Research for this poster was conducted as part of the course “Science of Conservation Materials and Methods I” (CAEM M216) and presented at the Annual Conference of the Association of North American Graduate Programs in Conservation (ANAGPIC), Buffalo State College, April 24-25, 2009
The production of lacquer varnishes has a long history in Chinese arts and crafts that dates to the Qin (221-206 BCE) and Han (206 BCE-220 AD) Dynasties. Unfortunately, lacquer wares (commonly made with a wooden substrate) from burial sites especially in northern China were seldom preserved, owing to underground water, seasonal fluctuations and other unfavorable conditions such as soil chemistry. What archaeologists usually find on excavation sites are pieces of lacquer stuck on wet soil; the wooden substrate having completely deteriorated.
This project explores different approaches and materials that would enable conservators and archaeologists to safely lift fragile lacquer fragments without causing further mechanical damage, while keeping humidity constant, thus preventing the shrinkage of the lacquer. A series of experiments were therefore formulated simulating burial conditions containing lacquer fragments and different conservation materials and methods were tested to determine how best to lift the fragile lacquer. The best results were obtained by facing the lacquer with molten cyclododecane (CDD), a waxy cyclic hydrocarbon that sublimes at room temperature, over pre-wet, loose-woven cotton cloth. By utilizing the versatile properties of CDD and the pre-wet cloth, the lacquer fragments were successfully lifted from the experimental setting without further observable damages and without causing any chemical or physical alteration.