I was talking with a customer a few days ago about pottery and how hard it can be to detect restoration. I mentioned to him that I had access to the analysis of some rare Quapaw pottery that the Museum of Native American Artifacts had sent out for CT scanning and study to a company called Rare Collections (www.rare-collections.com). This company is on the cutting edge of identifying reproduction and restored artifacts for museums and collectors around the world.
The analysis consisted of CT scanning, high-resolution photography, thermoluminescence (TL) testing, microscopy, UV and IR analysis. While we can look at a flint point under a 10x loop or scope and see what we need on the surface - for pottery you need to be able to see inside it to actually see all that needs to be seen.
A few images from the analysis have been graciously provided by for this posting by Rare-Collections (© 2007 Rare Collections) and it is greatly appreciated as the sharing of infomation about topics such as this need to published.
Most of us will probably never own the high end type vessels shown here - but this study represents what kind of restoration is being done on all levels of pottery, not just the museum grade relics.
Many complete and undamaged pots have been found, but the larger the pottery gets, the more likely it is to have damage. Quite often pottery will be found in many pieces, and those are known as "sack pots". One question you have have when looking at a pottery item is "how much of the item has been restored?" Some may just have a small amount of restoration to the rim area or a patched probe hole where it was struck by the long thin probe used to find pottery, while others will be completely restored with large amounts of filler.
The best way to determine its exact condition is with the use of CT scanning. Here are a few examples:
This teapot was restored from a few original pieces and has extensive over-painting.
This Otter teapot was restored from original pieces with a small amount of filler material and in-painting.
This deer/fawn effigy pot was restored from both original and unrelated fragments. The lower portion of the pot appears original (including the split toe hooves). In addition, the head appears original (and related to the base of the object). One “painted spot” (one of the apparent deer/fawn spots) on the proper left side has been identified as being original to the piece and seems to validate the restorative painting on the upper portion of the pot (although it has been restored using unrelated fragments, etc.). The 3D CT view clearly illustrates the condition of the pot in addition to confirming the associated and unrelated fragments.
Again, I thought these images were interesting and worth sharing and serve as an example of what can be done with today's technology. They also provide a good example of how the outside of pottery may differ from what is under its surface.
** My thanks to the Museum of Native American Artifacts and Rare Collections for allowing me to use these images for this article **
Recent Addition to this post:
Mark from Rare-Collections was kind enough to send along the below image to add here - thanks Mark!
If you ever need CT testing done, or if you have high-end pottery or artifacts that really need a thorough checkout, the people who did the pot pictured here can be contacted at:
CT scanning and analysis by Rare Collections - www.rare-collections.com