1The library of the National Museum of Slovenia contains both editions of Friedrich Rathgen's handbook Die Konservierung von Altertumsfunden (first edition was published in 1898 and second in 1915). It is of particular interest that the conservation methods described in the first Rathgen handbook (Rathgen 1898) could be directly connected to excavations in the city of Kranj at the beginning of the twentieth century.
2In 1905, the Langobard Cemetery in Kranj was the site of major excavations led by Walter Schmid (1875–1951), a pioneer of Slovenian archaeology, curator and director of the Carniolean Landesmuseum (later National Museum of Slovenia) (Fig. 1).
Fig.1 Walter Schmid
Archaeologist and curator Walter Schmid (1875–1951).
© National Museum of Slovenia.
3Schmid was obviously very well acquainted with the conservation methods described in Rathgen's handbook. The conservation of the freshly excavated finds was carried out by the pharmacist Franc Šavnik (1877–1931) in his laboratory.
4The excavations were followed closely by several newspapers at that time. Especially interesting are the descriptions of conservation methods in Gorenjec from 27 May 1905:
5For the conservation of the finds, especially iron, the new methods developed by Blell and Krefting have been tried, which are suitable for removing rust. Blell heats an object, which must have a well-preserved iron core, until it is red-hot and then immerses it in phosphoric acid. Krefting, on the other hand, wraps the object with zinc strips and then immerses it in a bath of diluted caustic soda. Immediately, galvanic current develops that removes rust.
Fig. 2 Examples of treated objects
Treated finds from Krain, published in 1907 by Walter Schmid.
Photo: Die Reihengräber von Krainburg, Jahrbuch für Altertumskunde, Bd. 1, 1907.
6The first method described here was named after Theodor Blell-Tüngen, who worked at the Ostpreußisches Provincial Museum in Königsberg from 1852. His method combined thermal and chemical treatment. Blell published his conservation method in 1883 (Blell-Tüngen 1883). The second treatment was named after the Norwegian engineer Axel Krefting. His method of electrolytic reduction was first published in 1892 (Krefting 1892). It was very successful and had many variations, especially in the period after World War II.
7The newspaper Gorenjec followed the excavations further. In a report from 10 June 1905 the journalist wrote:
8Apart from beautiful clasps and several iron objects, the skeleton from Grave 77 also had seven coins beside the right arm, which could not be identified because of the thick patina. The coins will be cleaned in the following week with the Krefting method, which has been so far most successful. Mr. Šavnik has used it with extraordinary skill to clean several swords and various iron objects. Engraved decorations have been discovered along the entire length of the blade on both sides on one sword.
9This valuable information is proof of immediate, systematic, in situ treatment of archaeological finds at a very early date. Unfortunately, in 1909, Walter Schmid lost his position at the Landesmuseumdue to a purelypersonal matter – a Catholic priest, he turned Protestant and married, which was unforgivable in the conservative atmosphere of that time. With his departure, a period, which laid the foundations of scientific archaeology and conservation in Slovenia ended – a development realized in full only after World War II.