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Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Tuesday, 5 October 2010 16:01 UK
Conservation work starts on Colchester Roman mosaic
The Berryfield Mosaic, photo: Douglas Atfield
The mosaic features flowers and sea monsters chasing dolphins

Conservationists are working on a Roman mosaic in the well house of Colchester Castle in preparation for its moved to a new home.

The Berryfield mosaic was first unearthed in 1923 and would originally have been part of the dining room floor in a Roman townhouse.

Work involves removing the old backing and cleaning each individual piece.

Once restored the mosaic will be installed in the new firstsite building in February 2011.

"The main task is to remove the mosaic which is 4.2 metres square, through a small door and transport it to the new arts centre.

"So the main trouble is getting it through the door," said Nick Barnfield, project conservator with Cliveden Conservation.

"In front of the mosaic is a 100 foot well. Our task is to build a false floor and then divide the mosaic into nine separate pieces.

"Then we'll box those and take them back to the workshop, clean and possibly re-back the mosaic onto a lightweight material rather than the reinforced concrete it is now set on," added Nick.

The parts will then be taken to the Cliveden Conservation's workshop in Maidenhead for the second stage of the conservation.

"It is not too bad a condition. The main problem I think, is the treatment it received back in 1923. What they've done is put it on a cement reinforced backing," said Nick.

"Usually with a Roman mosaic, there is a slight recess of the tesserae, the tesserae are the individual stone pieces, and they are usually set in the mortar by two or three millimetres.

"Unfortunately, on this one what they have done, which I don't think we can do much about it, is they have sort of grouted like you would bathroom tiles, and so you have lost that definition of tesserae size and, in a way, that loses the design.

Nick believes the Berryfield mosaic is a very fine example.

"We have been doing work out in Turkey, again second century AD, Roman, and it compares with similar designs we have found over there," said Nick.

"It's continuity of history that you've got from the Eastern Mediterranean right across to Colchester."

It will form part of a floor in the new firstsite building, with toughened glass placed over it so visitors will be able to view it in its restored and conserved state when the visual arts facility opens September 2011.

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