Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Alabaster Alabastron

An archaeological excavation demonstrates the complementary skills of archaeologists and conservators and many others.  Archaeologists are experts in the history and material culture of a site, while conservators are knowledgeable about the materials and techniques used to create art and artifacts as well the steps needed to conserve and restore things. 

The fragments of this alabastron, a container made of alabaster or other materials for holding scented oils, were recovered in several different loci (excavation units) over a few years of excavations.  The archaeologists recognized the significance of the find and gathered the pieces together. 

Before Treatment

Then pieces were then given over to conservation.  After examining and documenting the fragments, I reconstructed the vessel using my favorite adhesive, Acryloid B-72, poly(ethyl methacrylate).  If the alabastron were going on display in a museum, I might have filled the gaps between fragments, possibly with a mixture of B-72 bulked with fumed silica or glass microballoons.  But like on most archaeological excavations, the goal of the conservator is to only stabilize the artifact and make it available for research.  Therefore, replacement of the losses is unnecessary.  Here is the finished alabastron.

After Treatment

Now the object is ready to go back to the archaeologist, who will draw and photograph the object and continue research on its significance.  An alabastron as large as this one (9 cm in diameter and over 13 cm in length) was probably imported; archaeologists can use the find to develop theories about trade and social interactions.

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