Wednesday, February 19, 2014
During a conservation season, even a short one, interesting informational details and conservation problems arise. Certainly, we have had some of both during this season and I have included examples to emphasize this reality.
As hard as it might be to imagine, many of the surviving mud brick walls have mud plaster still attached, some with no remnants of finishes, some with patches of a white wash and a few with highly decorated surfaces. All of the known plasters are protected by layers of clean white sand or similar protective materials, some of which are exposed when walls are cleaned in preparation for stabilizing and capping the walls. The more highly decorated walls are not the subject for conservation treatment but many of the others are. When the stabilization and wall cleaning is complete, the lower parts containing the plasters will again be protected and covered with clean white sand. However while they are exposed, we try to conserve those that appear particularly vulnerable. Specifically, if the plaster has detached from the mud brick substrate it is cleaned and carefully reattached. The cleaning is of the space between the plaster and
mud brick and involves removing fine sand and silt that has accumulated there. Once it is removed, fine grain mud grout is applied in the resulting void to reattach the plaster to the substrate and a mud cap or a bead of mud applied to seal the top of the plaster, preventing additional sand and silt from accumulating. This approach is intended to protect the plaster from falling from the wall; it does not address any other conservation need, such as a typical condition of a friable surface. If these plasters are left exposed they will require additional conservation treatments.
Two sizes of mud brick were used in the construction of the main palace and we have replicated those sizes for the conservation work. The smaller size is approximately 15cm x 30cm x 8cm and the larger is 20cm x 40cm x 10cm. In some cases one size is found consistently in a particular wall; in other cases, we find a mix of the different sizes in the same wall. We also find large bricks in thin walls and small bricks in larger walls. There may be a pattern, but we have not identified it yet. The use of the different sizes is an interesting detail and one that is important as we replicate the bonding patterns in the new mud brick masonry.
Another interesting detail is the existence of ancient bricks stamped with the identification of Amenhotep III. It doesn’t appear that all bricks are stamped although some have no doubt eroded and the stamped impressions are no longer visible.
Of course, we also stamp all our new bricks so that they can be easily identified in the future. In this case I guess we could say, “If it was good enough for Amenhotep III, it is good enough for us.”