Contagious residue

  • Archaeological finds from graves can contain bacteria and virus in addition to traces of embalming chemicals, heavy metals used in coffins and caskets, and preserved or deteriorating human flesh that can contain disease-causing organisms. Anthrax, tetanus, cholera, smallpox and tuberculosis are resilient diseases and can survive in soft tissue in drying or frozen remains. Special care should be taken in working with archeological textiles, not only to protect them from contamination from modern DNA, but also to protect the scientist from the risk of disease.
  • Improperly or incompletely sanitized garments from hospitals, sickrooms and unclean areas can be contaminated and should be isolated in museum storage or cleaned.
  • Fabrics dyed in the past - or industrially, now - may contain residue which is allergenic or poisonous. New fabrics used in exhibitions or reconstructions should be accompanied by reliable information about how they were dyed, particularly if they come from a country with different industrial safety standards from your own.


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