Conservation in Action: Etruscan Sarcophagi, October 2012

Treatment of two sarcophagi, Etruscan Late Classical or Early Hellenistic:
October 2012

The next focus is on the removal of dirt and grime from the base and lid of the larger sarcophagus. To reduce the oily soiling that has accumulated from visitor touching, cotton pads saturated with benzyl alcohol are placed onto the stained areas of the stone surfaces (below). Gradually as the solvent evaporates, the oily grime moves from the stone and into the absorbent pad.

Structural work to address the networked cracks in the stone and deteriorating repairs is also underway. Weakness in the stone is being strengthened by injecting an acrylic resin into the cracks. Failing restorations, undertaken more than 100 years ago, are being dismantled so that the fragments can be reattached with stronger adhesives. Below, warm water is applied to a fragmented area previously adhered with animal hide glue. The heat lamp shown in the background warms the area, which aids in the swelling and loosening of the glue.


At the same time, in-depth analysis of the original paints, the majority of which are undetectable to the naked eye, enable the identification of a palette of red, yellow, pink, blue, white, and black paints. The magnified image below shows red pigment located on the griffin’s wing of the larger sarcophagus.

Through visible-induced luminescence (VIL), a relatively new infrared imaging technique, conservators also determine that Egyptian blue pigment was used in many areas on the larger coffin. The bright white specks visible in the VIL image (below left) represent concentrated areas of Egyptian blue pigment within the death-demon’s wings and in the background, above the demon’s proper right arm.


In order to begin the design and fabrication of supportive mounts, the lid of the smaller sarcophagus is removed. A mobile gantry and rigging system is used to lift the stone lid within a steel frame custom-designed to permit fine adjustments in the support during lifting. This method ensures controlled movement, which is critical because the lid contains old repairs of uncertain integrity. The lid is then lowered onto a steel handling frame (pictured in the foreground), which will allow it to be safely moved and repositioned within the workspace.

See next update.