Reconstructing a Pot

Several months ago I was working at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA)  recording beads and working in the ceramics conservation lab there. (The conservation lab will soon be moving into a sparkly new space in the National Museum thanks to contributions from some generous donors).   The head of the ceramics lab is a man named Sokha who was trained by ceramics conservator Bonnie Baskin, and has vast knowledge on the topics of ceramics conservation, Khmer ceramics, and Khmer archaeology.  He’s been a real help to me and my research while I’ve been here.   When I was last at RUFA a few months ago he was just working on putting together a pot from Late Neolithic/early Bronze Age (?) burial.  Here’s what it looked like then:

It’s a lot like putting together a puzzle, and you need lots of patience.

Above: An up-close shot of the base of the pot

Below:  Here are pieces of the rim of the pot.

Sokha estimates that there were between 300-400 pieces in this one pot.  After about two straight months, here is what the pot looks like now:


Sokha said fitting together all these tiny pieces was the most challenging.

Here’s what the inside looks like

Here is a close-up on the nice paint job on the shoulder of the pot.

I’m going to talk to Sokha later this week about his work so expect to hear more about this soon!

14 responses to “Reconstructing a Pot

  1. Top job Sokha. And to you Alison for the photos. Tasks such as repairing these ancient artifacts are so vital and few can do it successfully but they get so little attention and just carry on for a lifetime, behind closed doors; so its good that you’re highlighting their work like this. Top marks.

  2. Whoa. That’s amazing! What do they use to keep the pot together? I’m sure there’s a special glue. Also, there’s got to be points where they have to work from the bottom up, right? Seems like a really intricate process.

  3. Good questions! And I expect to have more specific answers once I talk to Sokha in more detail but as for a short answer:
    Yes, they use glue to hold the pots together. There are many different kinds of glues one can use (including plain old Elmer’s) but not all glues are appropriate and a good conservator needs to take into account the environment a pot is stored in when choosing a glue. Most glues people use in Europe and the US will not work in SEA because of the heat and humidity. And yes- they start from the bottom up and the top down I think. The middle is where it gets a bit trickier. Sokha also uses a special material to fill in some of the gaps in the pot (if leaving them in would make the pot structurally unsound). He then has to paint the fill to match the rest of the pot so it blends in. Again- I’ll have more on this soon!

  4. wow, crazy stuff! I wonder if they’ll be reconstructing iPhones like that several centuries from now?

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  6. I LOVED IT. Isn’t this like making a piece of jewelry out of many, many tiny different shape of beads? This is not only reconstruction; this is recreation, this is a form of art. Amazing!

  7. Holy crap! There is no way I could do that. That’s amazing!

  8. That’s STUNNING! How old is it? (you know, for those of us…ME…who is numerically-challenged). The shape is SOME similar to our Oneota pot on second floor (which I never tire of looking at). Don’t you love thinking about what might have been in that pot? Or the woman who used it?

  9. I think Ruth Andris from 3rd Church was doing similar(maybe not so many pieces though!!) work at the Field back in the day.

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  11. When you have a moment would you please comment on how this pot might have been made? And what was used for the (original) paint?

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