Artefact Restoration: The Recreation of an Apollonian Shield

An artefact is literally a fragment of the ancient world. To piece our distant past together, we must conserve and restore these objects to our fullest capacity.

Excavation is a process that requires the upheaval of large quantities of Earth that is said to contain archaeological data beneath it. When such archaeological sites are unearthed, several artefacts associated with these sites are often stumbled upon. In order to conduct an analyses of these often broken and battered objects, they must be pieced together using complex techniques. This helps provide a better idea of the state of cultural affairs in the distant past.

When one talks about artefact conservation and restoration in Albania, one of the most well known names is the one of Prof. Frederik Stamati. He’s managed to restore a number artefacts, found in archaeological excavations. As one of the most experienced conservators and restoration specialists in Albania, he handles quite a large volume of archaeological data. To gain insights into the processes of restoration, I spoke to him about the restoration of a warrior’s shield that he had received. The shield was unearthed at the Kryegjatë village, near Fier in southern Albania.

Professor Stamati, whom I interviewed, is an expert at the restoration of archaeological artefacts.
Image Courtesy: Elisabeta Kodheli

On our way to the institute

I contacted professor Stamati and explained to him the reason why I wanted to meet him in person. He mentioned that I could find him every day at the founds of the Institute of Archaeology. I went there with two friends of mine from our class on restoration at university. After we explained to the lady at the reception why we were there, she allowed us to go down to the laboratory, where Prof. Stamati worked from. We introduced ourselves to the professor and told him more precisely in what we were interested about. We wanted to know more about the restoration of the shield of Apollonia.

The interview:

Q: Who excavated the shield? When was it unearthed?

A: In 1983, the archaeologist Vangjel Dimo found the shield in  one of the graves at the  Kryegjatë tumulus. Along with the shield they also found an iron sword, four ceramic vessels, a knife, and several other artefacts. When I went to see the shield, it was already in the museum, but in 8153 pieces.

Q: How did you decide the process to be used for the restoration of this artefact?

A: To restore the shield, it took me more than 20 years of work. In the beginning I studied all the shields in Albanians museums in order to understand how could have been its motifs.   I studied and experimented 760 ways to carry out the process, and from them I chose the one that could guarantee the final result. For its restoration I consulted experts and referred to literature in countries like Germany, Hungary and Greece to create an idea how the shield must have looked.

Shields similar to the one restored apparently had some ornamental significance, and were a marker of societal status.
Image Courtesy: Elisabeta Kodheli

Q: To when does the shield date back?

A: Dating the shield with carbon 14 gave us the approximate timeline. The shield belongs to the period of Alexander the Great. The shield is of the Macedonian (IV Century BC) type, and this can be seen from the shape and construction.

Alexander the Great, the Macedonian monarch, is revered as one of the greatest, most proficient kings to have existed.
Image Courtesy: Omri Suissa

Q: Can you explain the patterns on the shield?

A: In the middle of the shield is the head of Medusa. It is carved in a metal sheet and was connected with 5 little nails in the plinth under it. The motifs are carved with very tiny and slim chisels. Using chisels they have created the reptilian hair and the eyebrows. The face of the gorgon is surrounded by ornate, concentric circles.

Q: To whom might the shield have belonged?

A: From all the literature I referred to, I found that this was a ceremonial shield.  The shield must have belonged to a very important person in Apollonia.

The shield was pieced back together from 8,153 fragments by Professor Stamati.
Image Courtesy: Elisabeta Kodheli

Q: And what about the principles of restoration followed in this case?

A: The restoration of the shield is made in accordance with the principles of the restoration, like the ones mentioned in different charters of restoration. After gaining perspective about how the shield would have looked, I managed to recreate it using similar materials, piece by piece. It was an extremely tedious process, but the result is very satisfying!

Our interview with Dr. Stamati was able to give us insights into how the process of restoration is so interdisciplinary. Scientific approaches such as carbon dating, combined with literary ones, along with tedious physical labour lead to the recreation of fragments of our ancient past. This helps us piece together the chronology of the ancient world, the intricacies of which we continue to decode even today.

The restoration and conservation of artefacts is thus, extremely important. It helps us to gain perspective about where we come from as a race, and how our kind has developed with the passage of time.

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