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Archaeology

December 2010

Face to Face with the Past ... Part Two

Posted by Chris Owen on 10 December 2010

One of the most popular displays at the National Roman Legion Museum is a stone coffin that contains the skeleton of a Roman man. The coffin also contains the remains of grave goods that he would need for their next life, including the base of a shale bowl and fragments of a glass perfume or ointment bottle.

» See Part One

Step 17

Coffin Lid

Now we turn our attention to the coffin lid.

Like the base it was broken by the digger. Here it is with all the fragments lined up ready to be joined. Some areas are missing, but the gaps will allow people to see inside the coffin when it is put back on display.

Step 18

Top of the lid

The top of the lid looks so uneven and eroded because acid rain soaked into the soil has dissolved the limestone. This process eventually leads to the formation of limestone caves in nature. Solution holes, the start of mini 'caves', can be seen in the lid.

Step 19

Drilling the lid

Adhesive alone may not be strong enough to keep the heavy fragments of stone together.

To help strengthen the bond, metal rods will be inserted across the join. Holes have to be drilled into the broken edges of the stone. This is a tense moment as any mistakes could cause further damage.

The stone could split or flake; we just don't know how it will react to the drilling!

Step 20

Drilling the lid

Thankfully all goes well and the drill makes light work of the task.

That pile of stone dust will also come in useful; we can mix it with the glue to help secure the rods.

Step 21

Dabbing paint

Another hole now has to be drilled in the edge of the adjoining fragment; this must match up perfectly to allow the rod to fit across the break.

First stage is to dab paint thickly around the freshly drilled hole.

Step 22

Placing fragment

The fragment is then placed in position and pressure applied.

This has to be done quickly before the paint blobs dry, but also with care as we don't want paint smeared everywhere

Step 23

Imprint

Success!

The paint has left a good imprint on the other fragment, so we know where to drill the second hole to fit the rod.

Step 24

Cutting metal rods

The metal rods now have to be cut to the right length, about 7cm.

This was harder than we thought as the stainless steel is very tough. We had to stop several times as the blade kept heating up.

Only 6 more to go!

Step 25

Aligning the pieces

With the metal rods in place within the join and epoxy glue applied, the two pieces are brought together.

Care is taken to align the edges before the two sections are held in place and the adhesive allowed to set.

Step 26

Stuck together

All stuck together now.

Hopefully the metal dowels will give the extra strength required, especially as we have to move the lid from the workshop in the basement to the gallery upstairs, where at last it can be reunited with its base.

Unfortunately we have no lift....any ideas!

Step 27

The team

The only option is good old fashioned man power just like the Romans!

Here some of the team (our modern day Roman slaves) take a well deserved break after bringing one of the coffin lid fragments up the stairs.

Step 28

Laying the skeleton out

Before the lid is put in place the skeleton has to be laid out again. Being careful to get it right!

Unfortunately one item will be missing for a while and that's the skull. This is needed for analysis as we try and find out more about the man buried in the coffin 1800 years ago.

Step 29

Perspex cover

Once everything is in place a new Perspex cover can be installed to support the stone fragments of the lid.

The Perspex is only 1cm thick so hopefully it will be robust enough to take the weight of the solid Bath stone blocks.

Step 30

Installing the lid

Now the tricky task of installing the lid begins.

Thankfully all goes well and the Perspex proves strong enough to take the weight.

At last, 15 years since its discovery, the lid is once more back where it belongs, on top of the coffin.

Although the lid partially obscures the contents of the coffin, new lights will be installed to help illuminate the interior.

Step 31

Skull

The first phase of the redisplay is now complete, so in the second phase we turn our attention to the Skull.

Follow the blog as we attempt to learn more about the man buried in the coffin.

Where did he grow up and what did he look like?

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