Conservation

Remarkable finds from an unusual source

on Friday, 22 January 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

A large box, filled with Bronze Age finds recovered in Netheravon, was brought to the conservation lab here at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The objects were covered in moss and smelling rather musty, this however was explained when we were told that the finder of these objects wasn’t an archaeologist but a badger. Deciding to make its home in a convenient mound, the badger inadvertently unearthed finds of a similar style and importance to those found with the nearby Amesbury Archer.

Selection of ceramic sherds

The group of finds include sherds from a large ceramic urn, various bone and antler tools, 2 metal objects (one a serrated blade and the other is still a complete mystery) and most significantly a copper chisel with the decorated bone handle still attached.

Copper chisel with bone handle

The owner of these objects was probably an archer as the finds included a wrist guard used for protection when shooting a bow and stone tools used for straightening arrow shafts.

Wrist guard and shaft straighteners

As the objects were damp when they were unearthed we needed to let them slowly dry out before conservation could begin. This is particularly necessary for the bone and antler finds, as with all organic material, bone and antler swell and contract depending on the moisture content of the object and surrounding air. If the objects were to dry out too quickly then cracks and other damage may be caused.

The conservation team turn detective! Part 2

on Thursday, 29 October 2015. Posted in Conservation

Curing the salt contamination in a pair of Imari vases. A serial conservation mystery, episode 2

In May we discovered that the Imari vases which had been brought to the lab from Wilton House were suffering from a case of salt contamination http://wshc.eu/blog/item/the-conservation-team-turn-detective.html. The salt had caused large cracks up the side of the vases reducing their structural stability and causing loss of some fragments and areas of glaze.

Developing a treatment

Removing salt from an object is best completed by dissolving the salts into water and removing the contaminated water from the vase taking the salt with it. If not all the contaminated water is removed during the treatment some salt will remain and the process of crystallisation will begin again, causing further deterioration.

To try out our treatment options we needed to create some test patients with similar symptoms to the Imari vases.

Undertaking clinical trials

The test patients were contaminated with salts from the base up to simulate the issue with the Imari vases.

Due to the size, weight and fragile nature of the vases treating only the affected area would be the ideal solution. We tested using a poultice made from blotting paper, cartridge paper and distilled water.

To use a poultice you apply a thin layer to the affected area and allow to dry. As the water evaporates from the surface of the poultice the salty water in the centre of the pot is drawn out and the salts are deposited in the poultice. The dried poultice can then be removed taking the salt with it.

The clinical trial turned out to prove the treatment was not effective, instead of evaporating from the poultice some of the water was drawn into the test pot and evaporated from the exposed rim leaving the salts behind.

It was clear that a plan B would have to be developed....

The Conservation Team Turn Detective!

on Friday, 22 May 2015. Posted in Conservation

Finding the cause of deterioration in a pair of Imari vases. A serial conservation mystery, episode 1

In the conservation lab we have two very large and impressive-looking vases. The vases from Wilton House, Salisbury have come to the conservation lab to be repaired as they are both structurally unstable. The conservation team turned detective in order to discover what was causing the instability. In the first episode of our conservation blog, you’ll find out how the conservators uncovered the symptoms and solved the case.

The patients

The vases are late 17th Century examples of the popular Japanese style ‘Imari’ identified from the distinctive decoration of cobalt blue under-glaze and gold and red over-glaze. This style of Japanese porcelain was produced as export for the Western market, indicated by the style sharing its name with the Japanese port from which it was transported: Imari, Saga.

The symptoms

The vases have large cracks running from the base, nearly ¾ of the way up the sides. The cracks weaken the structure and cause the significant instability. Along the edges of the cracks and round the base of the vases are missing areas of decoration and glazing. As the vases are no longer in one piece, they are not safe to display in this condition. While the cracks remain, these vases continue to be at risk of breaking apart.

 

The suspects

Although the symptoms of deterioration could be clearly identified, their cause remained a complete mystery. The conservation team could treat the symptoms. We could fill the large cracks and repair the glazing but without discovering the cause of the damage and finding a suspect, we would be taking a big risk. Further deterioration could occur in the future and the vases become irrevocably damaged.

Celebrating the 8OOth anniversary of the Magna Carta

on Monday, 16 March 2015. Posted in Conservation

The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre have been preparing an up-coming display to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which is to be held at Lacock Abbey.

The display will feature three original documents: a facsimile of the 1225 Magna Carta presented to Lacock abbey after the original charter was presented to the nation; and two enrolled copies of a 1300 confirmation of the charter in the archives of the marquis of Ailesbury of Savernake and Marlborough borough which are held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

These documents will be supported by a display illustrating life in Wiltshire in the 13th century and the impact of Magna Carta. Copies of documents will include images from the pageant in 1932 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of Lacock abbey.

The exhibition will be at Lacock Abbey in June and July and then at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The screens will then be available for display around the county.

A project to conserve and display 13th Century documents for the Salisbury Cathedral Magna Carta exhibition.

The Archive conservation team have recently been working on a project to conserve and display four 13th Century parchment documents for the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta exhibition at Salisbury Cathedral.

The documents are: a charter, an indulgence, a declaration of canonical obedience and an agreement of tithes.

Parian Ware - A Complex Jigsaw

on Tuesday, 06 January 2015. Posted in Conservation

We recently had a number of Parian ware figurines come in for treatment. Parian ware is a type of unglazed porcelain used in the 19th century to imitate marble. It was usually used to make figurines and other decorative pieces.  

The damage on the pieces ranged from a few minor chips to items that were in a fragmentary condition. It was clear that this would be a challenging treatment. Piecing together the broken items was especially difficult as fragments from many different figures were present in each box. It was not clear until we started work which object some of the fragments belonged with. Each piece would need to be positioned precisely to allow the fragments around it to fit correctly. Some joins had to be taken down and re assembled several times before the rest of the object could be put together satisfactorily.

As Good as New... Conserved Fire Engine on Display

on Tuesday, 14 October 2014. Posted in Conservation

In late August this year CMAS conservators were privileged to work on an exciting project to conserve a 19th century fire engine prior to display at Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury. The fire engine is constructed mainly from wood, which has been brightly painted in blue and red. A large trough houses a central pump in a wooden box the whole engine sits on four chunky wooden wheels reinforced with iron tyres. Folding handles extend from the body of the engine which would be used to pump the water from its source through the machine and onto the fire. Measuring 2 metres long x 1.4 metres high the fire engine is of an imposing size. Although it is still relatively easy to manoeuvre the engine with a small team of people the response times would still have been much longer than we are now used to!

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