Pitt-Rivers

The conservation of Pitt Rivers archaeological models

The conservatin of Pitt Rivers archaeological models from 1890’s

Part 4

Watch our conservation video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9S1UpsOW5ec

An Aim Pilgrim Trust Conservation Project

This year, Salisbury Museum was awarded a grant from the AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme to conserve the models. As these four models are so heavy and fragile, the Wiltshire Conservation Service moved some of its equipment to create an conservation laboatory at the museum and opened the doors to the public.

Conservation exhibition hall

At many museums there is only ever enough space to display a small proportion of the collection at any one time. These models are very large and although they provide a significant resource, they do take up a good deal of space within a gallery. To make the most of the gallery space, smaller examples of Pitt Rivers’ models have been on display.  By conserving these large models today, the Conservation Service will ensure that they will be protected and remain in good condition for the future.

The Pitt Rivers excavation models

The four Pitt Rivers models depict excavations at Cranborne Chase

Rotherley: a Romano-British settlement excavated by Pitt Rivers in 1886-7

The model of Rotherley is made of solid wood, whereas the other three are made of plaster of Paris supported by a wire frame. The largest model, the Woodyates hypocaust measures over a metre long and takes 6 people to lift!

Wansdyke

Wansdyke: a bank and ditch earthwork probably dating to the C5th AD, excavated in 1889•

Woodyates Hypocaust: part of a Roman settlement, 1889-90

Woodyates Hypocaust: part of a Roman settlement, 1889-90

Bokerley Dyke a bank and ditch earthwork possibly of late Roman date, excavated in 1890

Bokerley Dyke a bank and ditch earthwork possibly of late Roman date, excavated in 1890

Condition of the models

The 3-dimensional model of Bokerley Dyke, for example consists of a wooden frame filled with plaster which has been painted to show details of the site and its contours. The model is dirty and dusty, with heavy deposits over much of the surface and cobwebs evident in some areas.

Dirt and dust has built up on the objects over time and in some cases, this has changed the colour of the models and stained other areas.

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The wooden structure of the models has split and cracked in many areas. Wood shrinks and expands, reacting to the levels of humidity in the atmosphere. As the wood expands, this can force it to break and split giving it an uneven, damaged surface.

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Where other materials, such as paint or plaster are attached to the wood, the uneven surface puts a strain on the paint; stretching or crushing it until the paint or plaster cracks and breaks off. Some fragments of paint or plaster have fallen off and been lost.

Woodworm

Three of the models have been attacked by woodworm. These are insect larvae, which eat their way through the wood and form complex tunnel systems inside the structure. Woodworm thrive in damp environments. If left untreated, the infested wood can be so badly damaged that it will crumble away completely.

Why is conservation necessary?

Our conservation treatment will help to make sure that the models survive so that future generations can see them. Without conservation treatment, the models would continue to deteriorate. The woodworm infestation would weaken the wooden frames to the point where they could collapse. The chips and paint loss mean significant details are lost. The surface dirt, dust and stains make the models harder to understand and appreciate for their craftsmanship and information.

Treatment Proposal:

  • Clean the wood and painted plaster to remove dust, dirt and staining
  • Consolidate areas of flaking paint
  • Adhere the separated fragments of plaster and paint
  • Fill areas of missing plaster where necessary for structural stability
  • Treat the woodworm infestation to prevent further structural damage

Conservation treatment

All solvents, adhesives and techniques were rigorously tested in the laboratories before treatment commenced to ensure that no ill effects would occur to the models. Solubility tests were carried out on paint samples and the suitability of each adhesive in terms of bond strength, appearance and penetration were assessed.

Dry cleaning of the model surface

Stable areas of the surface were dry cleaned first with a museum vac and soft brushes to removes loose dirt and debris.

Smoke sponge cleaning

The stable surface areas were then cleaned with smoke sponge (vulcanised natural rubber) to remove more ingrained deposits of dirt and dust. Any smoke sponge debris was removed with a museum vac and soft brush.

 

 

 

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Model – partially cleaned

 

Consolidation Consolidation1

Fragile flaking areas of paint were consolidated with an acrylic solution with distilled water.

Plaster and Japanese tissueAreas of exposed plaster were stabilised using a facing of Japanese tissue adhered with acrylic adhesive. Areas of unsupported plaster have been stabilised by filling underlying gaps using Japanese tissue and injecting a acrylic solution with distilled water.

Woodworm

Areas affected by woodworm infestation where cleaned with a museum vac and soft brush to remove any loose frass from the infestation. These areas where then sprayed with a water-based insecticide.

Why aren’t the models going on display?

Made-to-measure storage crates are being constructed for the models so that they are protected from the environment and pests which will prevent any further damage happening to them in the future. The bespoke crates will make it much easier to manoeuvre the models around the museum, without causing further damage.

For more information:

Visit our website: http://www.wshc.eu/our-services/conservation.html

Or contact us: conservationartifacts@wiltshire.gov.uk  Tel. 01279 705500

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Top models at Salisbury Museum

Top models at Salisbury Museum

The conservation of Pitt Rivers’ archaeological models from 1890’s 

Part 1

Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum

The Wiltshire Conservation Service brought a conservation laboratory to Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and opened their doors to the public.

Conservation exhibition hall

Watch our conservation video:

The team of conservators and volunteers cleaned, repaired and conserved four large archaeological models designed by the famous archaeologist, General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers (14 April 1827 – 4 May 1900). General Pitt Rivers is regarded as having been a generation ahead of his time and is often described as the ‘father of scientific archaeology.

 Wansdyke site, 1889
This scale 3D model depicts the Wansdyke site, excavated by Pitt Rivers in 1889

The archaeological models had been in storage for over 30 years and had not been accessible to the public. It was a rare opportunity to see them on display as part of the conservation exhibition.

 Bokerley Dyke model This scale 3D model depicts the Bokerley Dyke site, excavated by Pitt Rivers in 1888

At many museums there is only ever enough space to display a small proportion of the collection at any one time. These models are very large and although they provide a significant resource, they do take up a good deal of space within a gallery. To make the most of the gallery space, smaller examples of Pitt Rivers’ models have been on display.  By conserving these large models today, the Conservation Service will ensure that they will be protected and remain in good condition for the future.

More posts to come……

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Reconnecting people with their heritage

This summer a hardy band of volunteers and one or two paid professionals began a second season of excavation at a 50 room villa and extended Iron Age/Roman site, which stretches across and beyond the East Cliff at Folkestone, Kent, writes Dr Lesley Hardy, Project Director for A Town Unearthed: Folkestone before 1500 and Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Rescue archaeology on a cliff-edge

Folkestone sits in a liminal position on a bed of greensand rock which juts out between the chalk Down-land and the clay weald. It is the closest crossing point to France and so also, depending on your perspective, marks a boundary or a route-way between Britain and the continent probably used for millennia.

The site overlooks the English Channel and is in a stunning though precarious location on the edge of the chalk cliffs there. Its direct sight line is Boulogne and on a clear day other Roman bases at Dover and Lympne can be seen, as can the North-Downs Way which ends abruptly interrupted by cataclysm at the cliff edge above Folkestone.

Erosion makes this rescue archaeology and has justified excavation which would not have been allowed on a less compromised scheduled site.

A Town Unearthed

The dig is a part of a three-year Lottery-funded community archaeology project based in Folkestone called ‘ A Town Unearthed’. It’s a title of double meaning, intended to reflect multiple meanings attached to community archaeology in general and in particular to this project’s aim.

It aims not only to deliver community archaeology in the sense of fieldwork but also to ‘dig’ in the more critical sense of understanding how the community of Folkestone sees and understands itself in relation to its past: an archaeology of itself.

If we want to understand the processes by which communities identify with certain archaeological and historical places, this is an important site.

Folkestone

Folkestone is a town which has come to be defined by a relatively recent history. The town was developed at a rapid pace in the 1860s and 70s as a health resort.

If you visit today you would see a somewhat modernised but largely Victorian/Edwardian resort. The decline slowly eroded the prosperity of the resort from the 1940s also continues to leave its mark.

Reconnecting townsfolk and their heritage

We hope that by re-awakening interest in the larger time-span and the rich ancient landscape that surrounds the town to contribute towards challenging this narrative of decline and to reconnect people with the significant and rich ancient heritage that surrounds them.

These include the Bayle – the site of a C7th Royal Minster; Castle Hill- a large Norman earthwork (one of Pitt-Rivers’ first excavations) and also the large amount of unpublished reports, artefactual collections and other material which trace a history dating from earliest times.