 2.5cm. The muslin offers additional protection to extremely fragile fragments and will permit the removal of the objects from the cavities without direct handling.
  8. Carefully place the fragments into the prepared recesses (Fig. 1).
  9. Cut a piece of alkaline-reserve or pH neutral paper depending on the type of material being housed, and place it over the tray. The paper can be secured to the tray along one of the long sides with double-sided tape.


Polyethylene recessed supports are sometimes called cavity trays, and also are used for objects that are more three-dimensional such as the skull and jawbone (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Skull and jawbone in custom cut, polyethylene foam support.

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