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David Watkinson

Professor David Watkinson

Professor of Conservation

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

+44 29208 74249
John Percival Building, Room 3.16, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU
Media commentator


I began my career as a trained conservator, initially working in museums on a wide range of cultural objects and then specialising in archaeological material as a practical conservator at Cardiff University, where I later moved into teaching and research. I was present at the formative stage of the undergraduate degree Cardiff now offers and later developed a suite of MSc degrees in collaboration with conservation staff.

My focus is on theory and research, where I specialise in materials science of metals and inorganic materials. I am primarily a corrosion scientist and am particularly interested in designing research that informs and evidences conservation practice and management strategies. This is achieved by working with museums and heritage bodies to answer specific problems related to treatment, storage and display of heritage objects within their remit. A PhD cohort engaged in the corrosion science of metals, the conservation of inorganic materials and a range of more discursive topics such as visitor experience in museums, supports these research goals.

I was awarded the Plowden Medal for my services to conservation research in 2010. I am a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Vice-President of Working Party 21 'Corrosion of Archaeological and Historical Artefacts' within the European Federation of Corrosion, a former Council member of the International Institute for Conservation and a past Chair of the ICON Archaeology Section.
















  • Manti, P., Henderson, J. and Watkinson, D. 2011. Reflective practice in conservation education. Presented at: ICOM-CC 16th Triennial Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, 19-23 September 2011 Presented at Bridgland, J. ed.ICOM-CC 16th Triennial Conference: preprints, Lisbon, Portugal, 19-23 September 2011. London: The International Council of Museums – Committee for Conservation
  • Manti, P. and Watkinson, D. 2011. Hot-tinning of low tin bronzes. Presented at: Metal 2010 : Proceedings of the Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Metal Working Group, Charleston, SC, USA, 11-15 October 2010 Presented at Mardikian, P. et al. eds.Metal 2010 : Proceedings of the Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Metal Working Group, October 11-15, 2010, Charleston, South Carolina, USA. Charleston, SC, USA: ICOM-CC, Clemson University pp. 92-98.
  • Rimmer, M. and Watkinson, D. 2011. Residues of alkaline sulphite treatment and their effects on the corrosion of archaeological iron objects. Presented at: METAL 2010, Charleston, SC, USA, 11-15 October 2010 Presented at Mardikian, P. et al. eds.METAL 2010: Proceedings of the Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Metal Working Group. Clemson, SC: Clemson University pp. 16-22.





  • Manti, P. and Watkinson, D. 2007. Examination of Greek bronze helmets: sampling and project design. Presented at: ICOM-CC Metal Working Group International Triennial Meeting (Metal 07), Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 17-21 September 2007 Presented at Degrigny, C. et al. eds.Metal 07: Proceedings of the ICOM-CC Metal Working Group International Triennial Meeting. Amsterdam, 17-21 September 2007. Amsterdam: ICOM-CC, Rijksmuseum pp. 78-82.





Book sections





Research overview

My research is focused in corrosion science, primarily investigating the impact of climate on the corrosion of archaeological and heritage metals either displayed or stored in museums or in-situ outdoor. Most of this research focuses on studying the corrosion of chloride infested iron and its control, typically this is archaeological iron excavated from terrestrial and marine environments. A specific focus for the Cardiff research team is quantifying the effectiveness of treatments, by recording corrosion rates of objects pre and post treatment, using an oxygen consumption methodology refined in the Cardiff Conservation Laboratories. This provides data that generates best practice and management protocols for the heritage sector  Non-ferrous metals research projects include investigating the impact of humidity on the rate and mechanism of corrosion of archaeological copper alloys and treatments for historic silver. Presentation of heritage to the public influences conservation practices and ethical decisions, making it essential to link this to research to questions. Projects exploring the importance of sound and movement for presenting vehicles to the public, in conjunction with the Tank Museum, and the impact on a room environment within historic properties from using fires to enhance visitor experience, partnered with National Museums Wales, will inform these partner institutions on their conservation strategies.

Exemplar Projects

Conservation of Late 19th and 20th Century Artillery Pieces

This AHRC/CDA studentship project began in January 2020. It will compare the performance of five commonly used paint coatings within conservation using real time exposure of painted metal coupons at two English Heritage coastal castles located at Dover in Kent and Pendennis in Cornwall. Assessment will encompass quantitative corrosion rate testing at specified intervals using oxygen consumption techniques, paint adherence and visual inspection. The outcome aims to specify the best performing cost benefit paint system which English Heritage will adopt for protecting their artillery.

Heritage Management of Tanks at the Tank Museum, Bovington

This PhD project is funded by the Tank Museum.

Tanks are moving objects that make a lot of noise and generate smell. These factors are an important part of experiencing what a tank is like and its impact on the senses. To allow tanks to move influences conservation strategies for the vehicles in the form of wear and tear, longevity of the vehicle and the need for replica replacement of parts. The project explores the meaning of tanks to visitors to address the question of whether they should be presented to the public as operating vehicles, with attendant wear and tear, or as static items with a longer lifespan.

Evidence-based Condition-Monitoring Strategy for Preservation of Heritage Iron

This 3-year £365,000 interdisciplinary project was awarded to Cardiff University and was funded by the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Large Grants programme. It began in 2010. aiming to define and measure the variables which influence the corrosion rate of archaeological and historic iron artefacts using real archaeological objects. Several papers have been published from this research and the topic remains active within the current research programme at Cardiff, particularly in relation to the storage and display of archaeological iron. The project was a partnership between the Cardiff University Department of Archaeology and Conservation and the University of Manchester School of Materials.

ss Great Britain: Corrosion and conservation

Cardiff University Department of Archaeology and Conservation carried out scientific research that underpinned the preservation of Brunel's 1843 iron steamship ss Great Britain (Link to new project page on ss Great Britain.).  The ship is a major visitor attraction in Bristol receiving 170,000 visitors in 2010 compared to 70,000 p.a. before its conservation. The preservation process is highly visible and involves desiccating the ship to stop it corroding, consequently it forms an integral part of the visitor experience. There is a feeling that Brunel would be proud of the cutting edge science and technology preserving his ship, as it sits well with his reputation as an innovator.  The project has received £44,000 in funding. Collaboration and research with ss Great Britain trust continues to date.

Preparation of historic wrought iron surfaces to receive protective coatings and evaluation of paint performance

This project was funded by Historic Scotland to examine the impact of differing ways of removing paint from historic wrought iron, such as railings and canopies, in preparation for repainting. The research involved quantitative measurement of corrosion rate of samples prepared by chemical and mechanical paint removal techniques. This was followed by testing the performance of different paint regimes. The goal is to begin to construct an evidence based platform for the conservation of historic wrought iron, leading to best practice guidelines for maintenance procedures.



I teach a range of theory and research modules on the BSc Conservation of Objects in Museums and Archaeology, MSc Professional Conservation, MSc Conservation Practice and MSc Care of Collections. These encompass the structure and decay of metals and inorganic materials, developing research skill sets and designing experimental research. I regularly supervise an MSc dissertation cohort numbering 10 to 15 students, whose projects cover a wide range of laboratory research addressing decay and treatment of heritage objects and a wide range of topics related to the heritage industry.


Education and qualifications

Dip. Cons. (UCL)

MSc University College Cardiff

Notable achievements

  • Plowden Medal 2010 awarded for 'innovative research and services to conservation.
  • Part of conservation team that won the Gulbenkian Museum prize for the ss Great Britain in 2006.
  • Invited speaker - Gordon research Conference on Aqueous Corrosion 2010

Honours and awards

  • Plowden Medal 2010
  • Gulbenkian Museum Prize 2006 (Team member – ss Great Britain)
  • Anna Plowden Award for Research and Innovation in Conservation (Short listed 2007)
  • UK Conservation Award (Short listed 2007)

Professional memberships

  • Accredited Member the Institute of Conservation (ICON) 2001-17
  • Fellow International Institute for Conservation (IIC)
  • Fellow Society of Antiquaries of London
  • Member of International Council of Museums (ICOM)
  • Heritage Council Ireland – Panel of Conservators
  • Executive Committee member of United Kingdom Institute for Conservation 1980-3
  • Chair - Archaeology Section of United Kingdom Institute for Conservation 1983-88
  • Editor Conservation News 1979 – 84
  • Editorial Advisor for Conservator 1989 - 91

Committees and reviewing


Journal Reviewer

Andwante Chemie; Archaeometry; Journal of Archaeological Science; Journal of Adhesion Science and Technology; Corrosion Science; Corrosion Science and Technology; The Conservator; Environmental Science and Pollution Research; Journal of Cultural Heritage; Journal of Heritage Science; Journal of the Institute of Conservation; Materials and Corrosion;  New Journal of Chemistry