If you visited Ferry Farm on October 21, 2022, you may have heard a loud crash coming from the archaeology lab – don’t worry, it was on purpose! During my fall semester internship at the Ferry Farm Archaeology Department, I had the pleasure of learning how to mend ceramic vessels, and like any skill, practice makes perfect. I purchased a cheap ceramic bowl from Goodwill and purposefully shattered it so I could practice putting it back together again. Follow along as I take you through the process!
Here is what the bowl looked like when I first bought it – in one piece! I chose this bowl because it was a good size: not too big where it would be too long of a project, but not too small where it would only take a few days to complete.
Next came the fun part: breaking it! I placed the bowl inside a plastic bag so that all the pieces would stay together. Then, against my natural instinct, I threw the bag onto the ground and broke it into pieces! Notice how some are larger than others- this means that I had to be very careful as to not accidentally exclude a small piece from the entire bowl.
After collecting all the sherds, my next step was to figure out where everything goes by taping the sherds together. This process allowed me to plan out the order in which the sherds would be glued together. I used blue painter’s tape to do this because it doesn’t leave residual adhesive on the surface of the sherds. This same tape is used when mending the ceramics found archaeologically at Ferry Farm.
More taping… it’s coming together!
Here is the completed bowl after taping! Once all the sherds were back in their rightful places, it was time to carefully plan out how I wanted to glue them. When mending, you don’t want to just start gluing together the first pieces you know fit together. It is important to take into account the shape of the vessel so that you leave as few gaps between the sherds as possible. I developed a plan to start from the base and work my way up to the rim of the bowl. With this done, it was time to start gluing!
It is protocol in the Archaeology Department to mend ceramics using a reversible method. The glue I used was a solution of 35% B72 in acetone, which is removable with acetone. I started by coating the broken edges of the sherds with a less concentrated solution of the glue, 5% B72 in acetone. This prepped the sherds to have glue applied to it. After this, I applied 35% B72 to only one sherd to be mended and then held it together with its neighbor. After 10 seconds of holding the sherds together, they were sticking quite nicely. I then placed a few pieces of painter’s tape to ensure the glue would hold, and placed the freshly glued sections into a bucket filled with glass beads.
The glass beads hold the glued sherds together and prevent them from shifting as the glue dries. I repeated this process for all the sherds over the course of a few days until…
…the gluing was complete!
Here is the final product! Now, no mend is ever going to be perfect. Once a vessel is broken, there will always be misaligned sherds in the vessel due to the tension of the entire piece being broken.
So, why do we mend ceramics in the first place? It can help archaeologists understand what types of objects a site’s occupants would have used and what activities were taking place. It is also an important process in public interpretation: mended ceramics can help the public see what certain vessels would have looked like during a site’s target period of significance.
Finally, keep in mind that what I did with this bowl was only practice: actual mending with sherds excavated from an archaeological site does not go as smoothly as this. Only a small percentage of a vessel is typically found and thus able to be mended. The reason why so few sherds of one vessel are found is because decades and centuries of being in the ground allows for sherds to get mixed up and moved due to bioturbation (movement of soil by animals such as rodents and insects), erosion, and in some cases, agricultural plowing.
If you would like to see more on mending at Ferry Farm, be sure to check out past programs that we have done: mending | Lives & Legacies (livesandlegaciesblog.org)
Katharine Bogen, UMW ‘23
Fleming Smith Scholar