Skeletons: Coming Face to Face with the Past

Emma Bowron, conservator for Leeds Museums and Galleries explains her work on the Skeletons: Our Buried Bones exhibition at Leeds City Museum and the story of The Dalton Parlours (AD 200 -370) skull on display.

The Dalton Parlours (AD 200 -370) skull came into conservation for the Skeletons: Our Buried Bones exhibition that is currently on at the City Museum.  Dalton Parlours is a Roman villa site near Wetherby and was discovered in 1854, but was only fully excavated in 1976.  We know that he is male from looking at how his skull is formed and from other specific bones in his skeleton.  He lived around AD 200 to AD 370 and was buried at the Roman villa site, so he would have been a Romano-British Man.

Emma Bowron, conservator at LMG is wearing a lab coat and purple goves she is holding the skull of The Dalton Parlours skull and she is looking at it wearing glasses. She is manipulating the skull on a white desk full of boxes and papers in our office at Leeds Discovery Centre
Emma inspects the Dalton Parlours skull in the conservation studio at Leeds Discovery Centre.

The skull had been badly damaged and was in many pieces.  It was quite a jigsaw puzzle to bring the pieces back together due to old repairs and just the amount of material that was present.  It was like doing a two sided jigsaw with no picture to work from.

The front of the face has been badly preserved, although the back and sides are in good condition.  Each piece had to be seated into position and then a conservation grade adhesive was used to attach the pieces.  This adhesive can be taken down with a conservation grade solvent so is reversible.  The sections then had to be supported whilst the adhesive hardened.  It was all about lining up grooves made in the interior bone from blood vessels and external features.

Over the course of two weeks the skull began to take shape.  There were moments when it looked as if there were not enough of the right pieces preserved.  However, after a few trial runs most of the back and sides of the skull have now been reunited.  Unfortunately due to the damage the skull incurred whilst in the ground the face cannot be fully reconstructed.

Grey table with two skulls next to each other. The Dalton Parlours skull with missing pieces before the conservation work and a plastic skull next to it to help the reconstruction
The Dalton Parlours skull on the left, next to an aid,  before Emma worked her conservation magic.

I do not often get so up close and personal with an item but working on this type of material makes you wonder who the person was and what they did in life.  Getting as much of the skull reconstructed as possible gives this person more of a sense of identity and helps us to understand him a little better.  The smaller white plastic skull was used as an aid in putting the right pieces back in place.


By Emma Bowron, ACR, Conservator at Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Skeletons: Our Buried Bones is running at Leeds City Museum until Sunday 7 January 2018. Check out more information on the exhibition here.

Skeletons: Our Buried Bones is a collaboration between Wellcome Collection and the Museum of London, touring to Glasgow, Bristol and Leeds over 2016-2018.

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