The Stonehenge Visitor Centre's new Collection
As part of their contribution to the English Heritage update of the Stonehenge Visitor Centre Wiltshire Conservation Service have been conserving items from collections across the county.
Many of the items chosen for display at the new Stonehenge Visitor centre have previously been conserved; presenting the conservation staff with a range of challenges.
Many items have been sampled; that is sections of material have been removed and sent away for scientific analysis. Such analysis can help to identify the materials and methods used in manufacture, can date the object or help archaeologists and curators to learn what the object was used for. In the past greater amounts of material were required for reliable results to be achieved therefore large areas were damaged and the appearance of the objects dramatically affected. For example the Ox mandible, seen in images 1 & 2, where a large area had previously been removed for analysis dramatically affecting the profile of the bone. For display it was felt that this area should be reconstructed to show the true shape of the mandible.
Often areas of sampling and damage are filled and tinted. For some of the objects chosen for this project the previous conservation treatments had either left an excess of fill material or the tinting of the fills was not very effective. In order to provide a more realistic impression of the items being displayed the conservator has cut back the fill material and tinted it more sympathetically providing a more balanced appearance (see image 3).
Similar challenges have been encountered with reconstructions of archaeological ceramics. The Neolithic ceramic, in image 7, is a reconstruction from a relatively small amount of original material. The colouring and form of the previous reconstruction, image 7, are now felt to be inaccurate. Over time styles of conservation have altered this is due to developments in knowledge and the materials available to conservators. Similar developments have also taken place in archaeology; the discovery of additional examples of objects and the results of new analytical techniques and research have altered the interpretation of many objects. In the case of the Neolithic ceramic, a specialist consultant had found that a more symmetrical form and a more upright rim would be a more accurate representation of such vessels. The conservator has adjusted the original restoration adding material to create a more rounded balanced vessel and adjusting the placement of the original ceramic sherds to lift the rim of the vessel. The mottled colouring was felt to give a better impression of a whole vessel providing more information for the spectator.
The most challenging object of this project was the ceramic beaker, the previous reconstruction was found to have left out a number of fragments which had been re-discovered recently. A specialist consultant advised that the additional fragments dramatically altered the profile of the vessel increasing its height and slimming the diameter. It was therefore not possible to simply adjust the previous reconstruction. The original ceramic fragments had to be removed from the reconstruction. Using the advice of the specialist a new profile was mapped and a clay core modelled to support the new reconstruction using a technique called spinning, image 10. The spinning technique has been used in other Wiltshire Conservation Service projects, see our website for details at the end of this article.
The original ceramic fragments were secured to the clay core with cocktail sticks and the plaster reconstruction carefully built up around them, image 12. Once the plaster had cured the clay core was removed and the reconstruction was tinted to provide a balanced appearance.
The re- conservation of objects is extremely interesting and challenging. It emphasises how much small changes to the appearance of an object can affect how it is viewed. It shows how much the techniques of treatment and the interpretation of objects can alter over time. It also emphasises how important it is to consider the potential reversal of the work that we carry out in the future. If inappropriate materials are used they can risk damage to objects and create many problems for conservators in the future.
Beth Werrett - Contract Conservator