Restoration and reconstruction of the Arzhan-2 complex of artefacts
The burial mound known as Arzhan-2 is located in the Turano-Uyukskaya hollow in the spurs of the Western Sayan mountain range in the north of the Republic of Tuva. The steppe around the settlement of Arzhan is a "Valley of the Kings" where the largest burial mounds from the era of the early Eurasian nomads are concentrated. Investigation of the Arzhan-2 mound was the result of implementation of a joint Russo-German research project. The excavations were carried out by the Central Asian Archaeological Expedition under the leadership of K.V. Chugunov.
In 2001 an undisturbed grave from the 6th-5th century B.C. was discovered in the Arzhan-2 mound. The wealth of the burial of a man and a woman indicates that they belonged to the upper echelon of the nomad aristocracy. Sewn onto their clothes were some 5,000 gold plaques in the form of some predatory feline, while their headdresses were decorated with gold plates in the form of horses, deer and snow leopards. The woman's headdress was adorned with engraved gold hairpins. The burial produced bronze mirrors, a large amount of female jewellery and also a massive gold torque - a symbol of the power of a leader. The surface of the torque and many other artefacts is decorated with depictions of animals that form a sort of encyclopaedia of nomad art. All the weapons found in the grave are made of iron. The short sword (acinaces), scabbard, knives, pick, and even the arrowheads are decorated with gold, but the state of preservation of these articles is such that they can be assessed only after prolonged careful restoration.
The unique finds of archeologists were turned over to the Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Works of Applied Art (A.I. Bantikov, director). In 2003 the reconstruction of an archeological monument of such scale was carried out in the museum for the first time.
The most difficult work had to be performed on the conglomerations in which iron artefacts were firmly linked together by corrosion coupled with remnants of decomposed organic matter. They were delivered to the Hermitage in the form of monolithic masses that had been impregnated with a special compound.
By visual examination the restorers determined the methods and sequence of operations for the removal of the products of corrosion and also took samples for physical and chemical analysis and made X-rays of the conglomerations.
Over many months of work it proved possible to separate the monoliths, to identify the shape of the artefacts and to reveal the decoration on the items. Restoration of the short sword and knife in a scabbard (restorer: S.G. Burshneva) revealed gold inlay on the blade and gold plates decorating the hilt. Layer-by-layer cleaning of the woman's scabbard (restorer: O.Yu. Senatorova) revealed within the conglomeration and separated out a dagger with a cast gold hilt, two iron knives with loop-shaped handles, a bronze awl with the figure of a goat as a grip, fragments of needles that disintegrated in ancient times and a bronze pin with a spherical head.
Throughout the restoration process samples were taken for physical and chemical study that made it possible to determine the nature of ornament on the hilt and the multi-layered structure of the scabbard (layers of fur, fabric, leather and wood were identified).
Complex restoration work was also carried out on a large group of bronze artefacts from excavations in 2001 - 02: mirrors, vessels, belt plates, punches, knives, arrowheads (restorers: O.Yu. Senatorova. O.L. Semenova) and beadwork that came in as a conglomeration (restorer: M.G. Popova).
For the first time the State Hermitage carried out the reconstruction of such an archaeological artefact as the costume and formal paraphernalia of a king (?). The Department of Scientific and Technical Inspection (headed by L.I. Kosolapov) carried out work to identify the character and composition of organic layers and varieties of wood, as well as analysing the composition of metal objects. In a number of instances restoration methods were employed that are used in the Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Items Made of Organic Materials (headed by T.A. Baranova).