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CLOSED Tuesday 20 February

  • Conservator working on ceramics

Progress of the work: June 2005

Conservator Deborah Walton originally worked with us on moving and storing the objects before the Museum's project to develop the courtyard area. Now she has come back to work for us part-time. She is going to be working on some of the very fragile ceramics.

A number of coffins in the museum are made of poor-quality clays and have been fired at a rather low temperature. The result is that they are now quite brittle and friable, and they shed fragments of ceramic each time they are moved.

In carrying out conservation, we always look for the path of least intervention. So, we try to find a way of stabilising an object without changing its nature and without adding anything to its structure. Sometimes, there is no alternative and we have to accept that we cannot strengthen an object, and stop it deteriorating, just be means of external support.

Read more to find out how Deborah worked on the ceramic coffins.


The mummy of an ibisWork is continuing on the animal mummies. Our ibis mummy has now been x-radiographed. This mummy was given to the Fitzwilliam museum by the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1914, but it is not clear where it was found (most probably the ibis cemetery at Abydos).

The bandaging of this mummy has been done in a specially beautiful way. There is also a figure of the ibis-headed god, Thoth, sewn on to the front of the mummy in appliqué work.


Christina Rozeik, our conservation intern, and Lucy Skinner have re-attached loose linen bandages and threads by sticking small tabs of conservation-grade Japanese tissue under and around fragile fragments. In some cases, strips of dyed nylon net have been stitched on around particularly vulnerable areas in order to stabilise the mummies.

X-ray image of an ibis mummyUnlike the crocodile mummy we looked at last month, the x-ray image shows that this mummy does contain bones, and a beak is visible too. It is not clear whether more than one bird's bones are included in the mummy wrappings. (In the image, the bright white areas are the bones. The lighter areas are the linen bandages on the outside of the mummy.)

Part of the Book of the Dead of Ramose




Another project is underway at the same time: the museum's collection of papyri is being examined and treated by Reneé Waltham, who is a specialist papyrus conservator.

The whole of her first year is going to be taken up with working on a copy of the Book of the Dead, written on papyrus for a man called Ramose. When it came to the museum in 1922, the papyrus was in thousands of jumbled up pieces. Two sections were put between sheets of Perspex and put on display in the 1960s, and the rest stayed in the museum's basement, stored in sixty paper folders. 


Conservator working on the Book of the Dead of RamoseIn the past the papyrus was repaired using labels and tapes which are causing damage. So, these old repairs must be removed and the papyrus must be cleaned. To do this the papyrus must be humidified so that the fibres can be smoothed out without breaking. After this, the old repairs can be removed safely, and then the job of putting the pieces together in their correct places can begin.