Frequently Asked Questions

2: Recovery

How were the fragments retrieved?

As the noise of the crash died away, the Museum's disaster response procedures swung into operation. While first-aiders attended to the visitor, staff sealed off the area to prevent the scattered pieces from being crushed underfoot (flecks of white porcelain are difficult to see on pale limestone stairs) and assessed the damage.

First the area was photographed, to record the relationships of the sherds.

The ground floor was examined for fragments. A few were retrieved. Then the stairs were systematically cleared, step by step, working from the outside in towards the landing, the main scene of devastation. Each step was given a number that corresponded to a tray or a bag of fragments. The landing was divided into a notional 'grid', with each stone flag given a letter. Each step or flag was cleared before moving onto the next one.

The pieces from each step or flag were carefully placed in padded trays labelled with the corresponding number or letter and cross-referenced to the grid.

It became apparent that fragments from the same vase, especially the left and centre vases, had fallen close to each other. This relationship was maintained as far as possible in the trays, to help reassembly. Particular care was needed in dismantling the jumble of fragments that had collected in the far left corner of the landing. Some of the larger sherds were stacked precariously on top of each other, imitating a giant game of jack straws. Removing the wrong piece could cause a pile to collapse, causing further damage.

Where a sherd had fallen across a grid line, the photograph was annotated to show which tray it was placed in.

Finally, the step or flag was swept with a soft brush to collect all the tiny chips. These were put into a labelled bag.

It took staff nearly three days to document the scene and retrieve every tiny fragment.

At the end, 24 large trays of fragments were collected and numerous small bags.

Disaster!! |  Recovery |  Sorting |  Cleaning |  Reassembly |  Bonding |  Filling |  Retouching |  Completed