Progress of the work: October 2005
This month we welcome Nichole Doub, our new intern from the post-graduate conservation degree course at the Institute of Archaeology in London. Nichole's first task is to review and treat some of the bronze objects which are to go on display in the new galleries. The Fitzwilliam owns nearly one thousand bronze objects from ancient Egypt, about 100 of which will be displayed in our new galleries. Many of these bronzes have never been examined closely before, so this is an ideal opportunity to find out more about how they were made.
The picture on the right shows one of them while it is being treated. This object would originally have fitted on top of a wooden ceremonial staff. It has been broken into two pieces across the shaft and repaired with plaster (which shows up as white on the photograph opposite). Nichole removes the old plaster and paint from the join, and replaces them with more suitable materials. She then paints the filled area to match the surrounding bronze.
Work continues on the inner coffin of Pakepu this month. Julie Unruh has now returned to the USA, so our project conservator Lucy Skinner has taken over the job of treating these nested coffins.
Some of the plaster on the sides of the coffin has become distorted with age, and is starting to lift away from the underlying wood. Lucy humidifies these areas gently with water vapour, until they become more flexible. They are then eased flat and held in place with clamps while the water evaporates and they become rigid again. Sometimes it is necessary to put some adhesive behind the reshaped plaster in order to keep it safely in position.
When the coffin was excavated, some of the broken fragments were reattached in the wrong places and have had to be repositioned. Lucy has also had to reattach some loose pieces of the coffin. The bottom picture on the left shows her using drinking straws to hold the pieces in place while she injects an adhesive around the join.
Meanwhile, work is continuing on the project to conserve the papyrus containing the Book of the Dead of Ramose. We are fortunate to have the help of Dr Irmtraut Munro from the Totenbuchprojekt in Bonn, who is one of the world experts on this type of text. We have already sent her photographs of the fragments of papyrus, but now she has come to see them for herself and to talk to Renee Waltham, the conservator working on this project.Image["Dr Munro working on the Book of the Dead of Ramose"]
Image["Dr Munro working on the Book of the Dead of Ramose"]
They spend many hours together studying the fragments, looking for joins, and in a surprisingly short space of time we some substantial pieces of papyrus that can be reassembled, although there remain large areas which are much more fragmentary and which take a lot longer to fit together.
Irmtraut's great expertise proves invaluable in giving us an overall picture of how the original papyrus must have been laid out, and we can estimate that it was over 20 metres in length.
Before she leaves, Irmtraut asks her husband, who has travelled to Cambridge with her, to take photographs of all the sections of the papyrus at the same scale so that she can continue working on them back in Germany.
Image["A digital reconstruction of part of the papyrus of Ramose"]