Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Altar Update

The cleaning of the two marble altars mentioned in a previous post is progressing. The first altar, which had surface accretions removed from its inscription area in earlier seasons, has been cleaned further by Jessie this season. The figure of winged victory is now visible, revealing a surprising level of detail.

Winged victory, with much of the surface deposits removed.

These altars are of great interest to the archaeologists at Gordion because they provide a record of the Roman legions that were present at the site. This altar differs from the first altar in that the inscription was scraped out, perhaps due to a change in political power. Under the practice called damnatio memoriae, the Roman Emperor Caracalla had the memory of his brother Publius Septimus Geta expunged after Caracalla seized power and killed his brother. The cleaning of the inscription on the second altar is over 50% complete. Microchemical spot testing was performed in previous seasons to identify the composition of the deposits, and identified carbonates in the material. We experimented with different methods, but found that mechanical cleaning with scalpels and small chisels was the most effective. 

Detail of the surface deposits on the top of the altar.

Emily and Elizabeth mechanically reduce the deposits. 

To clarify inscriptions that are difficult to read, epigraphers sometimes take relief impressions with paper pulp. These impressions, called squeezes, are created by tamping down wet pulp to the stone surface using a brush. When the squeeze has dried, it may be removed from the stone and will reveal a 3-D relief of the inscription. We attempted to make a squeeze on part of the erased inscription with toilet paper and water, beating individual sheets into the surface with a brush and repeating the process with multiple layers. While our squeeze was effective in capturing the topography of the erased area, the portion of the inscription that we examined was so thoroughly defaced that it was not legible. As more of the inscription surface is revealed we will continue to study the lettering.

Elizabeth and Emily prepare a toilet paper squeeze of one portion 
of the inscription.

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