Conserving the Curse Tablet

In the fall of 2011, the conservation of the Plotius tablet began in order to make the object more accessible for study and exhibition, and to ensure that no additional pieces of the tablet would break further and render the tablet less legible. As of 2011, the Plotius tablet consisted of 61 fragments, some relatively large (nearly 4cm wide), and some so minuscule (less than 0.4cm wide) that they cannot be reunited with the original tablet.

Stabilizing fragment "25". At Left: the front of PL 25; Center: the back of PL 25 showing cracks in the lead that were in danger of breaking; Right: After backing the cracks with a piece of Japanese paper and appropriate adhesive.

The first part of the treatment involved documenting the fragments through photography and written records, followed by minimal cleaning using solvents to remove some of the accumulated dust and dirt from the surfaces. Many fragments were badly distorted as a result of the tablets being rolled in antiquity and unrolled in the early twentieth century. Numerous cracks that had formed over time needed to be stabilized to ensure that fragments didn’t break further along these points of weakness. The image below shows the process of backing a fragment by adhering a piece of nearly translucent Japanese paper over the crack as a stabilizing bandage using the conservation adhesive Acryloid B-72. More than 50 such bandages were applied over the backs of fragments in the course of this treatment (as shown above).

The front of joined fragments labeled "6", "44" and "61", and the back view showing the repairs.

Of the 61 total fragments belonging to the Plotius tablet, 43 small and medium sized fragments were re-adhered together to form 18 larger fragments which could then be placed in a stable display mount.  An example of this work shows four fragments readhered together using a backing of Japanese paper and Acryloid B72 conservation adhesive is seen at left.

Preparing the Tablet for Display

During the mounting of the 18 large fragments onto the archival board.

Since many of the fragments are distorted as a result of the original use of the tablet and its later unrolling, it was impossible to re-attach all of the fragments together.  Instead, fragments were pinned in place on an archival foam board so that they can be easily seen but also quickly removed for study and closer examination. It was decided to place the fragments on a painted sheet of archival Japanese paper in order to mimic the original, complete appearance of the Plotius tablet.

Conserving the Nail

Archaeological iron and lead are often poorly preserved when removed from the ground.  In the case of the iron nail, we have evidence of its unstable condition dating to exactly one hundred years ago.  Fox published an image of the already deteriorating nail in his 1911 dissertation (see far left, below), and in the intervening century, the condition of the nail has grown worse.  In 2011, the expanding rust on the nail had split it into four sections and dispersed once attached lead fragments, as seen in the photograph marked “BT” or “before treatment” below.  During the conservation treatment, all fragments were lightly cleaned and stabilized, and the three sections of the nail which could still be re-attached were reunited in an archival tray.

The nail in 1911; before treatment in September 2011; during treatment; and after treatment in October 2011.