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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Scanning Sulis Minerva

Bronze head of Sulis Minerva
This week at the Roman Baths, Dr Annemarie La Pensée, from Conservation Technologies at the National Museum of Liverpool, has been scanning the original bronze head of Sulis Minerva. We hope to make a 3D image from the scanning process to aid interpretation and possibly shed light on how she was made. Here’s a little bit more on the object and what we hope to learn from the scans…..

Sulis Minerva awaiting scanning
Vital Statistics:

Roman Name: Minerva

Position: A major deity and one of the 12 Olympian Gods

Jurisdiction: Roman Goddess of Wisdom

Mythical Family Tree/Relatives: Daughter of Jupiter and Juno

Depiction / Description / Symbol: the owl, the snake and the olive tree

Greek equivalent: Pallas Athena

Festival: Quinquatria - March 19 through to March 23.

Celtic influence: Linked to unreferenced local deity - Sulis

The gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva is one of the best known objects from Roman Britain. Discovered in 1727, it was the first indication that the Roman site at Bath was not a typical settlement. Gilt bronze sculptures are rare finds from Roman Britain; only two other fragments are known.

The head has a fascinating story to tell that can be gleaned from the circumstances of discovery and its condition and from scientific examination.

First of all, we should note that the head is slightly larger than life size, suggesting that the original statue, of which it formed a part, was an imposing sight. For many of those who saw it, there may have been no previous encounter with an object of such awesome, golden brilliance.

Hidden in the hair line are several small holes which once held rivets that fixed her tall Corinthian helmet to her head.

Examination of the head has revealed that it has six layers of gilding. The first two use a technique known as fire gilding whilst the four latter layers are applied as gold leaf.

When looking closely at the head, we can see that it has a number of imperfections. There is corrosion which has affected it in parts where it lay in the ground for over a thousand years. There is also a strange rectangular cut beneath the chin. It is thought that this may have resulted from a flaw in the original casting process in which a bubble on the surface may have been cut out and filled with an inserted plate. When gilded over, it would not have been visible to a casual observer. This plate has subsequently fallen out as a result of corrosion whilst in the ground.

What more can scanning tell us?
In creating a 3D scan, we should be able to see these imperfections much more clearly. We also hope to better understand the casting process, in particular, where the molten metal would have been fed into the mould….

Sulis Minerva being scanned

Keep an eye on the BlogSpot for the latest news and results……

For an in-depth discussion on the head of Minerva, visit our webpage by following the link below:


Helen Harman - Collections Assistant

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