University College London, Institute of Archaeology Collections
Bone inlay fragments from a wooden object (not present), Middle Bronze Age II, Tell el-'Ajuul Owner: Institute of Archaeology Collections Materials: Bone, wax/resin, carbon black pigment
Bone inlay fragments, forty-seven in total. The majority have been incised with diagonal slashes along one edge. Some are further decorated with circular, impressed designs with a dot in the centre. The remains of black pigment and/or a waxy substance are present in the incised decorations. Some of the fragments have small (0.3 millimetre diameter) holes bored through them. Nine small fragments that did not match the patterns of the larger pieces were returned to Rachael Sparks and the Institute of Archaeology Collections.
The bone fragments were excavated from Tell el-‘Ajjul, modern-day Israel, Tomb 1735 by Sir Flinders Petrie from 1930-1938. Tell el-‘Ajjul was the site of the ancient city of Gaza (Robinson, 1932). Bone inlay was used to cover wooden boxes, alabaster vases, bronze weapons, and furniture in the Middle Bronze Age II. Common designs include concentric circles and zig-zag lines—both of which appear on these particular fragments.
Most of the fragments are dirty. There is sediment embedded in the grains in the bone. All of the pieces have break edges. Some appear to have been broken after excavation as they have edges that are not soiled. 29 pieces refit into bands. 5 pieces do not appear to connect to any others. The mount the objects came in to the lab in was not appropriate to support the larger delicate fragments and allow easy access. The smaller fragments were not supported in any way and were floating around in the bottom of the box.
The surface of the fragments was cleaned lightly with a combination of denatured alcohol on cotton swabs to loosen the dirt and Groomstick (modified natural rubber) to pick up loose sediment. Though it was tested, Smoke Sponge (vulcanised rubber) required too much pressure to pick up the sediment so it was not used. Cleaning was taken to a level where all loose sediment was removed from the fragments, but friable resin and paint pigments were left in place. Over-cleaning the objects would have left them looking out of place in relation to other conserved bone inlay fragments in the Institute of Archaeology’s Collections.
The fragments were viewed under a microscope at 1.0 magnification to attempt to determine which pieces, if any, fit together. Many more pieces than previously thought actually fit together.
The fragments, which definitively fit together were all re-adhered with the exception of four. The pieces that were not re-adhered could not be reattached without backing and further stabilisation, which would impede their study-ability. Both sets are instead displayed very close together in the mount to show that they go together (below). Pieces with similar surface decoration and thickness and may have originally fit together were displayed close to each other as well. Reconstruction was accomplished using Paraloid B-72 (ethyl methacrylate copolymer) 40% w/v in acetone because of its reversibility and ease of use. Fragments were reattached one by one and held in place to set with Plastazote (polyethylene foam) scraps held in place with small pins.
Finally, the fragments were placed in a custom-cut Plastazote mount with finger holes to allow easy and safe handling.