Unit Book A16
A16 Syntetic View / Conservation

Conservation laboratory activities for Unit A16

Sophie Bonetti – August 2002

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The 2001 season has been very rich in conservators since there were 5 persons to do the metals, one for the pottery, and the writer for the rest of the objects and for recording data.

Beatrice Angeli, the conservator from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence and the writer’s former teacher, has started to come to Mozan since 1999, and after an institutional agreement was reached between the IIMAS and the OPD in the fall of ‘99, three years later she has been able to bring along 4 students in their second year of the bronzes restoration program. The five of them have been working on a large amount of metal pieces from the previous seasons and from the current season, selecting the most meaningful pieces in order to send them to the Deir-ez Zor museum. Most of the pieces have been photographed before and after the treatment, and have been drawn by the conservators themselves.

The students, at their first experience in the field, have taken part in some aspect of the work in the excavation, especially with regard to the excavation of metal artifacts. Some of them have also been actively digging, and others have drawn several burials. Their involvement in the excavation itself was one of the most meaningful aspects of the collaboration between IIMAS and OPD.

The restoration of pottery was mainly carried out by Steff Mustafa who has been doing that under the writer’s supervision for the last 4 years. All the other artifacts such as unbaked clay figurines, sealing impressions, stamp seals, were treated by the writer.

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The number of pieces from A16 that passed through conservation amounts to 40, 28 of which are metals.

Of these, 15 have not been treated for lack of time, especially since most of them had been found toward the end of the season when the Opificio team had already left. Usually about a third of the metal finds are whole pieces, and two thirds are fragmentary and broken. With A16 the ratio of whole pieces/fragmentary pieces is almost exactly one third: 9 to 28! Looking at this number it may seem that metal finds are the most common material found on the dig, since 28 objects out of 40 are metal, but this is untrue: the majority of the material is undoubtedly ceramic. It must be considered that 99% of the sherds that are excavated are processed for ceramic statistics and don’t need any conservation; the ceramic material that needs a treatment is mainly composed of vessels that are found broken in the ground but almost complete and can be reconstructed.

If a vessel turns out to be missing too many pieces for it to be reconstructed, an attempt is made to reconstruct at least the profile in order to draw the section. This was the case for instance with half a large jar that was found used as a burial (A16.71).

If found in graves, the ceramic vessels are usually whole; if found in private houses they are usually fragmentary, sometimes they are found fractured but still with their original shape because of the dirt.

When a pot smash is found, where it is unclear at a first sight if the shape could be reconstructed or not, the only thing to do is to try to reconstruct it, by looking first at how much of the base and of the rim are present. If there is enough surface, the reconstruction is attempted and the gaps left by missing sherds are reconstructed in plaster. If there is not enough material, as it turned out to be the case of a cooking pot (i30, see photo of how it was found, v41), there is no point in trying to reconstruct it.

All of the whole or reconstructed vessels are subsequentially drawn and photographed.
Of the 40 pieces of the A16 conservation list, 6 are ceramic vessels that have been reconstructed, 4 jars (see A16.2, A16.9) and 2 bowls (see A16.58) of various sizes. Besides these reconstructed shapes (except one, A16.71 which is only half a jar along the vertical section), there were 2 more vessels that came out intact from the ground, a small jar (A16.14) and a carinated bowl (A16.45), and there may be another 4 pieces coming from the 3 graves excavated at the end of the excavation season(A16.61,62,63,64) the material of which still need to be processed.

The clay figurines, usually animals, and the seal impressions are the categories of finds that immediately follow the metals and usually need some conservation, such as cleaning, consolidation and gluing. While the animal figurines, often found intact, can easily by cleaned of the excess dirt by the person responsible for the objects, and thus are not taken to conservation, this is usually not the case with the much more delicate sealing impressions that in 90% of the cases are taken to conservation, where they are left to dry and then are cleaned. Depending on the quality of the clay and on its hardness, they can be very hard and easy to clean, or extremely crumbly and difficult. To clean these, a magnifying lens and in some cases a microscope are usually necessary, together with scalpels, dental tools, needles. From A16, only 2 seal impressions came to conservation out of 4 (A16.17, A16.24), and none of the 9 triangulated figurines needed any conservation. One of these is a beautiful horse head with a harness (A16.23).

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Categories of objects

Of all the finds, some of the more significant are the following: a stone seal with geometric pattern (A16.44) partially obscured by thick calcar corrosion; a large piece of a seal impression made of hard,black clay (A16.17), a large fragment of the back, upper part of an andiron with punched holes decoration (A16.19), but certainly the most important ones are some of the metals: one is a bronze conical point that has holes in it and therefore seems to be a strainer made to fit a straw, possibly to filter beverages (A16.10). This is a case where conservation has really helped to find out about the original function of the piece: prior the cleaning, the metal surface was barely visible, the shape being covered by a thick layer of soil and according to the conical shape, at first the piece was thought to be a javelin tip. This kind of strainer could be connected for its use to other kinds of strainer which are not uncommon to find, the small ceramic ones shaped as small bowls, which had likely a similar use. There is a fine example, A16.16, found intact in the ground.

The other main piece from A16 is unfortunately in very critical condition: it is a bronze vessel shaped (A16.29) as a cylindrical bucket that was found near a burial, next to a female skeleton that had silver round earrings by the head. Although the connection of the bucket to the burial is not certain in terms of stratigraphy, it is likely. The bronze vessel was all cracked but held together by the soil. Several roots had contributed to the damage. The rim is missing a part; originally there was probably a handle. The piece was excavated with a bloc of soil around it because it appeared from the beginning as a long and delicate treatment. The work of micro excavation was partially carried out into a room next to the conservation lab by Beatrice Angeli and her students. As the soil is removed from its internal and external surface the fractured pieces are taken apart. It will be a long term project, since the bronze fragments are very numerous, thin and very corroded, the metal is very fragile. Once all the pieces will be taken apart, they will need to be cleaned before they are consolidated and glued back together. For the moment the bucket fragments have been numbered and sketched in order to make the reconstruction easier. It is certainly a very significant find that, if the connection to the burial is proven, would make the status of the dead person buried next to it very high: the dead were always accompanied by some ceramic vessels, sometimes also by bronze objects such as weapons for men and bracelets, earrings, rings for women.Often children are found with bronze or silver bracelets. In some cases there are also remains of beads necklaces. But a large bronze bucket such as this one is certainly very rare; a seal impression from our excavation shows a woman carrying such a bucket in a cultic ceremony.

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