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Cymraeg

Re-conserving the Caergwrle bowl

Staff:Mary Davis
gold oars and wave decoration
The Caergwrle bowl's delicate sheets of gold decoration, symbolising oars and waves

The Caergwrle bowl is a unique votive object dating to the Middle Bronze Age, and originally manufactured from shale, tin and gold. It is thought to represent a boat, with its applied gold decoration signifying shields, oars and waves. The incomplete broken bowl was found in 1823 by a workman digging a drain in a field below Caergwrle Castle, in north Wales. It was donated to the National Museum of Wales in 1912, and sent to London for restoration by British Museum staff where it was reconstructed mainly from wax plus various adhesives to re-attach the decoration. Since then, although this original restoration stood the test of time in many respects, there were increasing problems with its physical stability; the gold foil decoration was torn and bent, and sometimes came away altogether from the wax; over-application of the wax had also obscured some important details.

Recently the bowl has undergone re-conservation for display in the new archaeology display 'Origins: in search of early Wales' gallery at National Museum Cardiff. Old repairs have been taken down where possible and ancient technology and original construction techniques have been re-examined: for example gold foil was wrapped around tin and inserted into recesses cut into the shale. SEM, FTIR and XRD have been used to identify both modern and ancient materials. The bowl is now reconstructed and restored using modern materials; the shape of the complete vessel has been retained to aid interpretation and maintains the overall appearance of the object.

Caergwrle bowl
The symbolism of the boat reminds us of the importance of far-flung sea trading contacts during the European Bronze Age.