JAIC 2003, Volume 42, Number 2, Article 6 (pp. 261 to 278)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2003, Volume 42, Number 2, Article 6 (pp. 261 to 278)

CONSERVATION OF A LYRE FROM UR: A TREATMENT REVIEW

VIRGINIA GREENE



4 CONDITION OF THE HEAD BEFORE TREATMENT

The head, horns, and ears were filled with plaster. There were many small cracks and tears in the gold sheet of the head and some distortion of the torn edges (see fig. 2a). The plaster neck with the reproduction inlay overlapped the edge of the gold sheet. Many small creases were visible around the nose, probably produced when the gold sheet was reshaped after excavation. The lapis and shell eyes were covered with a film of wax and dirt, but there were no visible losses or damage.

The ears were secured in place with wooden pegs and a clear adhesive. The adhesive, which had the appearance of cellulose nitrate, had deteriorated, and the pegs were loose. The gold sheet of both horns had numerous cracks and tears, with some distortion of the edges (fig. 11, see page 250), which was particularly severe on the proper left horn. The plaster core of this horn had been broken and then repaired with what appeared to be cellulose nitrate adhesive. Below the repair the gold had almost entirely separated from the plaster. About 5 mm was missing from the end of the proper right tip.

The hair and beard tiles were set into a matrix of dark brown wax and also covered with a film of wax and dirt. A yellow wax had been applied around the beard at the point where it was inserted into the head. The edges and back of the beard were covered with metallic silver paint over a layer of ocher yellow paint. The original silver backing was not visible. The edges of the beard were chipped in several places, exposing a modern plaster support, and there was considerable separation of the lapis tiles and wax from the underlying plaster.

A small sample of the dark brown wax was examined under the microscope. Under 20x it appeared as a translucent, slightly yellow wax with dark brown grains of varying sizes. These grains are almost certainly the remains of the original bitumen adhesive, preserved by Woolley when he poured paraffin wax over the beard.

On the basis of the available information, it was assumed that the dark brown wax dated from the time of excavation and that all other visible restoration materials, including plaster, adhesives, and wood pegs, had been added at the time of the first restoration. The head was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for radiographic examination. This examination revealed a large, U-shaped armature inside the head, presumed to be part of the first restoration, but no other evidence of a support system, ancient or modern (de Schauensee 2001, pls. 31a, b).

The curatorial staff then approved the removal of the plaster neck from the head. This procedure exposed the ends of the iron armature. Some rusting of the iron had occurred, and removal of the armature was clearly advisable. The curators also wanted to be able to easily remove the head and plaque from the new soundbox for study, and this step would be difficult to achieve without removal of the old plaster and armature. The damage to the gold sheet needed to be repaired and the areas with cracks and splits given more adequate support. In addition, in spite of the care taken in handling, the beard broke off close to the head when the plaster neck was removed (fig. 12, see page 250). It was then clear that the beard was composed of not one but several layers of plaster, interleaved with wax and fabric. There were many areas of cleavage between the layers, as well as cracks and crevices in the plaster itself, which would make it difficult as well as undesirable to simply reattach the beard. Traces of the original silver beard backing could be seen inside the head, and both conservation and curatorial staff felt that all the original silver should, if possible, be exposed, cleaned, and photographed.

The decision was therefore made to take the head completely apart, clean and photograph all component parts, and reassemble it with a new support system that would allow the head and plaque to be easily removed from the soundbox.


Copyright 2003 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works