Colchester Roman 'jigsaw puzzle' bowl repaired for fourth time

Roman glass bowl
Image caption The bowl, which dates from the time of the Roman conquest, was described as an "awkward" object by Colchester Museums' conservator

A Roman glass bowl has caused museum staff a headache after having to be put back together four times.

The bowl, which was excavated in 1988, had already been reconstructed three times when it was smashed by a skull at Colchester Castle in September.

Work is under way to restore the "50 or 60" fragments to their former glory.

"Normally you'll work on something once and won't see it again, but perhaps it just likes to be in the limelight," said conservator Emma Hogarth.

The "awkward" object, which dates from the time of the Roman conquest in 43AD, was discovered at a late Iron Age British-Roman burial site in Stanway, near Colchester.

"It's not a very common type - you can see an example of it in a wall painting in Pompeii," Ms Hogarth said.

Image caption Conservator Emma Hogarth said piecing the smashed bowl back together was "all a bit CSI"

It was "absolutely smithereened" when found - a technical term - and was pieced together by Ms Hogarth's predecessor.

After some pieces fell off and were stuck back on, the bowl was completely taken apart and put back together in 2014 as part of a major refurbishment of Colchester Castle.

"It had been on display for a year in its lovely new form, but unfortunately the skull was determined to destroy it," Ms Hogarth said.

"When it happened, my colleagues worked out where the pieces fell in the case. It's all a bit CSI."

Roman bowl's mishaps: A potted history

1988: Excavated from burial site in Stanway near Colchester and reconstructed for the first time

1999: Some pieces fall off while the bowl is on display after glue dries out, before being stuck back on

2014: Bowl is completely taken apart and restuck by project conservator during refurbishment of Colchester Castle

September 2015: After a year on display, the bowl is smashed to bits after a mount holding up a Roman skull breaks, and the skull drops on to the bowl

Image copyright Colchester Museums Service
Image caption This is how the bowl looked after it had been repaired for the third time in 2014

Ms Hogarth is using a photo to try to restore the bowl, something she described as being "like a jigsaw puzzle".

"You get your eye in as to break edges and think, that looks like it matches there, and lay them out roughly as you think they go back.

"What you do is a dry run using masking tape - very low-tech - and then depressingly you take it apart and start from the bottom and work up with adhesive."

Ms Hogarth said she is hoping to finish putting the bowl back together in the new year, at which point it will go back on display in the castle underneath the infamous skull.

And how will she react if the bowl comes into her hands for repairs again?

"I think I might resign," she said.

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