I obtained the textile fragments pinned on polystyrene board, covered by tulle. According to the inscriptions on the board the textiles remained on the body of a young girl, on her chest and arms. Unfortunately I couldn’t make any reconstruction because of the lack of professional excavation and proper photo documentation. I tried to deduce the type of the original clothing by comparing it with the fashion of the era. I concluded that the fragments are parts of a shoulder corset. It was immediately visible that they are composed of two different kind of textiles, with one of them conserved in much more intact condition. The silk textiles were richly woven by metal threads.
I took samples from the metal threads. The chemical examination identified the material as gold, with the a minimal presence of silver. I cleaned the fragments carefully by watering them with a sprayer and sponging back the humidity immediately with a blotting paper (I added Barquat antiseptic to the water). After cleaning I arranged the textile in grainline. After it dried I kept on treating the fitting parts together. I coloured a silk textile (bound in cloth) to similar color as the original parts, then I covered an acid-free board with it. I coloured a silk aid material and an unspun silk thread as well. I fitted the fragments to the board, then covered it with the silk aid material and sewed the edges with silk thread, without sewing into the original textile to avoid further damage. I created a box of acid-free cardboard to safely store the fragments. The unfittable fragments are kept in a different box.
We excavated some remains of a midriff edge from a woman’s grave at Szigetszentmiklós. The textile contained metal strings that included silver. I cleared the small elements under the microscope, then I adjusted them grainline on a glass plate by humifying them softly. After drying I sewed the pieces to an acid-free, linen-covered cardboard with a coloured, untwisted silk string.
At Szigetszentmiklós, in an adult woman’s grave we discovered textile remains on the chest. We dug around under the whole spine and skull, then lifted the remains “in situ” from the ground. We wrapped it up tightly to keep the body and clothing together. In the workshop I freed the textile remains from the soil with a dissector and a brush and they turned out to be the edge of an overgarment around the neck and on the chest. The edge had a soutache on it and the metal helped conserve the textile in the soil. I put the pieces on a polistyrene plate following the original pattern, then I cleared them from the soil under the microscope with an insect needle. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be cleaned with the humifying method. As a next step, I covered an acid-free foamboard plate with linen and sewed the remains carefully onto it with silk thread. At the end, I prepared an acid-free cardboard storage box for them of.
The other corolla decorated a child’s head as well. Its structure and materials are similar to other artworks with soutache. It didn’t have any beads or sequins and the whole was created of silk string wrapped with metal thread. Examining it under microscope I discovered some tracks of gilding. The corolla base has disappeared totally, but some padding textile parts have remained under the metal.stringed ornament. On these one could notice the cloth binding base – its exact material will be identified in the future. The skull got to the workshop “in situ”. When I started to examine it, it turned out to have a weak structure: it broke down under the weight of the soil. The corolla remains didn’t reach around the whole head. Supposedly, it had been bound with a ribbon at the back of the head. The whole object was rigid and hard, completely unlike a textile, even though it was packed propperly and examined with utmost caution. The corrosion of the metal strings conserved the padding strings. Humifying treatment appeared to be risky in this case as well, so its conservation was proceeded in the same way as the one of the other corolla.
In one of the graves of Szigetszentmiklós we found
a child’s skeleton, which was in a very bad condition, except for the skull. We carefully broke up the soil around it and lifted it “in situ” from the ground by
digging under it.
Unfortunately, the corolla had partly slipped off the head already in the past, so a part of it was unfolded only in small fragments. But as one part of the corolla was conserved in it original position on the skull, the position of the fallen parts could be reconstructed as well.
The headdress consists of complex materials: it had
a bast-like base covered in linen-weaved cotton fabric and a thin copper plate laid onto it. Double rows of metal and textile wire spirals were archedly sewn up to it and beads decorated every element in the centre. The copper plate might have been gilded, which could be verified by later examinations. Some traces of gilding could be found on the metal stringed spirals too. The plate was almost completely corroded, being in a very bad condition: it crumbled and broke at the slightest touch. The whole object has become almost unsubstantial; its rigid, dry, fragile condition seemed to exclude any traditional cleaning processes.
As a first step, I removed the contaminations under a microscope with the help of an insect needle. I cleaned it with an ion-exchange resin which is a proven cleaning solution for objects with complex materials.
I carefully stitched the corolla parts onto a thin silk base-layer following the original order and put them into the ion-exchange resin. I was monitoring the pH continually and cared about not overcleaning the object as at some parts it was kept together only by the corrosion of the metal threads. After a short, careful rinse I sewed the parts with an untwisted, coloured silk thread to an acid-free cardboard covered with linen. I had to glue the copper plate parts, but besides that I didn’t treat the object with any chemicals. At the end, I created a storage box for it of acid-free cardboard. Appropriate photo documentation of the process and reconstruction illustrations were also created.
The term “archaeological textile” refers to objects and remains that either have to be freed from the dirt after excavation or turned up as clothing of the deceased in crypts. The soil of the Carpathian Basin doesn’t favour the conservation of organic matter so, the findings mean very precious material for researches regarding the history of dressing.
The corolla (fabric headpiece)
Corollas are usually the most intactly remained clothing objects in Middle Age cemeteries due to their complex materials – the textile parts, for example, are conserved by the metal salts corroded onto them. The grade of deterioration of threaded cloth can of course hinge on many factors, such as the pH of the cemetery soil or the decompositional process of the corpse. During excavations we suddenly break the equilibrium between the object and its environment so sometimes a remain crumbles to dust in front of our eyes due to the changed circumstances. At first these remains often appear to be metal because of the corrodation of the metal on their surface, when in fact they are textile. Thread materials in the process of decomposition crumble and break easily, as soil and sand has dried onto them. It is vital to keep these remains within the same circumstances as their original environment until conservation, as totally dried textiles can’t be “rehumified”.
So generally used excavational techniques can’t be applied at the excavation of textile remains, and cooperation with a professional restorer is highly recommended.
On an excavation at Szigetszentmiklós I had the chance to apply several techniques. The best solution was not to clear the skull, but to lift it “in situ” with the soil, and then clean and examine it in the laboratory. Thus, the parts of the corolla could be removed from the skull and its original position could be defined, even though some time earlier it had halfly slipped from the head.
If the find is too weakened, dried out, or fragmented, one must do pre-conversation on the spot. In this case we can fix and soldify the floating, moving elements by impregnating them. During examination we must carefully prevent the wet corolla parts from drying out suddenly, because this can cause the fragmentation of the find.