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Examination of a lacquered sutra box

This lacquered sutra box is basically in good condition. It was rather dirty through handling and has been damaged and restored in the past; two small areas of old restoration have been lost. Detailed examination is essential before any conservation treatment. One of the techniques used to examine the box was X-radiography. This revealed the wire inlays in greater detail. It also showed the original wrought iron nails used in manufacture and modern drawn wire nails used for repair before the box was acquired by The British Museum. Microscopic examination indicated that some areas of apparently stable inlay were very loose.

Treatment required the box to be cleaned and any loose shell inlays to be secured. The box was cleaned overall using distilled water to which a little detergent had been added. This process removed loose dirt and grease. A secondary layer of dirt was the result of centuries of exposure to incense smoke. This type of contamination is regarded as patination, part of the history of the object, and is usually left in place. However, in one or two very small areas where the patination was so thick that it completely obscured the inlay it was removed. Loose and detached areas of inlay were refixed using water-based adhesives and where necessary the underlying structure was consolidated.