Monitoring at Fishbourne Roman Palace
Temperature and humidity monitoring of Roman relics
Fishbourne Roman Palace is set in the village of Fishbourne, Chichester in West Sussex. A large palace, it was constructed in the 1st century AD, around thirty years after the Roman conquest of Britain.
Local people had known of the existence of Roman remains in the area for some time, but it was not until 1960 that the site was systematically excavated for the first time. Nowadays, most of the visible remains – including a whole wing of the palace - are housed in a modern museum run by Sussex Archaeological Society, a popular visitor attraction that brings people of all ages to the largest Roman home in Northern Europe.
Arts Councils England (ACE) is one of the organisations that support the work of museums, offering funding to those museums seen to be taking steps to conserve and monitor historical sites and artefacts. Between 2010 and 2015, ACE will invest £1.9 billion of government money and an estimated £1.1 billion from the National Lottery fund for arts and culture in order to help create historical experiences for as many people as possible across the country. As well as funding, ACE administers the “Accreditation Scheme” through which museums demonstrate that they are maintaining the highest professional standards.
In order to reach the Accreditation standard, Fishbourne must be able to demonstrate clearly that they are taking the steps to conserve the palace for future generations.
The two main areas that Fishbourne’s conservation efforts are directed towards are:
1. In-situ archaeological features: Fishbourne Roman Palace houses the largest collection of in-situ mosaic floors in Britain. Many of these were laid at the time of the construction of the Palace, around 75-80 AD, making them some of the oldest mosaics in the country. The mosaics can be damaged by fluctuations in the environment; therefore it is important to monitor temperature and humidity to understand their impact upon the condition of the archaeology.
2. Roman artefacts: The site is home to nearly a million very fragile Roman artefacts, ranging from bronze coins to fragments of leather. These need to be protected from the effects of adverse temperature and humidity conditions. Staff, therefore, work to maintain these, keeping them in environmentally controlled conditions.
For the past 15 years, Fishbourne has used a wireless system to monitor temperature and humidity. This system was becoming increasingly outdated and the software that was needed to maintain the system was no longer supported. As well as this, the individual sensors were expensive and difficult to replace, and with budget limitations, this meant that some areas were not monitored to the best standard possible.
To accommodate this, the museum invested in another more affordable and flexible type of sensor. These allowed the museum to place the sensors in several harder to reach areas and offered significant cost savings over the existing system.
The museum used these two types of sensors alongside each other for four to five years. However, the newer sensors were not Wi-Fi enabled, and significant quantities of staff resources and time were spent walking around the museum collecting data from the sensors.
With increasingly limited staff resources to collect and manage the data, Fishbourne began to shop around for a new sensor system that could better monitor temperature and humidity.
Fishbourne Roman Palace’s “Friends” organisation invested in five EL-WiFi Temperature and humidity sensors and began to deploy them in key areas of the museum. Loggers were placed in cabinets and display cases, as well as in hard to reach places.
FilesThruTheAir sensors provided Fishbourne with consistent, continual monitoring of the temperature and humidity of important features and artefacts. The loggers captured data every 15 minutes, on a 24/7 basis, providing the museum with an on-demand comprehensive view of temperature and humidity across the site, even outside of working hours.
Importantly the FilesThruTheAir Cloud remote monitoring system provides automated alerts whenever it is detected that the temperature is going out of range. These alerts can be sent, via text or email, to multiple people so that they can be responded to within seconds – making the maintenance of temperature ranges within display units far more effective.
First and foremost the museum benefitted from the price of the sensors, which were much cheaper than previous systems. This meant that the museum was able to afford to buy more sensors, such that much more of the site could be monitored. As well as this, the ease of scaling sensor numbers up or down, depending on the needs of the museum, without a major system overhaul was hugely appreciated.
Finally, FilesThruTheAir™ sensors are wireless and send data directly to the Cloud, presenting data in a clear, professional way. This not only saves on manpower and time-cost, allowing staff to spend time on other tasks but is also hugely important to the longevity of the museum’s exhibits. Staff no longer need to regularly open the cabinets to take readings. This helps better protect and conserve the artefacts, as there are no sudden changes in temperature or humidity whilst data is being collected.
Dr Robert Symmons, Curator at Fishbourne Roman Palace said:
“Traditional museum solutions are notoriously expensive, so it was a breath of fresh air to find FilesThruTheAir wireless sensors, which are perfect for what we are trying to monitor here at Fishbourne. We are extremely happy with the results so far and hope to expand the use of the FilesThruTheAir system within the museum.”