Conservation of finds unearthed by a badger
You may remember the image of a group of ceramic sherds from one of our previous blog posts. Following reconstruction of the vessel we now have true understanding of the magnificence of the objects found. Watch a time-lapse video showing elements of the reconstruction of the vessel.
Conservation treatment involved a task like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. The size, shape and colours of the sherds were used to determine their original location within the urn. Due to the uneven firing of the vessel and areas of burning caused by hot ashes being placed inside the vessel some areas were easier to piece together than others.
When the collared urn was originally manufactured ceramic technology was in its infancy with the kilns used never reaching the temperature required to permanently set the clay in position. During the time the vessel was in the ground, moisture from the surrounding earth also weakened the under-fired structure. This effect, on top of the unconventional excavation method, has meant that the overall shape of the vessel has become distorted.
Before reconstruction the edges of each fragment were strengthened by allowing a weak adhesive to be drawn into the rough surface to hold the loose and sometimes crumbling structure together. The adhesive is well used in conservation and has been developed and tested to ensure that it is long-term stable meaning it will not degrade causing damage to the original fragments of the vessel.
A stronger concentration of the same adhesive was used to adhere the fragments in position, small strips weak masking tape were used to hold the fragments in position as they dried. As the vessel was so large the reconstruction had to be undertaken in stages to ensure each level of fragments were securely in position and ready to support those placed on top.
The large number of fragments and cracks in the vessel meant the structure of the body was somewhat akin to lace. A filler material was required to help give the vessel some structural stability. The weight and size of the vessel meant that the large fills towards the base of the vessel required a stronger more solid fill and so plaster was used. The requirement for the smaller gaps was to hold adjacent sherds together so a strong concentration of the adhesive was used but ‘bulked’ out with glass-microballoons, making a very strong but light fill.
To ensure that viewers of the vessel would be able to easily distinguish between the original sherds of the vessel and the fills included during conservation treatment they were tinted to a sympathetic tone of a matching colour.
Gabrielle Flexer, Conservator