Thursday, 8 June 2017

Object Assessment of the Nasca Bowl G. 046

The object (G. 046) assessed in this report is a pottery vessel with a gently curved rim with a flaring out lip and a rounded base, which belongs to the Ethnographic Collection at UCL (  The height and the diameter of the upper rim are both 15 cm; the circumference of the waist is 52 cm; the thickness of the wall is 0.4 cm. An Anthropomorphic Mythical Being is depicted on the exterior surface of the pottery ware. The figure seems to be a human monster, combining a human face and a lower animal, perhaps a centipede or scorpion. The eyes are wide open, and the bottom part of the face seems to be covered with a mouth-mask extending with wing-like projections to each side. Tentacle-like projections are found under the face with two human hands or feet.
Image 1 A front view of the pottery ware G. 046. 

Nasca people express their idea of art and religion through pottery wares. The aesthetic value started to attract collectors and scholars in the 1900s. Archaeologists were able to develop a chronology relying on the artistic style of the Nasca pottery. It is uncertain when, where and why Sir Henry Wellcome collected those Nasca ceramics, but because of the Wellcome Collection’s change of focus, those ceramic objects were donated to UCL Anthropology Department. The Nasca pottery wares were then used as a teaching tool.
Image 2 A close-up photo of the flaking surface.
Image 3 A photo of the interior surface of the object, which shows the missing paints.
    The whole structure of the vessel is complete. Small portions of paints are missing on the internal surface. Some abrasions are found in the lower area of the external surface. Paint in the lower area adjoining to the decoration is flaking off, which seems to be the most serious issue of the pottery ware. Adhesive remnants were detected under the Ultraviolet light, possibly caused by the incomplete removal of labels. With the help of Dr O’Grady, a solubility test was carried out on the flaking off paints in an attempt to narrow down the possibility of the material. 

The paint was extraordinarily brittle, which was easily broken into pieces. The solubility of the paint was tested in three different solutions: water, IMS (alcohol), and acetone. It turned out that the paint was insoluble in all the three solutions. Therefore, Dr O’Grady suggested that the paint might not be the ceramic surface (slip paint), and it was possibly applied post firing. There are two hypotheses: one is that the paint is the evidence of the previous repair and the other is that the entire vessel is fake. A thorough analysis of the vessel’s material will be needed.

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2016-17), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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