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You are in: Collections > Ancient World > Ancient Near East > Progress > . August 2005

Progress of the work: August 2005

This month Christina Rozeik, our conservation intern, has been conserving a small statue of Osiris (E.20.1901) for display in the new galleries.

The statue is made from dried mud and has a painted face and decoration. It was found at Abydos by the Egypt Exploration Fund and given to the museum in 1901.

    Close-up picture of repairs to the Osiris statue

Close-up picture of repairs to the Osiris statue


It was stuck together after excavation using animal glue, with cotton wool to fill any gaps. As this close-up shows, these repairs are very messy! The mud is also very crumbly and fragile and needs to be strengthened before the statue is suitable for display. The best way to remove animal glue from an object is to dissolve the glue in hot water, but this would mean that the mud statue would also dissolve! After a lot of thought, Christina has developed a new treatment method using cyclododecane as a to consolidate the mud temporarily.

Cyclododecane is a waxy material which slowly sublimates at room temperature (that is, it turns from a solid directly into a gas). This is very useful when a conservator wants to protect part of an object from water, or to hold a fragile surface in place temporarily.

Before beginning this treatment, Christina has made some replica mud figures which can be used for testing the materials and techniques. This picture shows a piece of mud which has had some cyclododecane applied to it. Less than three weeks later, all the cyclododecane has disappeared, leaving no residue.

    Close-up picture of repairs to the Osiris statue

Consolidating the Osiris statue


The first stage of the treatment is to strengthen the crumbling edges of the mud. This is done by consolidating them (impregnating them with a low concentration of resin in a solvent). The consolidated areas have to be wrapped in clingfilm to slow down evaporation of the solvent and ensure that the resin penetrated deep into the mud.

After the edges have been consolidated, the cotton wool and animal glue can be safely removed. The cyclododecane is melted in a water bath, then painted onto the mud to protect it from water penetration. Now Christina can soften the glue with water and pick it out with fine dental tools.

    Close-up picture of repairs to the Osiris statue


Tom Riddolls working on a fragment of a Theban tomb painting


Tom, our Canadian intern is working on examination and conservation of Theban tomb paintings. These are two fragments from a tomb at Thebes, now identified as Theban Tomb no. 172, belonging to a man called Montuiywy. The pieces were cut from the tomb wall at some time in the past and given to the Fitzwilliam in 1913. Each had been encased in plaster and supported by a wooden box. The Goddess of the West scene had at some time been removed from the box and in the 1960s was plastered into a display panel.


Meanwhile, conservator Lucy Skinner has spent part of this month examining and treating a small wooden coffin from Beni Hassan. It was discovered by Garstang in tomb 17 at the site and it belonged to a dog called Heb.

There are many splinters from the wooden planks which have split and become detached from the surface. Lucy has had to reattach them using Paraloid B72 (a conservation grade adhesive).

Close-up of part of a dog's coffin

The wooden coffin of a dog placed on a perspex base, E.47.1902

Yellow pigment was originally painted on the wood in a very thick layer, but this is now powdery and rubs off easily with any contact, probably because insufficient binder was mixed with the pigment when the coffin was decorated. Part of the treatment which has been carried out has been to consolidate the most powdery areas of pigment, but most has been left alone because we don't want to add too many modern materials to the ancient coffin.

A Perspex mount has now been made so that the coffin can be moved about easily without the need to touch the powdery paint surface and cause further damage.


On 25 August we run a Meet the Antiquities 'Conservation Special' for the public to come and have a closer a look at some of the examination and treatment that is underway. (The photograph shows Christina and Tom explaining some of the work they are involved in at present.)

Towards the end of August we are very fortunate to be joined for five weeks by Julie Unruh, a conservator from the USA who has considerable experience of the conservation of ancient Egyptian objects.

It is starting to get a bit crowded in the conservation laboratory!

   A special Meet the Antiquities session involving our conservators