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A large greyware vessel was excavated by Navenby Archaeology Group (NAG) in 2013, from a site along what is known as 'High Dyke'. High Dyke follows the path of the old Roman road, Ermine Street, and excavations by the group over several years have revealed some truly exciting evidence of a busy Roman settlement. The vessel excavated in 2013 was remarkable, because it was almost entirely complete - only approximately four small pieces (measuring 4-7mm across on average) were missing. There was evidence of skilled craftsmanship, and a beautiful swirling design around the body, made with a burnisher while the pot was in the 'leather hard' stage of drying. These things could not be truly appreciated while the pot was in pieces though, and so the members of NAG commissioned us to reconstruct it.

 

Adhesive tape stains to ceramic body before (left), during (centre) and after solvent cleaning treatment
 Adhesive tape stains to ceramic body before (left), during (centre) and after solvent cleaning treatment. 
 

Despite its age and extended period of burial the vessel was in excellent condition. There were the four small missing pieces mentioned about, and two areas where the outermost layer of ceramic had delaminated (broken away from the layers below), but there was little wear or loss of material to the break edges, meaning that it was possible to get a good join between sherds, with only minor gaps. The vessel had been temporarily reconstructed before, possibly more than once. There was evidence of at least two types of pressure-sensitive adhesive tape having been used in this process. These appeared to be similar to self-adhesive brown parcel tape, and ‘Micropore’ medical tape. Both had deteriorated, causing staining to the surface of the pot.

 

Shatter diagram, showing how the pieces of the pot related to one another
Shatter diagram, showing how the pieces of the pot related to one another.
 

 Solvent tests were carried out to establish the most effective way of reducing or removing the staining and adhesive residues caused by the previous reconstruction of the vessel. Testing showed that applying acetone on cotton swabs to the affected areas removed any remaining adhesive residue from the surface, whilst application of xylene by the same method afterwards removed the deeper staining of the ceramic body and any more stubborn adhesive residues.

 

Navenby Archaeology Group Roman Greyware vessel, after conservation
Navenby Archaeology Group Roman Greyware vessel, after conservation.
 

After the staining was treated, the pieces were laid out and a 'shatter diagram' made to record how each piece related to the others. A ‘dry stick’ process was carried out to determine how well the sherds would fit together, and the best order in which to bond them (the ‘sticking order’) so that no pieces would be ‘locked out’ during the final bond. Small pieces of masking tape were used as a temporary means of bonding the sherds during this process. Finally, the sherds were bonded together using HMG Paraloid B72 (20% solution in acetone). This is a conservation grade acrylic copolymer adhesive which is virtually colourless and resistant to yellowing over time.

 

Tweet from Navenby Archaeology Group
A tweet from Navenby Archaeology Group shows how pleased
they were with the reconstruction!
 

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