conservation

Animated Archaeology

With one year of survey, three years of excavation, and one study season completed in the past few years, this summer has seen the final year of study for the Palace and Landscape at Palaikastro (PALAP) team. From excavation to conservation, we have been hard at work reconstructing the history of our site here on the island of Crete.

Palaikastro

Over three millennia ago, Palaikastro was a thriving Minoan settlement situated on the east coast of the island. The town was rediscovered by archaeologists more than a century ago, but new campaigns have continued to reveal more of this fascinating site, and the five year PALAP excavation project has uncovered several multi-occupation buildings.

For the past two seasons, our study has focused on reconstructing the history of the site through the excavated material.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

In the lab, this has included the careful washing and conserving of objects, the photographing and drawing of selected material, and the organization and cataloguing of all conserved artifacts.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season Palaikastro 2017 Study Season Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

Digital tools such as GIS, combined with the study of conserved artifacts and notes from the field, enable us to better understand these objects and contextualize their histories within Minoan life.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season 

Combining artifact analysis with excavation records, digital data allows us to reconstruct a comprehensive picture of ancient life at Palaikastro.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

Whether we’re digging in the field, finding pottery joins in the lab, or writing final reports, archaeology is both challenging and immensely rewarding. But no matter what, we always find time for some fun!

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

SMALL FINDS CONSERVATOR IN SIDON, LEBANON (2) Bronze corrosion. If it’s fluffy, slimy or smelly, it’s bad!

Part of the reason I enjoy coming to work in Sidon is that I did my early training in the old British Museum Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities so many of the finds here are familiar types. Also, I am totally unfazed by massive corrosion. Sidon is a seaport and the soil is both damp and full of salts. Our metals tend to be more mineral samples, really.

Owl coin from Sidon

Owl coin from Sidon

All conservators have the usual chemical remedy they go to for active bronze corrosion: benzotriazole. It was originally used in industry to treat exterior bronze or copper architectural features like metal rooves but it was soon found to be useful in treating corroded antiquities. https://www.iiconservation.org/node/258 (A preliminary note on the use of benzotriazole for stabilizing bronze objects. Authors: Madsen, H. Brinch; Source: Studies in conservation, Volume 12, Number 4, p.163-167 (1967))

It pretty well solves 99.9% of bronze problems but, occasionally, you come up against an object and know that good old BTA just isn’t going to work. One such item was a coin I cleaned here in 2014. The corrosion was thick with soil deposits bonded into the corrosion with silicates. I managed to get the coin reasonably legible but I knew it had thick waxy deposits of cuprous chloride running under the surface detail. I could not remove the chloride manually without destroying the remaining detail. All I could do was immerse the coin in benzotriazole solution for some days and then give it a protective coat of acrylic. This year I thought I would revisit the coin and check how it was doing. Sometimes it is no fun to be proved right. The poor little coin of Athens was covered in the classic fluffy emerald green crystals of active bronze disease. However, it was only when I began to remove the crystal eruptions that I realised that they had burst through a thin layer of silver foil, as well as the overlying copper corrosion. The coin was a contemporary ancient fake silver coin. A copper alloy coin had been covered in two discs of silver foil like a chocolate coin, the edges burnished round. Our coin expert will have to tweak his coin catalogue a little!

And it’s back in the benzotriazole again for the Athenian coin and this time it will get the additional treatment of an application of black silver oxide, an even older method I was taught in the old Department of WAA. The result is not as subtle as BTA as there will be a slight change of colour and texture as the silver bonds with the chloride ions to form a stable “scab” of inert silver chloride, sealing off the potentially active cuprous chloride (….or that is how they taught the chemistry to me in old WAA)

Yesterday on site the archaeologists had been baffled by uncovering dozens of hard white points. Next thing I know, an enormous antler has arrived in my workshop. Another problem I can throw so old trusted chemicals at!

SMALL FINDS CONSERVATOR SIDON, LEBANON 2017 (1)

 

My name is Pippa Pearce and though I have been earning my living as an antiquities conservator all my life, I still take working holidays to have the opportunity to treat items that would not normally come my way. Our day starts with coffee, boiled up in a pan at 5am.

Brewing Coffee

Brewing Coffee

I have been told I have to let the coffee froth up and remove it from the heat three times, but it is hard to do that early without making a mess of the stove. Our vehicle arrives to take us to site at 5.30 am. The finds are stored and processed in a building next to the site and I have a workroom on the second floor. I bring lamps with rechargeable batteries so that I can use the microscope, even when the power is off.

The microscope at Sidon

The piece of paper clipped up is a list of all the finds that have been issued to me for conservation and it is part of the paper trail that tracks the whereabouts of all the finds in the building. Of course, it also doubles as my ‘To Do’ list.

Conservation list


Cotswold Archaeology: A typical (start to the) day on the front…

As an archaeological site manager, I like to arrive on site in advance of the team, open the access, welfare cabins and tool stores and prepare the daily briefing. Gradually, my colleagues will start to arrive on site; the fresh-faced, enthusiastic trainees, keen to crack on and get out on to site as soon as possible, then the crew bus carrying all the necessary equipment, cameras, GPS units, laptops, milk (possibly the most crucial item on site!) and the all-important site archive. This is followed by intermittent arrivals of the older, more experienced individuals who time their appearance to the last minute and then the odd one or two blurry-eyed latecomers who may or may not have been out late last night…

The daily cat-herding ritual ensues and then, once we’re all together, I deliver the daily briefing which can contain elements of weather forecast, site conditions, any specific health and safety considerations, progress on site, delegation of tasks, new demands from clients, feedback, praise or criticism from project managers or curators, details of the latest site interpretations and any interesting recent discoveries. In an effort to keep the team engaged during this meeting, I (usually vainly) try and keep things as light-hearted as possible where I can!

My briefing over, there’s a bit of nervous shuffling as I decide on which of the lucky site supervisors gets to deliver the requisite toolbox talks; this week it’s ‘Sunburn’ as, although we’re currently standing in a mist of fine drizzle, it did get a little bit warmer towards the end of Monday afternoon, and the old favourite ‘Personal Hygiene’… cue the inevitable banter. Toolbox talks delivered by a relieved supervisor, I wrap up the assembly by asking if anyone has any questions or concerns, issue the rallying cry of ‘Okay, let’s archaeologise!’ and we’re off onto site, a small, ragtag group of bright yellow troopers.

At some point I hope to be able to leave the paperwork and turn my attention to the fantastic archaeology we’re turning up. Perhaps I’ll get a brief slot around 4 this afternoon…………..

Mark

Archives and a whole lot more!

As the Archives Officer for Cotswold Archaeology, one of the UKs largest commercial units, my job does involve working with our site archives, but today like most days is much more varied.

I’ve been in this role for just over a year. I started my career as a trainee archaeologist and worked in the field for 9 years, becoming a supervisor and then a site manager. I made the move into this position as it offered such a variety of tasks and required a background in fieldwork and report writing as well as archives experience. I manage our team of post-excavation supervisors and processing staff, so even though I sometimes miss being on site I still get to see the finds as they come back to the office. I’m usually working on such a variety of different projects that there is always something interesting going on.

Today I’ve got some arrangements to make with several museums over depositing some of our archives, most are just a box or two, but we are hoping to deposit a large infrastructure project of 170 boxes soon! There are also some smaller jobs that I can deal with quickly like issuing site codes to our field staff.

I’m the co-ordinator of our volunteer programme and overnight we’ve had a few enquiries from members of the public who want to know what sort of work we do and are interested in joining us. The people who volunteer their time with us do an amazing job and help us make sure that some of the finds from historic projects which would otherwise sit on our shelves actually make it to the local museums where they can be displayed. We’ve got a work experience student in with us next week so later on I’ll be talking to colleagues in some of our other departments and organising a series of talks and workshops so they can get a taster of as many different aspects of what we do here at Cotswold, as possible.

I’ve got some costings to review and need to place several orders for more supplies for the post-excavation team, not my favourite part of the job but a very important one.

I’ll also be working on some of our annual fieldwork summaries to be included in several regional journals and providing time and cost estimates to project managers for processing and archiving work.

Finally, I’ll be helping out on our stall at a Festival of Archaeology event in Bristol tomorrow (http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk/events/2780) so I’m running through my checklist and making sure there won’t be any last minute hiccups (well other than the rain that is!).

 

Worth every penny: a numismatist’s view

By Julian Bowsher, Senior Archaeologist and Numismatist at MOLA.

Roman coin (c) MOLA

Roman coin (c) MOLA

My day started with the arrival of a couple of boxes of coins from MOLA’s recent excavations of a riverside site, near the Tower of London.  And I know that more boxes are on their way!

There are usually more Roman coins than any others from London sites but those in front of me cover a wide spectrum, ranging from Roman Republican denarii to late Roman copies. One 1st-century AD coin is particularly rare, there is a late Anglo-Saxon penny and a couple of medieval coins, as well as numerous lead tokens and a fine sixpence of Queen Elizabeth I. There are also lots of Nuremberg jetons, usually interpreted as reckoning counters (for accounting) but probably also used locally as small change.

Among the post-medieval coins we find there is lots of 18th-century small change and these always feature a few foreign coins: from France, Holland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The latest coin from this site is, curiously, a French 5 centime piece dated 1883, perhaps lost from a visiting French ship.

Before these coins reach me they travel from the site to the finds processing department here at MOLA, where they are given a clean to get the mud off, they then have record photographs taken and are given accession numbers.  The coins then head to the conservation laboratory where corrosion deposits are cleaned off, they are conserved and stabilised and, usefully, X-rayed.

The first thing I did today was make a list of the accession and context numbers, and then I weighed and measured each one before examining them in detail. I described, identified and dated both sides and these details were entered into our coin database. I made a judgement on which coins need further cleaning to help identification and which might even require chemical or metallurgical analysis. Certain coins need further research and I will discuss these pieces with other numismatists around the country or by popping over to the British Museum.

My next step is to write an assessment of the coins from this site. Firstly, I will arrange the coins by date and sometimes create a table or histogram. I will talk to the archaeologist running the dig to learn about the archaeological stratigraphy and also to other finds specialists in the department. This often determines where, how and when the coins came to be found at the site. Finally, after further research, a publication text will be created.

Such is the exciting and interesting diversity of my job!

The Work of the Ceramics, Glass & Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research

The work of Ceramics, Glass and Metals conservators at the British Museum 5. Conservator Denise Ling replaces the (not original) dowel that joints the moveable arms of an early 1st century terracotta Oriental Aphrodite from Turkey (1893,0915.7). The figurine has a magnificent hair style and remains of gilding and several colours of paint, but the focus is on her massive platform shoes. She is part of the travelling exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain.

The work of Ceramics, Glass and Metals conservators at the British Museum 5. Conservator Denise Ling replaces the (not original) dowel that joints the moveable arms of an early 1st century terracotta Oriental Aphrodite from Turkey (1893,0915.7). The figurine has a magnificent hair style and remains of gilding and several colours of paint, but the focus is on her massive platform shoes. She is part of the travelling exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain.


The Work of the Ceramics, Glass & Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research

The work of Ceramic, Glass and Metals conservators at the British Museum 6. The copper alloy inlaid eyelashes of the coffin of Nestawedjet, a lady from the 25th Dynasty in Thebes, had corroded and research scientist Quanyu Wang wanted a sample of the corrosion. Organic conservators were already repairing the inside of the coffin lid (1880,0130.1.a) so the sample had to be taken upside down by mirror image.

The work of Ceramic, Glass and Metals conservators at the British Museum 6. The copper alloy inlaid eyelashes of the coffin of Nestawedjet, a lady from the 25th Dynasty in Thebes, had corroded and research scientist Quanyu Wang wanted a sample of the corrosion. Organic conservators were already repairing the inside of the coffin lid (1880,0130.1.a) so the sample had to be taken upside down by mirror image.


The work of the Ceramics, Glass and Metals Section at the British Museu

The work of the Ceramics, Glass and Metals Section at the British Museum 1. Wrong footed! Working on a New Kingdom wine jar (1930,0614.22) for an international loan, conservator Sarahi Naidorf finds that over painting has been used to tone in a base fragment from another jar. The jar was bought at auction in 1930.

1. Wrong footed! Working on a New Kingdom wine jar (1930,0614.22) for an international loan, conservator Sarahi Naidorf finds that over painting has been used to tone in a base fragment from another jar. The jar was bought at auction in 1930

 

The work of the Ceramics, Glass & Metals conservation section at the British Museum 2. Conservator Loretta Hogan works on a black-figure amphora (1847,0806.26) bought by the museum in 1847. The very old reconstruction has too much paint and plaster spread over the original ceramic.

The work of the Ceramics, Glass & Metals conservation section at the British Museum 2. Conservator Loretta Hogan works on a black-figure amphora (1847,0806.26) bought by the museum in 1847. The very old reconstruction has too much paint and plaster spread over the original ceramic.


The Work of the Ceramics, Glass & Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research

The work of the Ceramics, Glass and Metals conservators at the British Museum 4. Stefka Bargazova paints the fill of a 14th century floor tile from Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire (1947,0505.4390). The tile is part of the BM collection being moved to updated storage.

The work of the Ceramics, Glass and Metals conservators at the British Museum 4. Stefka Bargazova paints the fill of a 14th century floor tile from Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire (1947,0505.4390). The tile is part of the BM collection being moved to updated storage.

The work of Ceramics, Glass and Metals conservators at the British Museum 5. Conservator Duygu Camurcuoglu smooths the fill of a Romano-British pot from Stonea Grange (1985,0201.1190). The pot is part of the travelling exhibition Rome: City and Empire.

The work of Ceramics, Glass and Metals conservators at the British Museum 5. Conservator Duygu Camurcuoglu smooths the fill of a Romano-British pot from Stonea Grange (1985,0201.1190). The pot is part of the travelling exhibition Rome: City and Empire.