Conservators at the Pitt Rivers use a variety of techniques to stabilise, preserve and slow down the further deterioration of ethnographic objects. Techniques can include analysis of materials and historical research. These scientific approaches are coupled with an awareness of the sensitivities of originating communities. It is the job of the conservator to recognise and interpret the types of deterioration present in objects and to preserve them using the minimum amount of intervention.
Conservators working with ethnographic objects use detailed examination to help objects tell their own stories. Determining the life history of an object informs the conservators' decision making. Does the presence of dirt or damage to an object result from original use, or has it occurred during its time in the Museum? Are existing repairs the product of later alterations or has the originating community made them? Ethnographic conservators have to make tricky ethical decisions. If a method of repair performed by an originating community is now causing deterioration of the object, is it justifiable to remove it?