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Conservation of a Neolithic plaster statue from Ain Ghazal, Jordan

Supervisors: Kathy Tubb, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, UK HansJoachim Leithner, University of Applied Sciences, Erfurt, Germany

Liesa Brierley

INTRODUCTION: A group of stunning anthropomorphic lime plaster statues was excavated at the Neolithic site of Ain Ghazal, Jordan in 1983 [1]. The statues, carbon dated to 8700 BP, were found stacked on top of each other in a pit. Due to the complexity of the find the whole cache was carefully block-lifted and transferred to the Institute of Archaeology, UCL in London for treatment. This poster describes the conservation of one of the statues following initial consolidation and separation. OBJECT DESCRIPTION: The bust-like figure has a stout body with an elongated slender neck that carries a relatively flat head. Facial features are simplified, dominated by the eyes, which are large and accentuated with a bituminous mastic. A broad ochre stripe runs across each cheek. The object was modelled by applying calcareous plaster over a bundle of reeds secured with twine, which can be reconstructed from well defined impressions of the plant materials in the plaster surface [2]. CONDITION: During burial the organic reed core had decomposed and the internal void thus created had partly collapsed, causing severe fragmentation and deformation. The neck section was broken into over 90 fragments and the nose is destroyed due to the pressure of an adjacent figure. The figure was previously part-consolidated and protective bandages were applied to allow for its separation from the cache [3]. The plaster was powdery and crumbling in non-consolidated areas. The surface was soiled, particularly at the lower body where dirt had inadvertently been brushed in during excavation. Considerable surface damage at the back of the figure appears to have been caused by insects. The bitumen applications were missing on the left eye and extremely brittle where preserved. The ochre pigment on the face was powdery.

Map of Jordan - Ain Ghazal is indicated in red

Object after separation from cache, as received for conservation treatment

Eye applications missing or brittle powdery pigment deformation and loss fragmentation (more than 100 parts) insect damage surface powdery and soiled brushed-in soil

Cache of statues still in-situ. The object discussed is highlighted in red (photo: B. F. Byrd).

Impressions of twine made from plant material on the internal surface of the plaster fragments

Mapping of damage

Schematic cross-sections of original and decayed states

Preparations for block-lifting,1983 (photo: B. F. Byrd).

Particularly fractured areas during and after conservation. Top left shows the temporary gauze facing applied to hold fragments together.

CONSERVATION: Old protective bandages and internal soil were carefully removed. Thorough mapping of the surface was undertaken for precise reconstruction. Loose fragments down to a size of 3mm were transferred to 1:1 scaled photographs of the figure to facilitate later repositioning. Particularly fractured areas were temporarily faced with gauze and Paraloid B-72. Surface cleaning was carried out under 10x magnification, mostly with scalpel and needle. Fragile areas, such as the ochre paint, were consolidated first using 5% Paraloid B-72 in acetone. In previously consolidated areas cleaning was carried out mostly with a 1:1 mixture of acetone and IMS applied with cotton swabs in a careful rolling manner. The front of the body with the brushed-in soil was successfully Laser cleaned in collaboration with the British Museum. Powdery and crumbly plaster was consolidated using 5% Paraloid B-72 in toluene. An internal Perspex support structure was designed to allow vertical presentation of the figure by taking the weight of the head off the fragile neck section. A bundle of seven Perspex rods of 3 and 4mm diameter were joined using dichloromethane and inserted into the void left by the decayed reed bundle. The void was then tightly padded with polyester wadding to stabilise the Perspex rods whilst preserving the internal impressions of reed and twine in the plaster. The support structure was first fitted into the main body and head. The fragmented neck section was then carefully assembled around the structure using Paraloid -B72. In missing areas small bridges of BJK dough, a mastic from jute flock, polyvinyl butyral, kaolin and solvents, were applied and covered with a smooth layer of glass micro-balloons in Paraloid B-72. The gap-filled areas were kept 1mm below original level and painted slightly lighter than the surrounding areas using matt Windsor and Newton acrylic paint. Bitumen applications that had become dislocated were re-attached using Klucel G. To transfer the extremely delicate fragments, only the surface tension of a small wetted cotton bud was used.

Assembly of neck section around internal Perspex support structure (photo: K. Tubb) REFERENCES

Re-attaching the embrittled bituminous mastic of eye and pupil

Gap filling using a small spatula carved from a cocktail stick

Application of glass micro balloons in Paraloid B-72 (photo: K. Tubb)


[1] Rollefson, G. O., The 1983 season at the early Neolithic site of Ain Ghazal, National geographic research 1 (1985) 44-62

I would like to thank my supervisor Kathy Tubb for entrusting me with this object and her continuous support. [2] Tubb, K. W., and Grissom C. A., Ayn Ghazl: a comparative study of the 1983 and 1985 statuary caches, Studies in the history I am indebted to Evangelisches Studienwerk e.V. Villigst and archaeology of Jordan, ed. Amr, K., Zayadin, F, and Zaghloul, M., Department of Antiquities, Amman 5 (1995) 437- 447 for generous sponsorship during my studies. [3] Tubb, K. W., Conservation of the lime plaster statues of Ain Ghazal, in Recent advances in the conservation and analysis of Contact: artefacts, ed. Black, J., Summer Schools Press University of London (1987) 387-391

Object after conservation