CONSERVATION OF A LYRE FROM UR: A TREATMENT REVIEW
1. The Near East Section of the museum had long wished to have a new soundbox constructed, and this was finally made possible by donations from the museum volunteer guides (1976) and the Kevorkian Fund (1977). James House Jr., a retired woodworker who had been an instructor in sculpture in the Fine Arts Department of the University of Pennsylvania, was hired to build the new soundbox. Owing to House's illness, the work was eventually completed by Mervin Martin, assisted by Edward MacLean. The head with its plaster neck and the shell plaque were removed from the old soundbox by House, assisted by conservators Virginia Greene, Diane Davies, and Victoria Jenssen and Winterthur/University of Delaware Conservation Program intern Shelley Reisman.
2. The conservation staff consulted the published excavation report (Woolley 1934) and requested copies of Woolley's original field notes and any treatment records from the British Museum. J. E. Curtis of the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities of the British Museum kindly sent copies of the relevant pages from Woolley's field notes; these contained less information than the published report. A search of the photographic records of the excavation did not turn up additional pictures of the lyre or any records relating to the restoration of the head or plaque. The soundbox is known to have been fabricated at the University of Pennsylvania Museum (de Schauensee 2001, 51).Woolley's report includes a picture of the restored head (Woolley 1934, pl. 107). The work on the head may have been carried out either in the field or in London, possibly by Woolley himself or under his supervision. It is more likely that it was done in London at a time when Woolley was in the field. It also seems likely, from the absence of information in his field notes, that Woolley wrote much of his report from memory and/or based on information from others that may have been a treatment proposal rather than a report of the actual treatment. It is unlikely that the gold was annealed, and there is no description of the “reduction” process supposedly carried out on the silver sheet or evidence of any treatment of the silver beyond superficial cleaning. The hard gray material found behind one eyeball may be the “plastic wood” mentioned by Woolley, although the product with that trade name sold in the United States is light brown, not as fine-grained, and considerably less dense.
3. The author heard a paper (and observed a demonstration) on this technique at the 1975 American Institute for Conservation Annual Meeting in Mexico City. There are no abstracts or preprints available for this meeting, but a published report was later located (Montero 1974).
de Schauensee, M.2001. Two lyres from Ur.Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum.
Forbes, R. J.1964. Studies in ancient technology,vol. 1. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
Montero, S. A.1974. Un nuevo soporte para pinturas murales. Boletin INAH (Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia e Historia) 10: 27–34, English abstract in Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts 15(1978) no. 151479, BCIN (Bibliographic Database of the Conservation Information Network) no. 52515.
Moorey, P. R. S.1977. What do we know about the people buried in the Royal Cemetery? Expedition20:24–40.
Woolley, C. L.1934. The Royal Cemetery. Vol. 2of Ur excavations. Joint Expedition of the British Museum and of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania to Mesopotamia.London: Oxford University Press for the Trustees of the Two Museums.
VIRGINIA GREENE has an M. A. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and a diploma in the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials (with distinction) from the Institute of Archaeology, University of London. She has been head of the Conservation Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, since 1972. Remaining a generalist out of both choice and necessity, she treats a wide variety of archaeological and ethnographic objects and is involved in the planning and oversight of storage renovation and other construction projects at the University Museum. Address: Conservation Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania Museum, 33d and Spruce Sts., Philadelphia, Pa. 19104