Sunday, 29 December 2013

Broken Bottle Reassembled - December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013

This year I participated in a class at Acadia University (Wolfville, NS CANADA) that did a fall archaeological dig at Prescott House.  I have been commissioned to do conservation work on some of the finds from this important dig and will document that effort over the next few blog entries.  The dig was on a very small area alongside a gravel driveway near the maintenance shed.  We know from historical records that there were several outbuildings and our archaeologist/instructor chose an easily accessible area that had some ceramics and metals poking through the ground.  One of the hopes was that an outbuilding wall would be found which could prompt additional archaeological digs.  We uncovered thousands of pieces of ceramics, bottle and window glass, hand made nails and various other metals, and bricks.  And we did find what appears to be a structure's wall which was a combination of brick and stone.

All 18 pieces of bottle found at Prescott House.
The first object I chose to work on was a bottle that was broken into 18 pieces of various sizes (see first photograph) yet enough of it was recovered to attempt to put it back together with conservation grade adhesive.  Why go to the bother of putting it back together?  It will allow us to take measurements, study its shape, and clues for its usage which will all help in identifying manufacturer, dating, and identifying contents.  In some cases bottles of the same contents underwent changes over time such as addition of markings.  This bottle has embossed lettering along both narrow sides which will become clearer when put together.

Tools used: scalpel, toothbrush, magnifying glass
Materials used: distilled water, B72 Restoration Adhesive

Careful washing and brushing of the pieces in distilled water will assist in reconstruction because it will remove loose dirt and other material buildup that would interfere with fitting the pieces together.  After careful drying it is best to do a "mock up" of putting the pieces together to determine the correct order.  I used very small pieces of scotch tape to hold the pieces together temporarily to see how they look when fitted together.  It is best to put some smaller pieces together first and then fit onto larger pieces.  Sometimes we actually draw out the shapes and number the actual pieces (using a non-permanent very fine marker) in the order in which they are to be reassembled.  This was not necessary in this instance since the 18 pieces were relatively easy to reassemble with only one exception.  I had a very small piece with no special markings that I was not able to fit anywhere.

I used a toothbrush to clean up the pieces, a scalpel to carefully remove excess adhesive and test connections, and a magnifying glass to verify connections.  By testing connections I mean that I used the scalpel to run along the fitted pieces to mark sure they were as close fitting as possible.  There were a few instances were I had to reset pieces so the scalpel was used to careful scrape away any excess adhesive.  One of the benefits of the B72 Restoration Adhesive is that it remains tacky for two minutes to allow for minor adjustment of fitting the pieces.  It is also reversible by applying heat greater than 100 degrees F.  It will not yellow and is relatively non-toxic although should not be used in a confined space and avoid skin contact.  It is widely used in conservation work for most materials except leather.

Of particular interest is the embossed lettering on the two narrow sides which have only one letter missing on one and a partial letter on the the other: one can be interpreted as "MOTHER GRAVES" and the other as "WORM EXTERMINATOR".  This is a known medicine from the 1880's to early 1920's manufactured by Northrup & Lymon in Toronto and used in the treatment of worms in humans, particularly children.  This series of  photographs show the reassembled bottle from all sides.

Reassembled bottle - front
Reassembled bottle - back

Embossed letters  "OTHER GRAVES"
Embossed  letters "ORM EXTERMINATOR"

Historical Note and Family Connection

Charles Prescott completed the building of Prescott House, a magnificent Georgian style house in 1815 and proceeded to make a serious contribution to horticulture and specifically the apple industry in the province.  He introduced over 100 varieties of apples among other endeavours.  But, for me, this has a family connection due to one variety he established called the Bourassa apple.  Unfortunately, we have not found any more information beyond the fact it was grown in Quebec from 1750 and up to 1880 when no more information is available.  We have not found the family connection yet either but, we will continue to search for it.  If anyone has information that would help us locate this apple variety (is it still grown?) or any of its history please leave a comment.


  1. your have a nice info and i like your post ^___^

  2. Hi I am a digger for bottles in the Westmeath area in Ontario. I am not a professional at all. I just found the Mother graves worm exterminator this morning and had never found this bottle before. Westmeath was a lumber town started in the 1850s I think. I have found so many different bottles but this site I am at is the oldest I have found and its just 500 feet from my house which in itself is from 1856. Any way thanks for the info on the bottle

  3. Hello...thanks for the comment. Here is the link to a Parks Canada research paper on bottles found at Parks Canada sites. If you scroll down far enough to Figure 4 you will see an advertisement for this worm exterminator product. It gets into serious detail for many other types of bottles as well.


  5. Hey, I am about to graduate from my undergrad in archaeology and I was curious about maybe doing conservation work. How do you get into doing that? Is there a program that you can take?

  6. Hello Kait, this is a good question since it is not always obvious how one can get involved in conservation work. Since I have no indication of where in the world you are located and since I am in Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada I can only speak about my own experience and location. I can say that object conservation education is particularly strong in the UK. I took a one year graduate diploma course at University of Lincoln in Lincoln, UK which is for students who already have a degree. It is an intensive program that gets a lot of "hands on" lab time (my particular interest) and an introduction to most materials you can expect to work on as a conservator. After graduating I volunteered at a local museum, worked on many archaeological digs locally, participated in a documentary on a local shipwreck, attended "one off" courses on archaeology, and talked to anyone and everyone on object conservation. This has lead to several short term contracts to work on objects. There are online courses available on most aspects of conservation through and lots of great information at their site These are located in the northern US. You can find information specific to archaeological conservation there. For Canadian classes take a look at Fleming college here located in Peterborough, Ontario. They offer online courses as well. I hope this helps you.