Mosaic moving

There was a lot of after-the-burglary chat all day today. Steve said we should have woken him up because, being a policeman, he would have been given back a holiday and been paid heaps of overtime for the arrest. Apparently the two thieves were trainee marines so that puts paid to any thoughts of continuing as such. Almost feel sorry for them because they have no future in robbing things either.

First thing this morning we were back digging the robber trench, looking for the edges of the wall. At 11 we had a session with John showing us how to fill in a context report. There’s an awful lot of bureaucracy in archaeology but it means a lot of data collection can be achieved and then be manipulated in many ways. After this enlightenment we went back to the site for some cleaning up of our context so it can be drawn.

One of the walls appears to have another coming off it at right angles and most of the morning David Rudkin, David M and John were hard at work trying to find it.

After lunch we started a section further up the eastern end of the wall and I’d just reached the top of the foundations when it was time to clear up for the day. We have a two hour session tomorrow morning so the volunteers will probably get to work on it now! That’s the bugger with being a trainee.

Uncovering a Roman wall

We had a hard-to-stay-awake lecture and slide show on finds conservation from 7.30 – 8.30. It wasn’t the content, as it was very interesting but the room was small and stuffy, we’d all been working physically in the sun all day and some of us hadn’t got a lot of sleep the night before.

What I did learn from the session was that these days the thinking behind a lot of (particularly metal) finds is not to take off all the corrosion and muck but to x-ray them to see what the object is, before deciding what to do with it. In the past too many objects have been ruined by enthusiastic but misguided cleaning up.

We also found out how they move mosaics which is pretty amazing and something I’ve wondered about since seeing the big ones in the palace. It’s very long and involved but in a nutshell…they photograph it, trace it onto film, ‘map’ the whole thing out then slice a layer underneath.

On top of the mosaic goes an adhesive followed by a muslin-like cloth. This has grid lines drawn on it to match the grid lines drawn in the mapping process. Using a Stanley knife, the conservator slices the mosaic along areas that won’t be too noticeable once it’s reassembled – racks, matching black lines, etc. The bits are then turned upside down and glued to bits of board with bolts set into it.

By combining the plotted lines, the tracing and the photographs it is then placed back into position where the material is finally pealed off and voila! A mosaic. It takes a long time to accomplish but must be very satisfying. Sort of like a very big and heavy jigsaw puzzle.

After the session we all settled down for our English bar-b-que. It was a bit mellow after last night. Mostly just sat in a gradually growing then gradually diminishing circle at the foot of one of the mounds. There was no rolling tonight. We finished up in the portacabin, trying to finish the beer. Finally went to bed just after 1am.

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