Get out the grit.

Cleaning has commenced on the mosaics, after research and many tests.  We have found a way to get the job done efficiently and well with a light touch on the mosaics.  The archaeologists removed the overburden of sandy backfill from the mosaics when they exposed them, and it is our job as the conservators to remove those last traces of sand that are in contact with the delicate surface.  Traditional methods of sponging or brushing with water did not get the sandy bits out from between the tesserae very well, and tends to leave alot of water on the mosaics, which may further soften the already soft mortar and terra cotta.  The answer was found in technology… a wet vac!  We custom fit two hoses on the vaccuum and vented them at the source to reduce the suction to a gentle draw – just enough to lift the sand up with the water. 

This turns out to be a two person job; one to wet the area and brush the sand out from between the tesserae and the other to follow on right behind the brush with the vac tool to pull the water right back up again.  The mosaics stay dry and safe, and the sand comes up with the gentlest touch.  Eureka!  Foam padding is placed between the conservators and the mosaics to distribute the load of a person on the surface, but I dare say it helps the conservator as much as the mosaics to make this job a bit easier on the knees.  Though this is a very streamlined approach, it is still a painstaking process and we will be at it for some weeks.  If you can get over here to visit you can see us in action.  Until then, here are some shots of the conservation team in action…

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