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Excavations at the Langobard Cemetery in Kranj in 1905

Nataša Nemeček


La bibliothèque du Musée National de Slovénie possède les deux éditions de l'ouvrage de Friedrich Rathgen, Die Konservierung von Altertumsfunden (la première édition de 1898 et la seconde de 1915). L'intérêt des méthodes de restauration décrites peut directement être relié aux fouilles du cimetière Langobard à Kranj, en 1905. Les fouilles ont été suivies de près par plusieurs journaux de l'époque. Pour la conservation des objets, principalement en fer, les nouvelles méthodes développées par Theodor Blell-Tüngen et l'ingénieur norvégien Axel Krefting ont été utilisées.

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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.

Walter Schmid

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

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

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.

The methods

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.

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Blell-Tüngen, T. 1883. “Die Eisenaltherthümer unserer heidnischen Vorzeit in den Sammlungen Deutschlands und ihre Konservierung”, Sitzungsberichte der Alterthumsgesellschaft Prussia,38: 2–27.

Krefting, A. 1892. “Om konservering af jordfundne jernsager”, Aarsberetning fra Foreningen til Norske Fortidsminders Bevaring, Christiania. 51–57.

Rathgen, F. 1898. Die Konservierung von Altertumsfunden.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig.1 Walter Schmid
Légende Archaeologist and curator Walter Schmid (1875–1951).
Crédits © National Museum of Slovenia.
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Titre Fig. 2 Examples of treated objects
Légende Treated finds from Krain, published in 1907 by Walter Schmid.
Crédits Photo: Die Reihengräber von Krainburg, Jahrbuch für Altertumskunde, Bd. 1, 1907.
Fichier image/jpeg, 73k
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Référence électronique

Nataša Nemeček, « Excavations at the Langobard Cemetery in Kranj in 1905 », CeROArt [En ligne],  | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 octobre 2013, consulté le 26 juin 2017. URL :

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Nataša Nemeček

Nataša Nemeček received her degrees in Art History (2003) and in Restoration (2004) from University of Ljubljana. She gained experience with ancient finds at numerous archaeological sites (1998–2003) and as a freelance conservator working on wall paintings and polychrome sculptures (2003–2005). Since 2006, she has been employed at the National Museum of Slovenia as a conservator-restorer of historical metal objects and numismatics. She is finishing her Master's degree on the history of metal conservation in the National Museum of Slovenia. National Museum of Slovenia, Prešernova 20, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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