Progress of the work: February 2006
This month we have been preparing to install objects into the showcases, ready for the opening of the galleries in May.
The first things to go into the cases will be the coffins, as they are the largest objects. Some of the coffins are extremely heavy, so we have been trying to find ways to move them around safely and easily. Our conservator Julie has come up with a clever way to solve this problem. The coffins will sit on top of panels made from Hexlite, a type of honeycomb board made from aluminium and epoxy resin. Hexlite is strong and rigid enough to support the heavy wooden coffins, but lightweight enough that we will be able to carry the coffins around when they are on the panels.
The picture on the right shows conservators Julie and Christina covering one of these panels with fabric which matches the inside of the cases. The fabric is stretched very tightly over the front of the board, then stapled in place at the back.
We have been lucky to have the help of two sixth-form students from Hills Road Sixth Form College during their half term. Jack Snell and Amy Lewis have been helping us to cover all of the coffin panels with fabric.
Some of the panels have had their undersides covered with a sheet of Teflon as well. We hope that this will enable us to slide the coffins into the cases easily, without too much heavy lifting. We tested this out recently by getting Amy to stand in for one of the coffins while we "installed" her in one of the cases. To our relief, the Teflon worked very well, and our "coffin" slid into place very easily, as the picture on the left shows.
These panels are a good example of how our conservators have had to adopt or adapt methods and materials from other areas during this project. Hexlite and Teflon are both modern, high-tech materials. Hexlite has been used by the aircraft manufacturing industry because of its strength and lightness, while Teflon is better known as a non-stick coating for saucepans!
Another example of innovative thinking this month has come from the papyrus conservation project. As last October's diary entry revealed, our Book of the Dead of Ramose was discovered to be over 20 metres long when complete. Mounting and displaying such a long papyrus in a continuous piece presents us with several problems. Papyri are normally framed for display behind glass, but a 20 metre long piece of glass would be incredibly heavy, not to mention rather dangerous. It would also be impossible to store such a huge piece of glass when the papyrus was not on display!
An obvious solution to this problem would be to mount the papyrus in several smaller sections which could be handled and stored separately. The problem with this is that the Ramose papyrus is not divided into neat sections with straight edges: it is made of several fragments with irregular edges, some of which join together. Conventional rectangular mounts would not allow these edges to fit together closely if we wanted to display the whole papyrus as a single sheet.
The papyrus conservator, Renee Waltham, has avoided this problem by asking Go Glass in Cherry Hinton to make some special sheets of glass with curved edges. Each section of papyrus can be displayed in a mount which is shaped to follow the edges of that section. The individually-mounted sections fit together neatly, like a jigsaw, allowing us to display either the whole papyrus or just a few of the sections.
The conservation of our Roman mummy portraits continues this month. Three of the mummy portraits have now been taken to the Hamilton Kerr Institute for technical examination and treatment by their intern Lucy Wrapson. The conservation of the portrait of Didyme, a young child, has also been completed. The surface of this painting was cleaned and consolidated where necessary.
Lucy also came into the museum to treat our Roman mummy recently. The painted surface of the mummy’s shroud had several vulnerable and flaking areas, so these have been secured. In addition, there were places where the upper layer of the shroud itself was becoming detached from the linen below, so these were also secured. Once the painted surface of the shroud had been made safe, it was possible to remove some of the accumulated dust and dirt from the surface of the shroud and portrait.