Institute of Archaeology


Barbara Wills - Honorary Lecturer

Barbara Wills

Barbara Wills is an experienced conservator working with objects made primarily of organic materials, specializing in the treatment of basketry, leather and related materials, ancient Egyptian organics and human remains. She is keen to develop new techniques and approaches and disseminate these via classes, lectures, gallery talks, practical workshops, publications (with over 20 refereed articles) and working with colleagues and student interns. A major goal is to showcase the practice and benefits of conservation in interdisciplinary contexts and events.

She has recently completed a two-year Senior Clothworkers' Fellowship project: 'Safeguarding a body of evidence: researching and conserving a group of exceptional naturally-mummified Nilotic human remains', cleaning and investigating a group of natural mummies from Sudan. This resulted in a two-day conference and workshop in 2015 and a publication in the British Museum Technical Research Bulletin.

Barbara has also recently worked for University of Cambridge Collections as an Associate Conservator. Her interest in leather is reflected in long-term committee membership of the Archaeological Leather Group, and as a Trustee of the Leather Conservation Centre. She has recently participated in 'Daguerreobase', and European Union funded project, helping to input early photographs from Britain.

Research Interests

  • Care of human remains, especially natural mummies

Currently, she is contributing to UCL G121 Conservation Processes course (teaching 'Plants, baskets and the ancient Egyptians' and 'Deterioration and Conservation of basketry' including a short practical conservation demonstration and discussion period.

Last year for the MA in Principles of Conservation (first year of conservation) course she also lectured on 'The conservation care of natural human mummies in collections'.

Barbara regularly supervises student interns from the above course when they undertake placements in the Department of Conservation at the British Museum.

Periodically she also contributes to UCL conferences, meetings and publications, such as 'Japanese Tissue showcase' (April 2015); 'Why Leather? The Material and Cultural Dimensions of Leather' and 'Wrapping and Unwrapping Material Culture: Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives' (both published 2014)


Selected recent publications

  • 2014. J. Ambers, C.R. Cartwright, C. Higgitt, D. Hook, E. Passmore, St J. Simpson, G. Verri, C. Ward and B. Wills, Looted, Recovered, Returned: Antiquities from Afghanistan (A detailed scientific and conservation record of a group of ivory and bone furniture overlays excavated at Begram, stolen from the National Museum of Afghanistan, privately acquired on behalf of Kabul, analysed and conserved at the British Museum and returned to the National Museum of Afghanistan in 2012), 2014, Archaeopress: Oxford
  • 2014. Wills, B., Ward, C., and Sáiz Gómez, V., with contributions by Korenburg C and Phippard J. Chapter 6 Conservation of Human Remains from Archaeological Contexts. In: Regarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum. Alexandra Fletcher and Daniel Antoine (Eds.), British Museum Press, London, pp 50 - 73
  • 2014. Wills, B. Chapter 9. Wrapping the wrapped; the development of minimal conservation of ancient human wrapped mummies from the region of the Nile. In: Wrapping and Unwrapping Material Culture; Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives. Susanna Harris and Laurence Douny (Eds.). Left Coast Press, California, pp 157 - 167.
  • 2014. Wills, B and Watts, A. Chapter 7. Why wineskins? The exploration of a relationship between wine and a skin container. In: Why Leather? The Material and Cultural Dimensions of Leather. Susanna Harris & André J. Veldmeijer (Eds.) Sidestone Press, Leiden, The Netherlands pp 123 - 134
  • 2013. Wills, B. 'Conserving a Fijian Breastplate', in Chiefs and Governors Art and Power in Fiji, ed. A. Herle and L. Carreau, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge 95-96.
  • 2013. Wills, B. and Anderson, J. R. 'The conservation of desiccated archaeological leather: comments and the case study of a Nubian skirt'. 2013 International Conservation Symposium. Present and Future of Conservation for Organic Artifacts. Cultural Heritage Conservation Science Center. Seoul, Korea: pp 84-100.
  • 2013. Wills, B. 'Leather and the Medieval Christian People of the Fourth Cataract Region of the Nile: Two Case Studies' (peer reviewed) paper presented at the 10th Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Leather & Related Materials Working Group, Deutsches Ledermuseum, Offenbach, Germany, In Postprints of the ICOM Leather and Related Materials Working Group Conference eds Céline Bonnot-Diconne - Carole Dignard - Jutta Göpfrich, pp 150-156.
  • 2010 'Conservation, colour and plant material in ancient Egyptian basketry' in Postprints of the Conference Decorated Surfaces on Ancient Egyptian Objects: Technology, Deterioration and Conservation. ICON Archaeology Group and the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, 2007.