This week’s CC will feature Julie Lawson discussing some monsters she grew fond of while working for the exhibition “Beneath the Surface” Julie will be available to answer questions via the Penn Museum Facebook page between 1 and 2 pm EDT on Friday, October 30.
by Williams Project Conservator Alexis North
Yesterday, I was able to make several new friends, when the American section brought these objects up to the lab, in preparation for the reinstallation of our Mexico and Central America gallery:
These are a group of Zapotec ceramic effigy vessels from Mexico. These types of vessels are usually found in tombs, and their meaning depends on where and how they were buried. They are often found in groups, and with other associated burial materials.
Each of these effigy vessels is elaborately and uniquely decorated. Some have human faces, some are wearing masks, and some even have animal features.
Most of these vessels are in good condition, intact or with only small losses. At least two, however, will need a little more conservation to get them ready to display. This vessel was originally covered with a white stucco coating:
The stucco is now starting to lift from the surface, and any handling can cause small pieces of the stucco to fall off. It will need to be carefully stabilized before the vessel can go on display.
And this vessel shown below has some loose fragments which will need to be rejoined. Thankfully the amazing duck bill on his face is still intact!
For (a lot) more information and other examples of these types of vessels, check out the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., and their database on Zapotec effigy vessels.
Preparations for the opening of our new Middle Eastern Galleries are well underway. Take a peek into either of our lab spaces (both the Artifact Lab and our main lab spaces) and you’ll see a multitude of artifacts being treated for this upcoming exhibition.
I recently treated two ceramic human figurines which will be going into a case with several other figurines from Tureng Tepe, a site in northeastern Iran.
One is female, and mostly complete, and the other is a male torso.
Like most objects for the Middle Eastern Galleries, both of these objects needed treatment. And they represent two different reasons for treatment, which we commonly seen in our lab.
The female figure had a couple different problems. First, and most obviously, her head was detached.
The other problem stemmed from the fact that she had been treated before. In the 1980s, she was desalinated by soaking in water, and consolidated with PVA-AYAF, a polyvinyl acetate resin. Both of these interventions were important for the long-term structural stability of this piece. But the problem related to old treatment was an aesthetic one – there were areas on the body that were very discolored/gray, which made for a splotchy appearance overall. You can see these gray patches in the images above. These gray patches were also very shiny, and were related to a coating that had been applied to the figure at some point – possibly the old PVA consolidant.
Treatment of this figure included removing the darkened coating by swabbing with acetone, and some mechanical removal with bamboo skewers. The head was reattached with Paraloid B-72. There were some areas where the ceramic body was flaking and these areas were consolidated with a dilute solution of Paraloid B-72 in acetone and ethanol.
In contrast, the male figure had never been treated. When I first laid eyes on him, I thought to myself, “Terrific! This piece looks like it will just involve documentation. It will be in and out of the lab within a day or two.” Well, looks can be deceiving, and I quickly realized that the male figure had a soluble salt problem, related to the burial environment. I actually haven’t discussed soluble salts on this blog before. You can read a nice explanation of soluble salts, how they affect archaeological objects, and what we do about them, in Tessa de Alarcon’s blogpost on the Penn Museum blog.
The most obvious signs of soluble salts were the small flakes of ceramic sitting under the figure in its storage support. A quick spot test for chlorides was positive, so I made the decision to desalinate the figure by immersion in water for several days. After desalination, I readhered the small flakes, and the treatment was complete.
As I mentioned, these artifacts will go into a case with several other human figurines from Tureng Tepe. We have, or will be treating a number of figurines from several different sites for the Middle Eastern Galleries. I am including images of some of these figurines below. Personally, I like the ladies with their hands on their hips.