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Time to shine . . . how lasers put sparkle back into our Bronze Age

FOR more than 60 years it sat on a museum storage shelf, never exhibited because its finely decorated surface was covered in bright green paint.

The Bronze Age vase, which is about 4,000 years old and one of only three lidded vessels of its type known from Ireland, was discovered in the early 1940s in a burial site in Ballinchalla, Co Mayo.

Initially used as a flower pot, the food jar was covered in an amber resin paint following its discovery, before being donated to the National Museum of Ireland in 1944.

There it sat for decades as museum curators mulled over how to remove the offending paint without damaging what has been described as one of the most sophisticated vessels in the whole Irish early Bronze Age ceramic collection.

The story of its restoration was revealed as conservators and restorers from all over the country gathered at a conference in Dublin yesterday.


Thanks to the presence of a Phoenix laser machine in the National Museum of Ireland's conservation department, Lorna Barnes, a consultant glass, ceramics and stone objects conservator, was able to vaporise the paint by shining the laser on the jar and controlling the amount of light and size of the beam.

"Because of the type of work involved, it took 15 hours over 26 weeks, but the jar is fully restored now though not yet on display," said Ms Barnes.

Meanwhile, Bernardo Belotto's painting of the view of Florence towards the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge, dating from the 1700s, had become famous for all the wrong reasons.

Part of the Beit collection at Russborough House in Blessington, Co Wicklow, it was stolen up to three times -- once by Martin 'The General' Cahill's gang in the 1980s -- before finally being recovered.

"The last time it was stolen caused all the damage," said Ele von Monschaw, a conservator who has worked at the National Gallery for the past 16 years. "It was taken from its frame, rolled up and probably sat on. There was a hole in the canvas the size of a mobile phone."

Six months of detailed work has restored the painting, which is expected to go on display in the next couple of months.

Also, hundreds of families unable to trace their ancestral roots can now trawl through valuable records, yesterday's conference was also told.

Seven files containing census information on more than 200 households in Randallstown, Co Antrim, for the 1911 all-Ireland census, remained hidden because of damage that "cemented" the pages together.

Six weeks' work separating the pages with a scalpel has allowed the last remaining section of the census to be digitised and made available for research.

Irish Independent