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Conservation of textiles and other objects (Julie Dawson)

In the limited time available (16th-22nd December) work was concentrated on the conservation of three large pieces and four groups of smaller fragments of the funerary shroud inscribed with texts from the Book of the Dead, excavated in the 1998 season.

The shroud is inscribed in hieratic in red and black ink. There are traces of yellow pigment on the lower border. The linen is in a highly fragile state. The fibres are brittle and friable, especially in areas where there is dark staining (probably from the products of body decomposition). There are a few small patches where the fibres are carbonised. There has also been a considerable amount of insect attack. The pieces were very crumpled when excavated, making it impossible to read the text or to determine the true size of the fragments. It was clear however that there was an original vertical fold, vestiges of which could be found on all three large fragments. There was a great deal of loose dirt and many loose fibres trapped in the creases.

The aims of the treatment were to relax and open out the fragments and construct a mounting system which would help ensure their long-term preservation and allow future study and photography without excessive disturbance of the textiles. The results will be seen in the adjacent photos.

A humidity tent was constructed for each piece of linen, which was supported within the tent on a layer of archival support fabric. As the humidity was raised and the fibres began to relax, the creases were gradually eased out and the weave aligned and held in position with weights. The fibres were too frail to allow complete removal of the creases and in some of the heavily stained areas at the edges were too friable to be unfolded at all. The original crease down the length of each of the large pieces was left in place. A few small repairs were made to loose fragments at the edges of the textiles with tiny Japanese tissue strips attached with 2% Methocel AC4 (methyl cellulose) in de-ionised water. The large fragments (the biggest is approximately 86 x 40 cm) were supported on archival-quality fabric-covered boards. The collections of very frail small fragments were laid in folders constructed from the same boards and fabrics, but with very fine nylon net windows over the top of the pieces, through which they can be studied without disturbance. A system of boxes was constructed from Correx (twin-walled corrugated polypropylene) for the storage of the textiles. It was not possible to complete treatment of one large fragment and three very small pieces in the time available.

In addition to the treatment of the textiles, special packing systems were made for several objects and consolidation tests were carried out on the black resin of a coffin fragment.

The condition of the tomb structure, wall paintings and objects in long-term storage in the chambers and shafts may all be influenced by the environment inside the tomb. It has been intended since the beginning of the project to make a basic record of this over the course of one full year and to monitor the effect of the daily opening up of the tomb during the Mission's short working season. Setting this up has presented a variety of practical difficulties, but this year was finally initiated. Two Hanwell Humbug electronic data loggers, which record temperature and relative humidity at user-defined time intervals, are being used for the monitoring. During the season they were deployed in a variety of locations for short periods to determine the environmental relationship of various areas inside and outside the tomb. At the end of the season they were left, one in the front room and one in the back room, to log and store readings until the next season when the information will be downloaded and examined.

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2014